Sweetgreen has upped the ante on its premium salads with the addition of salmon. The Washington, D.C.–based fast casual will serve the new protein for nine weeks as part of its spring seasonal menu.
“This, to me, is a game changer because there’s no one else doing what we’re doing with salmon,” says Michael Stebner, director of culinary innovation. Salmon can be added to any salad, and the spring menu also showcases it in the Roasted Salmon + Radish specialty salad.
Stebner, former executive chef at health icon Andrew Weil’s True Food Kitchen, started at Sweetgreen last year, and in his first few days, the founders brought up salmon as an item they were interested in exploring. “I committed to them early on that I was going to at least give it a test,” Stebner says.
Through its relationship with D.C. seafood wholesaler and distributor Profish, Sweetgreen was introduced to sustainable fishery, Verlasso, which is based in Patagonia, Chile.
Although Sweetgreen prides itself in using both sustainable and locally sourced ingredients, it made an exception for Verlasso. According to a letter Stebner wrote to introduce the new spring menu, the fishery shares Sweetgreen’s values and mission. The letter also noted that Verasso was the only farmed Atlantic salmon to be recognized by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for its sustainability efforts.
“The sustainability, the feed, the story behind it, is all great,” Stebner says. “To me all that stuff plays into what we're trying to accomplish as a company, which is to become a healthy lifestyle brand.”
Previous seafood offerings have included a Maryland Blue Crab salad at D.C. locations. To better understand the supply chain, Stebner even took a boat around the Chesapeake, visited crab houses, and discussed sustainability with fishermen.
While Blue Crabs are a summer catch, Verlasso’s farm-raised salmon are not as restricted and Stebner hopes salmon will find a permanent home on the menu in the future.
“It’s one of those double-edged swords we have with seasonal offerings. It’s awesome … because we can try things and not make a full commitment to them,” Stebner says. “But at the same time, it is going to go away in nine weeks.”
The spring menu, including the salmon, debuted at all 29 Sweetgreen locations in D.C. and New York on March 24. Stebner says he’s curious to see the sales figures. At $13.35, the Roasted Salmon + Radish is the most expensive salad on the menu, although the second most expensive item is only 50 cents less.
Stebner doesn’t think that the added cost of substituting salmon in another salad will be a deterrent. “It’s going to cost you a couple of dollars more, but it would be a nice upgrade, in my opinion. It’s definitely not one of those ingredients that’s polarizing,” he says.
Sweetgreen might be one of the first to commit to high-quality, sustainable ingredients, but Stebner sees the greater limited-service sector evolving, too.
“We use the quality of ingredients that full-service restaurants use—and sometimes better quality ingredients than full-service restaurants use—and we serve it quickly,” he says.
By Nicole Duncan