If you’ve ever been one of Sweetgreen’s ($PRIVATE:SWEETGREEN) 102 locations, especially during the lunchtime rush, you know it is not a small business. The hugely popular fast-casual salad chain is a hot spot for busy people trying to eat healthy. So, when the company received a $10 million loan through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was designed to help small businesses stay afloat during the COVID-19 outbreak, backlash was inevitable.
Earlier this week, Sweetgreen’s founders announced that they will be returning the loan in a Medium post. The post says they were approved for the loan from the Small Business Administration late last week. That same day, news broke that the PPP had been depleted of its $349 billion funding.
When we applied for the SBA loan, our goal was to use it as it was intended—to take care of our restaurant teams during this crisis. One hundred percent of the loan was going to be used to pay the people in our restaurants and hire back furloughed team members faster.
Of course, the pandemic is affecting Sweetgreen’s business despite its relative size and success. But if the company’s job postings are any indication, Sweetgreen will likely weather the storm. Since the end of March, job openings on the Sweetgreen website have increased 43%.
And now that Sweetgreen offers delivery, customers can stay loyal to their favorite salad purveyor despite store closings. Last month, Sweetgreen’s Facebook mentions have increased 78% since the beginning of April. Mentions peaked at 6,160 last month.
Shake Shack ($SHAK) and Ruth’s Chris Steak House ($RUTH) were similarly chided for receiving PPP loans, hence the recent spike in Facebook mentions for both companies. Just because they're talking about you doesn't mean they're offering compliments.
Shake Shack CEO Randy Garutti and founder Danny Meyer confirmed the company will be returning its $10 million loan as well. Ruth's Chris will return its $20 million loan, following a 200,000-signature strong petition asking the company to return it.
This week, the Senate passed a bill that would add $310 billion to the Paycheck Protection Program. It's expected to be approved by the House.
About the Data:
Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online - jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings - and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.
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