On the surface, Sweetgreen may appear as any other quick service salad chain, but to its employees and loyal customers, it is so much more. To them, Sweetgreen is not just salad, it is a lifestyle of health, physical and mental wellness, and sustainability.

Lauren Drell lives the sweet-life as both a dedicated customer and employee, leading Sweetgreen’s  brand voice and storytelling throughout the organization, both internally and externally.

Drell, a Medill Graduate School of Journalism alum, has always had a passion for media and storytelling ever since she was a kid, aspiring to be editor-in-chief of People Magazine. Throughout her career she explored this passion by crafting all of the social media for Luke’s Lobster, producing multimedia stories on entrepreneurs for AOL Small Business, and building the branded content team at Mashable.

No matter the career path she took, Drell always found herself connected to Sweetgreen in some way, whether it was as a loyal customer, taking all her lunch meetings there if she could, running the register for the Luke’s Lobster booth at all of Sweetgreen’s music festivals aptly named the “Sweetlife Festival,” or interviewing employees of Sweetgreen for her articles at Mashable. So when an editorial job opened up at Sweetgreen, she had to go for it.

“When this role came along for Sweetgreen I remember thinking, I would not be willing to go in-house at any brand unless it was a brand that I was truly passionate about,” Drell said. “When you look back at my career, the stuff that I enjoyed doing was telling stories and working with brands who have really good stories to tell and have a very strong human interest component. I very much felt like Sweetgreen had that and obviously I also loved the product.”

Drell loved her job at Mashable, but she loved living the Sweetgreen lifestyle even more.

“When I told people I was leaving Mashable to go to Sweetgreen, half of them were like, ‘Is that the salad place?’ and then the other half were like, ‘This makes so much sense, you are the human form of Sweetgreen.’”

According to Drell, Sweetgreen is dedicated to being more than just a quick service restaurant for its employees and its customers.

“I think a lot of people call us a salad chain and that feels like such an oversimplified way to talk about us,” Drell said. “I think it's very easy for a job like Sweetgreen to just be, 'I cut kale. I cut corn. I wash all the produce when it comes in.' But for us, we really want people to connect that this is meaningful work. We fundamentally want to change the way people eat. We're sort of challenging how the food system works from the inside. So we push back on our distributors and we push back on our farmers and we hold ourselves and all of our partners to really high standards of transparency and accountability.”

To execute this mission, all employees are trained to understand the importance of their work and its impacts on society. For Sweetgreen’s River North location in Chicago, team member orientation took place at Chicago’s largest urban farm, Growing Power, one of Sweetgreen’s local sources for kale and cabbage. There, employees got an inside look into the work that goes into bringing this produce to their store and into their customers’ mouths.

“I think a lot of our team members hadn't really eaten food like Sweetgreen before and didn't really know what a kale seed looks like, and how much work goes into kale, and the fact that you have to weed when you're farming,” Drell said. “It goes back to this idea of connecting people to real food and having people have more of an understanding and emotional connection to the food.”

The proceeds from the River North Sweetgreen opening were donated to Growing Power, which helped them convert an old CTA bus into a mobile farmers’ market that delivers fresh produce to Chicago’s South and West sides, where access to healthy food is scarce.

“We really believe in what Growing Power is doing and our values are very much aligned with theirs,” Drell added.

Drell is responsible for furthering Sweetgreen’s philosophy past orientation so that both employees and customers are aware that Sweetgreen is more than just a salad brand, it’s a lifestyle made up of real people.

“People really connect with the idea that we genuinely want to use the business at Sweetgreen as a force for positive change, which is super exciting,” Drell said. “A big part of my role now is telling really human stories, whether it's about our farmers who we work with or even telling the story about the three guys who started it, and also telling the stories about our people. I think using food as a lens for which to tell really relatable and inspiring stories is really what I'm doing every day.”

A large part of Drell’s role is to pass along this message and help change negative stigmas towards healthy eating and salads as “diet foods.”

“When people used to think about healthy food, it had this reputation for being a little stiff, a little boring, and not that exciting,” Drell said, adding, “If you were going to eat healthy, you were going to have to compromise flavor or it was not going to be as fun or interesting to eat.”

Sweetgreen doesn’t want to preach a message of healthy eating, but instead wants to make it more accessible and more fun to eat healthy. The brand makes food an experience by combining it with music within their stores and on a larger scale at their annual Sweetlife Music Festival.

“Music has always been really core to the Sweetgreen DNA. Food and music at the end of the day are just two universal languages, so we have used both of them together to really connect to people. Sweetgreen is very big on human connection, on building community, and on creating experiences. You can't do that just with food,” Drell said, adding, “I think food is a lot of what brings people here in the first place. They love the Kale Caesar, they love the Harvest Bowl, they love that the food is local and freshly prepared and they know that it's healthy and nutritious. But I think they keep coming back because there's a vibe and an energy. We make it fun to eat healthy.”

Food is obviously Sweetgreen’s number one priority, ensuring that it is delicious, nutritious and locally sourced. But there’s more to it. According to Drell, eating at Sweetgreen is just a part of living a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, and that lifestyle needs to be fun.

“Something that really differentiates us is the fact that we are a lifestyle brand, that we do have collaborations with Kendrick Lamar one day and with Dan Barber from Blue Hill another, and then we'll drop a Beyonce pun on the message board.”

Sweetgreen wants to help build communities around a healthier, fun lifestyle. In order to best serve its individual customers all across the country, the brand tries to keep this lifestyle unique and specific to each local region.

“Each region sort of has its own flavor. Its own menu, its own vibe, its own energy. Our approach is cool. It's a lot of work. It's building communities. You can't take a cookie cutter approach. You have to understand what is needed in each market and tailor what you're doing to what makes sense for that community.”

Lauren Drell is one of the many amazing and inspiring women coming to speak at Northwestern University's Sugar and Spice Summit on Saturday, April 1. Buy your tickets here before they sell out!