“I’m always absorbing information,” said Jonathan Neman, 33, a founder and chief executive of Sweetgreen, the fast-casual chain known for its hearty farm-to-table salad bowls. But before he plots his workday, Mr. Neman, who was raised in Los Angeles, usually hits the waves near his home in Venice Beach, Calif. Here’s how he tackles the rest of the day. (This interview has been edited and condensed.)
My goal every morning is to do something that grounds me, to prepare me for that crazy day ahead. I’m usually up by 6 or 6:30. Then I have a few rituals. I won’t check my phone in bed; I like to start the day peacefully. Then it’s either a surf, yoga or run.
I’m very fortunate I’m about a block from the ocean. Surfing is one of my favorite things in the world, and I’m not good at it at all. It’s the best kind of meditation for me, and it’s my favorite way to start the day. Actually people in the office will notice it. They’ll say, “You’re in a good mood today, did you surf?”
Then it’s a quick shower and I pretty much wear the same base layer every day: black jeans and a black T-shirt. It’s one less thing to think about it. Maybe I’ll add one more thing on top. I do have an affinity for leather jackets.
I use a face wash from a line our friend started called Panacea. Then I use whatever my wife has. Give me that good face cream!
No Car, No Problem
I live about 20 minutes from work and I either Uber or my wife, who is a writer and works at a WeWork nearby, will drop me off. I don’t have a car. We do share the car on the weekends, but going back and forth to work, it’s nice to not have to worry about it.
Also it’s a really productive time for me. I might catch up on phone calls. Or I’m into podcasts recently. I’ve been into “Masters of Scale” — Reid Hoffman started it — because it’s really inspiring. It gets me fired up on the way to work.
Our office is in this complex called Platform, and there are a lot of other start-ups here. Blue Bottle is right next to us so I’ll grab a coffee before I go in. The three founders, we still share an office. What’s really special is how we work together. We’ve been working together for 11 years as best friends and partners. It works because there is true friendship there and love and lack of ego.
Our original headquarters was in D.C., but we’re all based in L.A. now. We relocated because most of our growth is coming from here, our suppliers are mostly here, and we wanted to be on the front lines.
I like to have a little bit of time in the morning to prep my thoughts. The night before, I write a list of what needs to be done the next day. I always take a step back and look to see what it is that I want to lead the company through today, this week or this month. What’s the thing that’s really going to move the needle?
My dad, who immigrated to the U.S. in the late ’70s from Iran because of the revolution, is one of my work mentors. He had to start over and support his family. One thing I got from him is that the work is never done.
I don’t eat anything in the morning. I just have my coffee. Intermittent fasting keeps me very energized. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, but it’s become more of a thing now. I also eat a very big dinner so I feel like I’m still digesting it the next day.
I do eat an early lunch. I go to the test kitchen we have here and see what the chef is cooking up. I stay at the office pretty late so I’m not home until about 9 p.m. I’ve been cooking a lot more at home lately, but it’s also a highlight when we get to go try somewhere fun for dinner, usually on the West Side.
I just finished “Onward” by Howard Schultz — it’s really interesting and still relevant now — and I just began “Principles” by Ray Dalio. I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from outside of our industry. It’s about looking at other business models and brands and thinking, “How can we apply that here?” For example, I’ve been really interested in Disney. This brand has lasted so long and stayed culturally relevant. It starts with this creative spirit layered with storytelling and magic and the ability to innovate and evolve over time.
I’m Persian Jewish and I have a huge family. I’m the oldest of four boys, and I have 20 first cousins. My wife — we got married last June — has a similar family situation. Every Friday night we have Shabbat. That’s a big part of our life.
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