There are plenty of ways to track our return-to-office progress — commuter rail ridership, office tower key card swipes, parking garage occupancy, and . . . demand for $15 Sweetgreen salads.
The leafy greens empire has 11 locations in Boston — tightly packed in the Financial District, Back Bay, and the Seaport — with one slated to open in Beacon Hill in a former SoulCycle studio.
But much of the company’s grip on Boston offices is invisible. During the workweek, salads flow through the city via a network of Sweetgreen “outpost” locations that make Guacamole Greens and Kale Caesar salads appear in office towers at lunchtime.
If a company signs up for an outpost location, they get a Sweetgreen shelf placed in their lobby. Employees can pick up preordered salads there, without ever leaving the office.
According to Sweetgreen, it’s a business that’s roaring back now that more office employees are working in person. Mitch Reback, Sweetgreen’s chief financial officer, said in an earnings call this month that orders to these locations are “above and beyond where we expected to be at this point in the recovery.”
There are nearly 80 outposts in Massachusetts. They are concentrated in downtown Boston and popular with technology and biotech firms like Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Rapid7, Toast, Whoop, and Wayfair.
Before the pandemic, Wayfair’s Copley Place office consistently met a salad-ordering limit of 150 per day, according to spokeswoman Jane Carpenter. Because many are still working from home, Wayfair workers now place about 240 orders a week. But Carpenter expects that to “increase significantly” when employees return to the office three days a week at the end of March.
Dan Slagen, chief marketing officer at weather-tech firm Tomorrow.io, said the company’s Sweetgreen shelf is sometimes filled with more than 20 salad bowls. “It has been great for us,” he said, adding that in the Fort Point neighborhood, “there aren’t a lot of quickly walkable options for lunch.”
“What better brain food for blockchain than Sweetgreen?” said Katrice Grady, a spokeswoman for Boston cryptocurrency firm Algorand. “On rainy or cold winter days, no one has to step foot outside to get a healthy, energizing lunch,” she said.
And the effort to shuffle food to office workers across the city could soon get even more efficient, thanks to robots developed by MIT grads.
Sweetgreen bought Boston-based Spyce, a robotic-kitchen startup, in August. Since the acquisition, Sweetgreen closed the only two Spyce restaurants, one in the Financial District and another in Harvard Square.
Now, the company is developing its own robotic kitchen, with the hopes it will be more consistent, accurate, and quicker than human employees. “Sweetgreen has indicated it bought Spyce for the robotics technology and not Spyce’s storefront concept,” said Tom Ryden of MassRobotics.
Sure, it was fun to watch your Spyce bowl travel down a fully automated conveyor belt system, catching sesame roasted mushrooms, organic tofu, and seared asparagus as they fell from clear, cylinder tubes. But based on the responses I got from Boston companies that have Sweetgreen outpost locations, it seems employees might prefer to just make a shorter trip to their office lobby.