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Sweetgreen Tests Out Automation in HB

Sweetgreen Inc. is a newcomer to Orange County, but it is using the area as a testing ground for one of the more unique innovations seen of late in the restaurant industry.

The Los Angeles-based fast-casual restaurant chain (NYSE: SG), which has built a dedicated following and a store count topping 200 locations across the U.S. by serving a chef-crafted menu of seasonal salads, bowls, plates and sides, opened its first two local locations last year, at the Irvine Spectrum Center and Tustin’s Village at Tustin Legacy.

A third location at Huntington Beach’s 5 Points Plaza shopping center opened last quarter. Notably, the Surf City location adds a heavy dose of automation to the experience.

It is one of two Sweetgreen stores in the country to feature the restaurant’s new Infinite Kitchen technology, which takes on the process of assembling meals.

Sweetgreen’s Infinite Kitchen is designed to increase consistency, efficiency, and productivity at the $1.2 billion-valued chain, while also enhancing the team member and customer experience.

It’s the latest notable restaurant innovation taking shape in OC.

For instance, Newport Beach’s Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. (NYSE: CMG), OC’s most valuable public company with a market cap topping $63 billion, has invested heavily in new methods of making its food, such as using Chippy, a robot designed to make its tortilla chips on-site, and another prototype robot, dubbed Autocado, that cuts, cores and peels avocados.

Speed & Accuracy

A recent tour of the new Huntington Beach restaurant showed how Sweetgreen’s automated process works.Speed and accuracy take center stage.

The bowls are ordered at a kiosk (a human helper is available to assist), and then filled mainly by an automated assembly line that has more than 50 tubes filled with various ingredients.

A bowl is sent down the assembly line to automatically be filled with ingredients for a particular order. Proteins or other hot items are added by a team member at the end of the line. And for the bowls of salads, they can even be automatically shaken once dressing is applied.

It’s estimated that the new Infinite Kitchen method can process up to 500 orders per hour—a 50% increase over the manual method at a regular Sweetgreen.

The Infinite Kitchen pilot “continues to deliver many benefits to our operating model, such as increased throughput, near perfect order accuracy, portioning consistency, a better team member experience, improved restaurant level margins and an accretive return on capital,” Jonathan Neman, co-founder and CEO of Sweetgreen, told analysts late last year.

“The feedback we hear consistently is that we are delivering a much better customer experience.”

Picture Perfect

This is farm-to-table fast food taken to another level. The bowls come out looking picture-perfect and ready to enjoy. They are served in recyclable containers ready to consume on the spot or take back to your office or home.

For those concerned about the automation taking away jobs, Sweetgreen staff said that their team members remain the heart and soul of the operation.

The Infinite Kitchen starts and ends with team members’ hands, from the fresh prep in the open kitchen to the connections made at the ordering counter, ending with the finishing touches on each customer’s plate or bowl.

Sweetgreen team members can also take on new roles of guiding guests through the order journey, serving as the link between technology and the customer experience.

Local Partners

Aside from the novelty of having an automated ingredient assembly line create your salad or protein bowl for you, Sweetgreen prides itself on using an extensive network of trusted local farm partners with most ingredients sourced from purveyors within a 90-mile radius of a restaurant. In each restaurant, an updated Source Board reflects the transparent supply chain behind that Sweetgreen store.

Local California suppliers for Sweetgreen’s Orange County locations include Drake Family Farms Artisan Farmstead goat cheese, Coastal Fresh romaine and cilantro, and bread from Santa Ana-based bakery Bread Artisan.

“Our focus is always on elevating the quality and integrity of our food by partnering with trusted suppliers to better serve our guests and community,” Neman said. “That’s why, over the past 16 years, we’ve built a network of local growers and suppliers in each city we join, including here in Southern California.”

One more point in Sweetgreen’s favor: they have committed to supporting local groups throughout the Huntington Beach community, including Huntington Beach Friday Night Lights, HB High School Basketball, Ocean View Little League, and Pacific Sands Swim Team.

The OCBJ Review: By christopher trela

Naturally, I wanted to watch the Infinite Kitchen process in action at Sweetgreen, so I ordered the chicken avocado ranch with blackened chicken, avocado, pickled onions, apples, tortilla chips, white rice, chopped romaine, and green goddess ranch.

The bowl quickly glided along the processing line, stopping momentarily at the appropriate tubes to gather ingredients before moving—and rotating—down the line until it came to the end and was completed by a team member.

The bowl was tasty with the green goddess dressing—a fun and flavorful touch.

I also had the rosemary focaccia bread and hummus, which I found addicting—I’d order this every time in addition to a main course.

Sweetgreen: 18681 Main St., Huntington Beach, (657) 502-0001, sweetgreen.com

 

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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