Nathaniel Ru Blazes a Trail in the Health Food Industry


Nathaniel Ru is probably best known as one of the co-founders of Sweetgreen, a high-quality salad franchise with more than 40 restaurant locations. He was recently featured by Forbes as one of the “30 Under 30” leaders to watch in the food and wine industry. Ru worked closely with Jonathan Neman and Nicolas Jamme, all classmates from Georgetown University, to revolutionize the food industry with launching Sweetgreen. The trio of Sweetgreen founders all come from families of business owners, which made their leap into the restaurant business a more natural transition. They were spurred on by their frustration with a lack of healthy eating options around their Georgetown campus, which they thought they could solve by opening their own restaurants. Ru says that what sets his restaurant apart from other healthy chains is that they set out with a mission to feed people better. The trio has certainly lived up to their ambition as evidenced by the large crowds waiting to enjoy the organic, fresh food served daily at all Sweetgreen locations.


In addition to offering superior ingredients and developing a reputation for being one of the healthiest chain options, Sweetgreen also has a unique operating model. Ru has remained steadfast in his plans to decentralize Sweetgreen operations so that restaurants are not dependent on a single headquarters to dispense policy. He takes this principle to heart in requiring that corporate employees work at actual restaurant locations for certain weeks out of the year. This allows Sweetgreen headquarters to stay more in tune with the daily challenges that restaurant owners face and gives them more grassroots inspiration on how to grow the Sweetgreen chain. Even the CEOs of the company make sure to work from both coasts so that they are maintaining a truly national presence throughout the year.


Ru also says that one of the biggest challenges in launching his business to the scale it has achieved today was enlarging the team around him to fill important roles. He was actively involved in all of the roles that it took to get the company off the ground in its infant stages, which is why Ru said it was difficult to let go of some of those tasks. He realized, however, that building a good team around you is essential for the growth of any business. Ru credits the rapid pace of Sweetgreen’s growth with only employing the top talent he could find and incorporating all employees into the central mission of the company. This gives employees at all levels of the organization a sense of belonging and empowerment to fulfill their roles to the best of their abilities.


At a recent conference hosted by PSFK Consulting, Ru shared his vision for Sweetgreen and what he believes are the most essential elements in building a national brand. Ru shared that customer intimacy is always at the core of Sweetgreen’s initiatives. One of the most unique things about Ru’s restaurant chain is that it is based on building connections between people and the food they eat. Ru says this creates a more social experience for customers rooted in healthy eating. Ru has enabled Sweetgreen restaurant owners to maintain maximum flexibility in changing the ambience of their restaurant location to keep pace with customer desires. This is a sharp contrast from many national chains that try to impose a strict structure of décor, music, lighting and layout. Ru’s goal was that customers could have a different experience at each Ru location they choose to visit, which is made possible by each location being able to choose its own architect for a signature design. Along the same lines, Ru also instituted a seasonal menu at Sweetgreen, which keeps customers interested in coming back for their seasonal favorites and intrigued to try out new menu items. He says that he takes his lead from Mother Nature in embracing the best produce grown seasonally and locally near each Sweetgreen restaurant location.


In addition to founding a successful restaurant, Ru has also collaborated with top artists and producers to pull off the Sweetlife Festival, an annual celebration of good food and great music. Local food vendors line up to feed the massive crowds ready to enjoy incredible performances. All of the vendors are required to demonstrate a commitment to sustainable growth and healthy food. Sweetgreen has also offered new menu items in collaboration with some of the top artists and chefs featured at the festival, which has been a major hit amongst loyal customers.


If Ru had to give one piece of advice to budding entrepreneurs it would be to make sure that they are embarking on creating something that is bigger than themselves. This will allow a business to stand the test of time and ride out the initial rough patches that all companies inevitably go through. He also thinks that reading is essential to achieving your full potential and says that his only regret is not making more time to read more books in his early adulthood.


Ru is a frequent key speaker at major business conferences and is highly sought-after for his perspective on growing a brand that lasts. He has demonstrated a rare ability to prioritize human connections in an age dominated by digital devices. While Ru has never shied away from technology, he is always mindful that the most successful endeavors tend to arise out of deeply cemented relationships built on trust and a human connection. His restaurants are all equipped with the latest ordering technology, but the service customers receive is consistently personal. This is one of the best pieces of advice that Ru passes along to mentees and fellow business owners. Given that Ru was able to grow his brand from the ground up without major influence from wealthy investors, he has always possessed a cool confidence in his ability to weather whatever storms may arise and stay the course with his personal mission. This carries through to all aspects of his life and makes him perfectly situated to take his company to the next level of growth.

Read more about Nathaniel Ru and Sweetgreen:

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Brandon has been browsing and sampling what the web has to offer. He sifts and sorts the good from the bad. Drop him a line if you want to ask anything at all! Always happy to help.


  1. Brandon, this post has inspired me to join your Wealthy Affiliate program. I’m totally convinced that if Nathaniel Ru can start from scratch and run a national food-chain, then I too can earn significant amount of money. Thank you very much for sharing this amazing story!

  2. Hi, I totally agree that building personal relationships with customers and hiring top talent is the best thing a business can do. Everyone knows it but a few actually do it.
    We are a start-up ourselves and I can totally relate with Ru. Good to see Sweetgreen growing. Keep it up!

  3. Man, I really love the sweetgreen brand! its really cool to see the story behind the success of the restaurant. Hope to maybe hear him speak sometime!

  4. I am very intrigued by the concept of a chain that has a different experience for each store, but still has a unified flavor and brand. I believe that this is the future of how chains will operate successfully.

  5. Nathaniel Ru and his team are doing the world a lot of good by having organic foods. His restaurant chain will ensure people are eating healthier.

  6. Nathaniel Ru is really a great inspirational man for us. From this article, i lean behind the success story of Sweetgreen. It’s only possible for Nathaniel Ru. Sweetgreen customer service is fantastic. Their food quality is one of the best in my community.

  7. very inspiring articlr this you know,sometimes i think this type of matter is possible only in movie but when some like come infront of our society we all get inspiration to do something are a hero of our society.Thank you very much for sharing this amazing story and Keep it up!

  8. This is such an inspiring story – I think it shows that you can do it – you just have to want it enough. Great story about a great business!

  9. It’s very interesting and informative article about successful business. I hope they will spread healthy food become more popular.

  10. I understand the reluctance to let go of the things you have been doing yourself and trusting a team to take care of these things so you can have more time to focus on growing. You spend so long working on something and you start thinking it only gets done right if you do it yourself. Trust is a big part of growing a business.

  11. Have always love to see people invest in agriculture. awesome article about successful business and Nathaniel Ru looks like a very simple C.E.O

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