What's Eric Eating Episode 110
Getting fresh with Sweetgreen's mastermind, plus Houston's Top 100 restaurants
On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Nicolas Jammet, co-founder and chief concept officer for Sweetgreen joins CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler to discuss the California-based salad restaurant that will open its second Houston-area location in Montrose on Tuesday, September 10. Jammet and partners Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru founded the restaurant in Washington, D.C. in 2007. Since then, the company has grown to almost 100 locations nationwide with a valuation over $1 billion.
Jammet explains that part of Sweetgreen's success stems from the way it connects its customers to where their food comes from. The company prominently features its suppliers both in its restaurants and on social media. Coming to Texas meant finding new farmers to supplement the regional growers and California-based organic farms it works with. As Jammet explains, that process starts before the company identifies a specific location.
For us, our supply chain is regional and seasonal. We're in all these different markets. We build our own group of farmers, growers, and producers to really celebrate the best of the land and the best of what folks are growing around there. ... When it comes to building the local supply chain, it's something that takes a lot of work, but it's also incredibly fun.
We have a supply chain team that spends time in the market once we've identified a city or a state we want to go to, just trying to learn and understand the agricultural shed and what people grow and what people eat. We learn the region, try to understand people's relationship with food in that market and what's going on and what people are excited about, even down to what ingredients might be indigenous to that soil for X amount of time. Once we have all those inputs, we start by going to farmers markets, speaking to chefs, just trying to meet as many customers as we can. We do that before we sign a lease. It's really one of the first things we do is learn.
Once we do that, we start to put together a list of ingredients and a direction our menu could go. We start testing things and meeting with farmers to understand their business in a deeper way. A lot of people say the food business is hard, but being in the business of farming is even harder. It's really important for us to understand what makes their business thrive, what challenges they're facing, and how we as a partner can help support them.
Jammet also touches on what other neighborhoods and Texas cities Sweetgreen might have be considering for additional locations, the secret benefits to using its app to order, and an upcoming collaboration with a local chef.
Prior to the interview, regular co-hosts Matt Harris and Linda Salinas discuss Sandler's list of Houston's top 100 restaurants. Among other topics, they discuss the top 10, whether the list is a good representation of Houston's dining scene, and which restaurants should have been ranked differently. After some strong opinions about the merits of 369 Oriental Bistro, Harris and Salinas suggest a couple of establishments that should have made the cut.