Sweetgreen names former Starbucks exec COO

Rossann Williams was prominent in the coffeehouse chains' early unionization response. Now she joins Sweetgreen as it pushes toward profitability.
Sweetgreen's newest Infinite Kitchen location in Huntington Beach, Calif. |Photo courtesy of Sweetgreen.

Sweetgreen has tapped as its new COO one of Starbucks’ most visible executives from the early days of the coffeehouse chain’s unionization effort.

Rossann Williams was named COO late Friday, effective Feb. 5. She will be tasked with overseeing operations, real estate and development and supply chain for the Los Angeles-based fast-casual chain, which has about 220 units.

Rossann Williams

Rossann Williams. |Photo courtesy of Sweetgreen.

“Rossann is an industry veteran with a proven track record in driving sustainable growth of global, iconic brands and leading teams to generate profitability,” said Jonathan Neman, CEO and co-founder of Sweetgreen, in a statement. “Rossann complements the existing skills and experience of our leadership team as we pursue our next chapter of growth. It’s clear that she shares our values, and I look forward to partnering with Rossann to further our mission of connecting more communities to real food.”

Williams previously spent 18 years with Starbucks, where she was executive vice president of North America Retail, overseeing a market of about 16,000 stores. She also served in senior operations roles at Starbucks across North America, rising to the position of senior vice president, global Americas operations services.

When she left Starbucks in 2022, the coffeehouse chain was going through leadership upheaval, with CEO Kevin Johnson out and former CEO Howard Schultz stepping back in on an interim basis. At that time, workers at more than 150 Starbucks units had voted to join a union, and the company was looking for a change in leadership. Williams had been offered a reassignment, but it was declined.

Williams replaced Chris Carr, Sweetgreen's former COO who stepped down for personal reasons in March 2023.  

She joins Sweetgreen as the healthful concept slows growth slightly this year to focus on profitability. The chain plans to add 23 to 28 new restaurants this year, down from the expected 35 in 2023. But among the new units will be seven to nine new Infinite Kitchens, a format that uses automated makelines that have so far demonstated higher margins, faster and more accurate throughput and lower labor costs.

Williams in a statement said, “I’ve long admired Sweetgreen’s leadership as a founder-led, mission-driven company driving the industry forward. I am deeply aligned with Sweetgreen’s values, people-centric approach and commitment to connect more people to delicious, real food. I’m thrilled to be joining the Sweetgreen team at a moment of significant growth and an incredible opportunity ahead.”

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