Sweetgreen is opening its first drive-thru store in Colorado


Sweetgreen, the East Coast transplant that serves healthy salads and bowls with convenient app-based ordering, is making big moves in Colorado.

The fast-casual brand on Wednesday announced its plan to open a first-ever drive-thru restaurant by late 2021 at 9215 S. Broadway in Highlands Ranch.

This South Denver location will be the chain’s fourth store in Colorado — three others have opened already this year in downtown Denver, Cherry Creek and, most recently, Boulder. Sweetgreen has opened more than 100 locations across the U.S.

Co-founder Nicolas Jammet says Sweetgreen’s drive-thru has been in the works for a while as the company expanded away from the coasts and into cities that are more car-dependent.

“We’re really just thinking about the convenience factor that you see so much in fast food,” Jammet said. “One of the things we’ve been most excited to work on is reimagining the drive-thru.”

As restaurants big and small struggle to change course during the pandemic, Sweetgreen has been well-positioned from the start. Pre-COVID-19, the company was doing 50% of its business over its own app, according to Jammet.

There, customers can find exclusive menu items like a Sweet Balsamic Brussels salad ($11.50) and a Shroomy Asada plate ($11.25). And you can opt for home delivery, in-store pickup or retrieval at a dedicated Sweetgreen “Outpost,” such as office buildings, when those are back in use.

“Now, imagine if you’re driving and leaving your house, putting your order on your phone… ” Jammet describes. Once at the Highlands Ranch store, you’ll be able to drive straight to a pickup window, bypassing the order line. Or you’ll be able to order in your car, from a “concierge,” a.k.a. Sweetgreen employee onsite.

The drive-thru will have dedicated parking spots to wait for your food (think Sonic but with solar panels overhead). And then for anyone wanting to stay and eat, a large outdoor patio will be set with moveable furniture, too.

“We’re redesigning the drive-in,” Jammet said, describing a big picture window to the restaurant’s scratch kitchen, which customers will be able to peer into while waiting in line. “So even as you’re driving through, you get a moment where you see us shucking kale.”

Sweetgreen isn’t the first fast-casual restaurant to adopt fast-food service; in May, Chipotle debuted its “Chipotlane” in Brighton, a fitting example, since Sweetgreen has been compared to that Colorado-based chain in its heyday.

As of last year, 13-year-old Sweetgreen was valued at $1.6 billion, though Jammet and his two co-founders, Nathaniel Ru and Jonathan Neman, haven’t gone public yet, like Chipotle, Shake Shack and other comparable brands have.

But the cult status of the growing salad company doesn’t seem to be going away. Jammet talks about feeding “clean, healthy, transparent and craveable” food to the masses while also growing supply chains that include both small and large-scale organic farms and keeping those sources “transparent” along the way.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about… this whole network of people that create and grow and raise the food,” Jammet said, acknowledging his potential customers’ preference to shop small and local, as well as his company’s desire to do good at scale. Sweetgreen, he says, plays an important role in today’s restaurant landscape, too.

“We can effect change throughout the whole system,” Jammet said.

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