Like Canberra, Washington DC is often used as a synonym for politics and politicians. As a result, it’s not exactly known for its savoir faire. But one of the most successful food start-ups began there, and it’s changed how Americans – and consequently, a lot of the world – eats, founded by a couple of business school grads in 2007, was valued a year ago at $US1 billion, which makes it a “unicorn” in tech-world parlance.

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What’s intriguing about the valuation is that, with only 90 locations, the chain is relatively small. But investors are clearly betting on Sweetgreen as the go-to purveyor of what they believe to be the next big thing: takeaway salad.

There have been other salad chains, for instance Chop’t, which started six years earlier than Sweetgreen, but none has so successfully captured the market for what novelist Jessica Grose calls the “sad desk salad”.

Sweetgreen’s kale caesar is probably its signature item. It’s an overdressed monstrosity of slimy vegetal ribbons and oversized dry croutons, and at this point is practically an institution with well-off 30-something office workers willing to pay $12 to get their greens.

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