May 7, 2024 - Business

Sweetgreen wants to beef up sad desk salads for dinner

Plate with steak on it with SWEETGREEN written on plate. Plate is set on grass

A new caramelized garlic steak is now available at Sweetgreen restaurants nationwide. Photo: Courtesy of Sweetgreen

Fast-casual salad restaurant chain Sweetgreen is placing a larger stake in dinner by adding steak to the menu for the first time.

Why it matters: Sweetgreen — which first gained a devoted lunch following among office workers as one of the biggest purveyors of "sad desk salads" — has been on an expansion spree since going public in 2021.

  • The chain, headquartered in Los Angeles, has been broadening its menu and opening restaurants beyond its traditional target area in central business districts.

Driving the news: Sweetgreen adds Caramelized Garlic Steak to its menu starting Tuesday at its restaurants nationwide.

  • It's the first red meat the chain has added, Nicolas Jammet, Sweetgreen co-founder and chief concept officer, told Axios.
  • At test restaurants in Boston, Jammet pointed out, steak became a dinnertime favorite and made up nearly 1-in-5 of night orders.

The big picture: Sweetgreen helped popularize a trend of the fast-casual salad, a space that includes competitors like Chopt and Just Salad.

  • Cava, another growing competitor in the fast-casual space, also plans to add steak to its Mediterranean menu this year.

Zoom in: Sweetgreen's addition comes months after the chain added protein plates to the menu in October.

  • The protein plates have increased traffic and energy around dinner, Jammet said.
  • The new steak comes with three entrees — Caramelized Garlic Steak protein plate, Steakhouse Chopped warm bowl and Kale Caesar (Steak) salad — and can be added to any other menu item.

What they're saying: "Our mission has always been more than salads," Jammet told Axios. "We see steak as an opportunity to really invite new people into Sweetgreen to continue broadening who we can serve."

  • Jammet said Sweetgreen is seeing its customers are "more conscious of their macros in general and specifically protein" so it's a good time to expand the range of proteins.

Flashback: The first Sweetgreen opened in 2007 on M Street in Washington, D.C.

  • It's more than doubled its store count since the start of the pandemic, growing from 103 in early 2020 to 225 locations.

What's next: The fast-casual restaurant segment continues to be "a bright spot" and is expected to keep growing, Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of research for the National Restaurant Association, told Axios.

  • Riehle expects fast-casual chains will "step up their menu offerings in tandem with this return to office in certain metropolitan areas."

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