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    How Cava's Chef is Making Mediterranean Happen

  • Cava’s executive chef shares how he and his cofounders propelled the Greek cuisine they grew up with to be an on-trend sensation.

    Cava
    Favorite ingredient right now: Our seasonal dressing—Spicy Lime Tahini.

    With 50 restaurants open and 20 on tap before year’s end, Mediterranean fast casual Cava is winning over diners from D.C. to New York and California to Texas. The seasonal, veggie-forward cuisine spotlights regionally sourced ingredients, as well as Greek cuisine. It’s a winning combination that even extends beyond the brick and mortar; many of Cava’s fresh dips and spreads are now available at Whole Foods.

    But when childhood friends and cofounders Ike Grigoropoulos, Dimitri Moshovitis, and Ted Xenohristos set up shop in 2007, the world was less familiar with authentic, homemade Greek food.

    READ MORE: Cava buys Zoes Kitchen in $300 million deal.

    “It took the faith and support of our team members and guests to try us and embrace us,” says Moshovitis, who also serves as executive chef. He and his cofounders were dedicated to the bold flavors of their childhoods and never wavered from pushing that goal. Moshovitis chats about persistence and the brand’s commitment to culture.

    Sticking to his (Greek) guns

    When we first started 12 years ago, we found that there was a lack of the Greek food that my partners and I grew up with at home. When we started our full-service restaurant, we really wanted to create a menu that spoke to our culture. Four years after that, we wanted to reach a broader customer base; that’s how the fast casual grew out of the full service.

    When creating the flavors, we stayed true to what we knew and used clean flavors and spices that people had not seen out of Mediterranean cooking. It wasn’t very well known back then, but, of course, Mediterranean cuisine is super healthy. We highlighted the health aspect and the seasonality of it, which wasn’t done before either. Now we do four basic menu changes every year to reflect the seasons. That not only keeps it exciting, but it keeps it true to what we believe in.

    Trendsetters

    When we get into the kitchen with the culinary team, we ask, “What do we like? What do we find interesting?”

    We’re not into following trends as much as creating trends. We really look outside the box for different flavors and ideas. Then we go through extensive R&D to develop a recipe, without cutting corners and while staying true to seasonality, sustainability, and availability.

    We look at every city we go to and ask, “How can we make this different for that city? Is there something that the city is known for that we can get a foothold in?”

    It’s actually really exciting for the culinary team because we get to branch out a little bit. For instance, we’ll be opening in Austin, and something new that we’re trying out there is doing a Mediterranean-style brisket for the Austin market.

    Culture first

    Our mission has always been to create a bold and innovative food culture. To us, that means creating a restaurant that draws from our roots as first-generation Greek Americans, while also keeping true to the type of people-first culture that we were lucky enough to grow up around. Our team members are truly our secret sauce.

    Having grown up in kitchens and restaurants, my cofounders and I are very deliberate in making sure that culture in our restaurants stays strong and true and that Cava remains a place where everyone is embraced and treated equally.

    When we expand, our team really makes it happen for us. We love promoting from within. We feel that if you are hired, you were hired for a reason, and we want to keep you in the company and to grow within the company.

    Growing with intention

    Today, as we grow across the country, we still keep our local community at the center of what we do. Before we open a new restaurant, we always host community day as our way of saying, “Thank you,” while also supporting a local nonprofit working to make that neighborhood a better place for all.

    It’s about maintaining quality and culture. Often as restaurants grow or brands get larger, things tend to slide. We are very focused on ensuring that doesn’t happen to Cava. I go to every opening with Ike and Ted, and we tell our story, meet people, and hear their stories of how they came to Cava and what their role is at Cava. I make sure I meet all these team members face to face.

    Community, to us, is everything. Growing up, Ted, Ike, and I were surrounded by a strong Greek-American community that always showed up to support one another, no matter the situation. Th