'In a Weird Way We Were Very Well Positioned for This': Sweetgreen Reopens Stores and Brings Back Workers

After protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd prompted Sweetgreen to close most of the locations it hadn't yet shuttered because of the coronavirus, the Culver City-based fast casual chain said Tuesday that it's on the rebound.

CEO Jonathan Neman announced the company has reopened most of its restaurants and rehired some of the 2,000 workers that it furloughed.

"We've brought back half of employees," Neman said at an Axios forum. "I'm confident we can bring back the other half soon."

During the pandemic, Sweetgreen transitioned to an all-delivery and pickup model. Even before the twin crises struck, about 55% of its orders were made online. "We have been able to get back a lot of our business because in a weird way we were very well positioned for this," said Neman.

Without elaborating, Neman revealed that the company ended an exclusive contract with Uber Eats that it signed last year. "Given all that's gone on we have made the decision to be non-exclusive partners," he said.

Neman said he had no second thoughts about returning a $10 million Payroll Protection Program loan the company was approved for in April, even though Sweetgreen had to furlough the 2,000 store employees and layoff 10% of the 350 staffers at its Culver City headquarters. And as it turns out, the PPP program is now flush with cash, as more than $130 billion has gone unspent in the last month.

"I do not regret the decision," said Neman. "Hopefully that money can be used for companies and jobs that better need it."

Since Neman co-founded the company in 2007, Sweetgreen has been on a lofty trajectory that values it more like a tech company than a restaurant chain. Last year, it raised $150 million of Series I venture funding at a $1.45 billion pre-money valuation, according to Pitchbook.

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