Making an Impact With Our Annual Impact Retreat

Feb 2, 2018 · 3 min read

All Photos by Allison Zaucha

Jonathan Neman

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Co-Founder + CEO at sweetgreen

A week ago, we brought 200 sweetgreen leaders together. It was our 7th annual Impact Retreat — a three-day experience where we come together in person, far removed from the day-to-day grind of Kale Caesars and Spicy Cashew. We take a step back, align on where we’re going and what we’re signing up for this year and beyond. It’s an investment of both time and resources, but it’s worth it.

We work hard to make sure Impact doesn’t feel like a corporate retreat — aside from the hotel ballroom and name tags, this isn’t your typical company conference. Impact is about the people, the culture and the “why” behind everything we do. We celebrate our people with an awards ceremony. We help people understand the business better with workshops about the food journey, the employee experience and the guest experience. We have sessions about the “why” behind our big moves. We go deep and get vulnerable, with personal letters for every single Impact attendee. The human connection of laughing, learning and eating together is an inspiring sight to see.

Culture deserves to be on the balance sheet.

One of the highlights of Impact 2018 was a conversation with Walter Robb, former co-CEO of Whole Foods — a brand that’s helped make real, whole foods a major talking point in households all over the country, and a pioneer in conscious capitalism. But we spoke to him just as much about scaling real food as we did about culture and leadership. One of the things he said really stuck with me, and will continue to stick with me.

It was a perfect way to sum up exactly how I feel about sweetgreen and about Impact, though we’ve never found such an eloquent way to word it. Culture isn’t created by me or my co-founders -Nicolas or Nathaniel — it’s the collective sum of the entire team. I like to say, “the little things are the big things.”

Walter spoke about the two greatest forces in the world — fear and love — and the idea that leading with love bends toward humanity and making the world a better place, even on a small scale. Both Whole Foods and sweetgreen signed up for the big mission to make an impact — and that requires a willingness to innovate, to change and to grow, fueled by your sense of purpose. And that creates culture.

We’ve always prided ourselves on being a people company, and we want people to experience a transformation during their time at sweetgreen. It’s not just a work experience to put on your resume. I routinely hear that people have grown personally just as much as they have professionally, and I think it’s because our people lead with love. With empathy. With compassion.

All in, we spent thousands of hours planning Impact, and an amount of money that would go a long way toward opening a new store. But for us, we think of culture as our most valuable asset on the balance sheet, and we see Impact as a moment to celebrate the team, build camaraderie and help our people grow into the best version of themselves. Our people and culture are the soul of sweetgreen. Our salads might still taste good without it. But our business is more successful because of it.

Co-Founder + CEO at sweetgreen

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Originally published at on February 2, 2018.



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connecting people to real food since 2007.


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