The Sweetgreen CEO's Toxic Scandal You May Have Forgotten About

Salad and drink at a San Francisco Sweetgreen
Salad and drink at a San Francisco Sweetgreen - Bloomberg/Getty Images

Sweetgreen, which introduced a healthier farm-to-table fast-casual chain concept featuring salads and grain bowls in 2007, quickly prospered and drew major investors, growing from its first store in Washington, D.C., to just shy of 1,000 stores, including 247 in New York alone. It was initially recognized for its sustainable approach, online app presence, and popularity among millennials. In those early days, the chief criticism of Sweetgreens was their high prices — around $12 for a salad.

Then, in 2021, its CEO Jonathan Neman wrote a post on LinkedIn that drew heavy criticism and landed him in hot water with his employees and the general public. The quote, posted during the COVID-19 pandemic, asserted that "78% of hospitalizations due to COVID are obese and overweight people. Is there an underlying problem that perhaps we have not given enough attention to? Is there another way to think about how we tackle 'healthcare' by addressing the root cause?" Neman followed that up with another controversial statement by claiming that "no mask and no vaccine will save us.

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Reaction, Public Apology

Salad bar inside a Boston Sweetgreen
Salad bar inside a Boston Sweetgreen - Bloomberg/Getty Images

As one might imagine, these comments did not go over very well with many people. Many perceived Jonathan Neman's words as fat shaming. The torrent of online condemnation led Neman to eventually delete the infamous post. He then went into damage control mode. He arranged a town hall-style meeting to apologize to his employees and the public. Well, he sort of apologized. While acknowledging that he could have chosen his words more carefully, he qualified that he still believed in the "intent" of the message that much of the high COVID-19 death toll was due to obesity and that there are serious food and health issues that needed to be tackled.

Reaction to his half apology was mixed, with some employees offering their support and others criticizing the insensitivity of his statements. Neman described the incident as a "painful, painful lesson" and a "huge learning moment." However, citing the obesity issue, he also said it started an important conversation, and he seemed to be contrite about the potential harm he may have done to the brand. While Sweetgrass overcame the scandal, the company recently drew more negative press attention after a group of Black and female employees working at seven of its New York stores announced a lawsuit alleging racial and sexual harassment.

Read the original article on Mashed.