Fast-casual Cava rapidly rising
D.C. restaurateurs of the year plot aggressive expansionCava was identified as one of the fastest-growing fast-casual restaurants in 2016. The Mediterranean-style chain has its roots in the D.C. area, and originally debuted in Rockville, Md. in 2006 as the Cava Mezze sit-down concept, then launching Cava Grill (now simply Cava) in 2011 in a quick-serve format. It offers customized, made-to-order entrees, including pita wraps, salads, and rice, protein & grain bowls. Last year, the chain had about 21 units, now tallying 38 stores at the time we reached out to the D.C.-based chain for this update. In addition to nearly doubling its number of restaurants in just one year, Cava continues to operate Cava Mezze sit-down restaurants. Beyond its growing restaurant business, its presence on grocery shelves has been a welcoming site to finicky consumers looking for delicious Mediterranean spreads at retail food outlets, including grocery stores and specialty food outlets. For Cava, 2017 was particularly sweet as its management team won the 2017 Restaurateur of the Year Award at the RAMMYS Gala in D.C. in July. “It’s an incredible honor to receive such a high level of recognition from our hometown restaurant industry peers, and it really reinforces what we’re trying to do here at Cava—to fuel full lives through a bold and innovative food culture,” says Meg Schiffman, director of Marketing for Cava. That culture is rooted in the heritage of our founders, Ted, Ike and Dimitri—three first-generation Greek-Americans who wanted to bring the authentic Mediterranean flavors and shared experiences of their upbringing to a wider audience.” The culture that the founders cultivated is still being developed and followed by the strong Cava team they have hired, she adds. And what a culture it has been: strong-willed and focused on growth, securing the investment it needs to grow, and making inroads on West Coast, where the chain surely feels it needs to establish itself. In addition to Los Angeles, and its presence in New York City and entry into Richmond, Schiffman says the chain will expand into three new markets—Austin, Boston and Charlotte, N.C.—in 2018. In the grocery channel, Cava is testing its popular sauces, including Green Harissa, Lemon Herb Tahini, Yogurt Dill and Spicy Turmeric Tahini flavors, at select Whole Food outlets. Thus far, the sauces have received very positive feedback. Cava is definitely a chain to watch as it expands rapidly into new markets and continues to fend off national chains, including Roti Modern Mediterranean, Simple Greek and Zoës Kitchen, and D.C.-local concepts, like Lebanese Taverna. Update: Cava was able to surpass its goal of 40 locations in 2017 with three new store openings. Recently, Cava opened three additional locations in Union Market, D.C., the Upper Rock area of Rockville, Md. and Rye Ridge, N.J. Three new locations will debut in Northern Virginia in early 2018. Portions of this report were previously published in Eatery Pulse News. To read more stories like this one, check out our digital platform here.