Sweetgreen employees help co-workers with a special fund, but the program has sparked criticism

The Sweetgreen “Family Fund” is a pool of money designated for the salad maker’s 3,000 restaurant employees

Two months after Sweetgreen raised another $150 million in investments lifting its valuation to $1.6 billion, the salad chain's program that encourages employees to provide financial support to co-workers going through a “life altering event” is getting some attention.

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The Sweetgreen “Family Fund” is "a voluntary program for all employees, both corporate and team members," a spokeswoman told FOX Business, not just for company executives as some published reports have stated. Sweetgreen President Nathaniel Ru recently told Quartz that the company has “a relatively high contribution rate” for the fund.

According to the Sweetgreen employment page on job hunting website Indeed, the average hourly pay for Sweetgreen “ranges from approximately $11.84 per hour for Front of House Team Member to $17.56 per hour for Line Cook/Prep Cook.” The site – which gathers its data from current and former employees – also lists salary ranges “from approximately $20,000 per year for Team Member to $62,550 per year for Restaurant Manager.”

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The eatery does offer a 401K plan and health care benefits and made headlines in restaurant circles last spring by adding five months of paid leave for new parents who work in headquarters or one of the chain’s 90-plus restaurants.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of 2018 the paid family leave benefit was offered by only 25 percent of private employers nationwide.

While the 3-year-old “Family Fund” has been celebrated in some circles, others cite it as another example of worker /wealth inequality. In a story in The New Republic Monday, the magazine asked: “Why not just pay higher salaries?”

Ru sidestepped the issue in the Quartz interview. “I think the goal for us was just a conversation between the employees and team members . . . Our mission at Sweetgreen is to make an impact, and we feel like this program does that.”

The spokeswoman told FOX Business, "We see this as an added benefit outside of competitive compensation packages."

According to the financial services site Sentieo, Sweetgreen has raised nearly $479 million since 2009. Investors include Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer and famed chef/restauranteur Daniel Boulud. The new round of investment will pressure the company to increase growth and expand. The company said that the new flow of capital will allow for investments in technology, data, supply chain and “social impact.”

That “social impact,” though, does not include contributing corporate money to the “Family Fund.” The company said rather it “intends to continue to support FoodCorps . . . to address systemic challenges to serving healthy, high-quality food in schools.”

Sweetgreen, where a salad routinely can run a lunch customer $15, is being closely watched on Wall Street. First, it opened an outpost at the New York Stock Exchange, and CEO and co-founder Jonathan Neman recently told The Street about plans for an IPO, saying, "It's something that we're considering.”

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