Traveling with a sweet deal in hand

Correction appended

As GW alumna Bona Park was graduating, she was faced with a choice: work at a law firm or cruise around and sell all-natural salads, yogurts and other assorted wholesome foods.

For many, the decision would have been a no-brainer, but Park decided to go with the not-so-traditional option and joined the team at Sweetgreen, a local health food vendor founded by three Georgetown students in 2007.

Now she manages Sweetflow Mobile, a truck that roams around D.C., frequently making stops on the GW and Georgetown campuses where it sells Sweetgreen’s products. Among its healthy offerings are fat-free tart yogurt and organic oatmeal blended with quinoa, in addition to an extensive selection of vegetarian salads. The truck’s schedule – which varies each day – can be found on Sweetgreen’s Web site.

Since taking her job, Park has not looked back. Though it requires a significant time commitment – she is responsible for branding, marketing and social media outreach – Park says the pleasant atmosphere at Sweetgreen outweighs the long hours.

“Sometimes I work 12 to 14-hour days, but I have really great coworkers and bosses. There is really high morale at this company,” Park said.

In addition, working for a relatively new, innovative business can bring advantages that a traditional company might not, she said. In particular, Park noted that at Sweetgreen she has found the opportunity to have fun and be productive at the same time – something she doubts the law firm job would have offered her.

“People think you wouldn’t be working on a food truck with a college degree, but I’ve learned a lot about people and had a lot of fun… I want to do something creative, not just read boring proposals,” Park said.

Sweetgreen certainly has spontaneity in its genetic code. After Georgetown students Nicolas Jammet, Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru hatched the idea for the company during a business class they shared, they gathered a group of investors consisting of friends, family members and interested third parties, built a small menu based off locally grown produce and set up shop in Georgetown.

Their first store turned out to be a hit, and soon grew into a local chain. Now Sweetgreen has three locations in D.C. in addition to one in Bethesda, Md. In 2009, the Sweetflow mobile truck debuted to bring Sweetgreen’s nutritious products to the health-conscious around the District, and the company plans to open two more stores in the near future, one on Capitol Hill and another in Reston, Va.

Keeping with its mission to provide naturally based food, Sweetgreen has taken extra steps to be environmentally friendly. The company relies on locally grown toppings for its products, reducing transportation costs and, in so doing, its own carbon footprint. The Sweetflow truck itself is another example of the company’s efforts in this area, as it is powered completely by an electric generator and emits no carbon.

Students have been noticeably receptive to the mobile concept. At GW, the truck has developed a fan base because of the caliber of its products, which for some can prove more appealing than those found at University dining venues.

Freshman Lauren Chassin said she wished the University would provide a wider array of Sweetgreen-type products than it currently does.

“They should have more of this at GW,” Chassin said.

As for Park, she is content working for a company that has proved so satisfying to the taste buds. Of her choice to join Sweetgreen, Park said that the decision was an easy one to make even though it went against the common advice of her peers.

“I was an intern in the marketing department of a law firm and they offered me a job the same day Sweetgreen did. Everybody told me to go with the law firm, but I decided to take the alternative and go with a growing business,” Park said.

For her, Sweetgreen’s rapid development has also proven to be an inspiration as she begins her professional life.

“[The three founders] literally went between classes to go to the construction site [for the store] in Georgetown. It goes to show that when you put in the time and effort into something and use your resources, you can really build something.”

Correction appended (April 12, 2010)

The Hatchet originally misspelled the names of Sweetgreen’s founders as Nicholas Hammet, Jonathan Neman and Daniel Ru.

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