Randall Arnold knows a thing or two about building a restaurant. As the former director of construction at Starbucks and lead construction manager at Chipotle, he oversaw the buildouts of dozens of restaurants across the country. In 2014, he joined sweetgreen as the director of construction as the healthy fast-food chain found itself in the midst of rapid growth.
The opportunity to make an impact with a company that puts an emphasis on both nutritious, seasonal food, as well as health education and sustainable building practices was exciting. Arnold says he knew he wanted to jump aboard and help the company proliferate in new markets.
His first step to ease the growing pains of the expanding company was to create a reliable network of architects, developers, and contractors in every region in which the stores operate.
“There will always be construction and development challenges that arise with every project,” Arnold says. “However, having the right team in place and empowering them and setting real expectations has allowed sweetgreen to be successful.”
In the final quarter of 2015, his team opened more sweetgreen stores than in any other quarter, and the company found itself in five different markets—a significant milestone. The decision of which new markets to build in was driven largely by customer demand.
“We pay attention to e-mails, tweets, and Instagram comments when people ask us to come to their town,” Arnold says, and adds that the company also seeks communities that share its values of education, sustainability, support of small business, and a strong sense of culture.
Most sweetgreen stores are located in the Northeast, where the company started, but the company recently set its sights on the West Coast for further expansion.
“California represents a huge opportunity for growth—there’s abundant access to seasonal, local ingredients year-round, so we’re looking forward to opening more locations there,” Arnold says.
A Closer Look at Design
Randall Arnold says the same core values of community and culture that drive sweetgreen’s business also influence store designs.
“We’re an authentic brand, and we don’t cover anything up, which is why we have open kitchens, which allows guests to see produce prepped throughout the day and highlights the scratch cooking that differentiates sweetgreen from other fast-casual concepts,” he says.
Although every sweetgreen location is unique, Arnold says there are similar elements that bind all locations together.
“All stores also have some representation of the seasons, whether it’s a neon installation or a collage or screen printing, and the colors and textures are natural and simple—lots of whites and woods,” he says.
Arnold’s team makes an effort to preserve the unique character of each location. Finishes such as reclaimed wood, bowling alley tables, and sustainable materials enforce the brand’s commitment to reducing environmental impact.
“We build beautiful spaces,” Arnold says.
As sweetgreen expands its reach, Arnold points to the importance of growing communities and strengthening a team that’s committed to the company’s culture and values.
“We can apply theories and principles anywhere, but hiring the right partners to execute the vision is key,” he says.
That philosophy doesn’t solely pertain to just sweetgreen employees, but extends to the teams that Arnold brings on for new construction projects. He says that in order to sustain the company’s momentum, a reliable team is critical in the construction process, where so many variables can lead to delay or setbacks.
“A team you can trust exhibits an elevated commitment to the details and a willingness to problem-solve in real time,” Arnold says. “From training the team and understanding the company’s aesthetic and larger purpose, to meeting the superintendents and getting to know them by name, we want our partners to understand that the job they are doing is bigger than building a salad shop; it’s supporting a mission to bridge the gap between health and convenience.”
In order to bridge that gap, Arnold says sweetgreen has to change some preconceptions about fast food and healthiness.
“I don’t think people know just how invested the company is in changing the way customers and communities think about food,” he says. To that end, sweetgreen took him to farms and schools to understand the American food system and how the company is making an impact through healthy eating.
The end result, he says, goes beyond bricks and mortar or the food sold within.
“You build a great team, you expect great work, you celebrate wins, and you make the team feel that they’re part of something bigger than the job itself,” Arnold says. “That’s the favorite part of my job.”