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Georgetown grads' 'Sweetlife' lands them on Forbes

Wednesday - 12/21/2011, 1:20pm  ET

sweetgreen512.jpg
Friends and Georgetown University grads, Nathaniel Ru, Nicholas Jammet and Jonathan Neman stand in front of Sweetgreen Georgetown. (Courtesy Sweetgreen)
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Meera Pal, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - In their senior year of college, while many of their fellow Georgetown students were staying up late drinking at local bars, Nicholas Jammet, Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman were pulling all-nighters to work on their business plan for a fast-casual dining restaurant.

Four years later, the friends and co-founders of Sweetgreen are about to open their 11th restaurant, with plans to open seven more in the new year.

And this week, the three Georgetown grads were featured in Forbes' list of "30 Under 30: Food And Wine."

"I think it's really this idea of making healthy food approachable," Neman says. "Our mission when we started Sweetgreen four years ago was to take healthy food, take these very basic sourcing practices, which is what we're all about is the integrity of our food, and put it into a format -- fast, affordable -- and then put it within this lifestyle framework we call the 'Sweetlife' to make it cool and approachable for people."

The 'Sweetlife," as Neman likes to call it, is a lifestyle based on healthy eating.

"It's the idea of having a balanced lifestyle where you can work hard and play hard," he says. "Really have it all."

That idea of the Sweetlife has inspired the growth of Sweetgreen, which has evolved into more than a restaurant.

According to Forbes reporter Vanna Le, in choosing the 30 under 30 in the Food and Wine industry, the panel of judges were looking for "individuals with big ideas that are changing the industry."

The panel winnowed the list down through a four-step process that began with thousands of nominations.

"I'm so thrilled to have Sweetgreen on the list because not only are these guys creating a new dining experience, they're branding themselves in a way that appeals to the younger generation," she says.

Appealing to a younger generation comes easy to the three, who were 21 years old when they decided to create Sweetgreen. The friends had grown tired of constantly searching for good clean meals around Georgetown, Neman says.

Almost all of the food served at the eight Sweetgreen locations in the D.C. Metro area and the two in Pennsylvania feature local and organic ingredients.

Each store features a list of what is local, what is organic and from what farm the food is coming.

Their website also includes the names and locations of some of the local farms from which they source their food.

Each restaurant uses 100 percent plant-based compostable packaging, offsets 100 percent of its energy use with wind energy credits -- with some stores even featuring solar roof panels -- composts food scraps, and uses energy efficient LED lighting.

"Our naiveté helped us in an industry where so many people do things the way they're supposed to be done," Neman says.

It is the trio's fresh look at restaurants that has translated into their success in the D.C. area.

In 2010, the friends launched the Sweetlife Festival, featuring local music and organic, healthy food options. The festival, drew a crowd of 1,000 to a parking lot behind one of the Sweetgreen restaurants.

This year, they thought bigger, holding the festival at the Merriweather Post Pavillion, selling out to more than 15,000. Headliners included The Strokes, Girl Talk and Lupe Fiasco.

This year's festival raised funds for the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation. Next year, proceeds will benefit D.C. Central Kitchen, Neman says.

The goal, Neman says, was to throw a big festival and still be healthy and still have the food sourced naturally.

"You still had hot dogs and hamburgers, but now the hot dogs and hamburgers were Appelgate organic. You still could get beer, but now it was lots of cool, organic microbreweries," he says.

"You can go to a big music event and really have a great time and still be conscious of your impact on the world."

Le says it is this innovative approach to food, dining and living that landed them on the Forbes list.

"I love that they've incorporated organic, locally-sourced eating with fashion and music," she says. "It's a very accessible approach that encourages a healthy lifestyle."

"I'm very excited to see what they'll be doing in a few years from now."

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)