What began as Cava Mezze, a solo Rockville restaurant built by local founders Ted Xenohristos, Ike Grigoropoulos, and chef Dimitri Moshovitis is becoming part of a national brand. The Cava Grill chainlet, a fast-casual spinoff of the flagship restaurant and its two sister eateries, is bound for Los Angeles thanks to $16 million in funding led by SWaN & Legend Venture Partners, a Leesburg-based venture capital firm.
While the founders and CEO Brett Schulman have no immediate plans to expand the three existing Cava Mezzes beyond a soon-to-open Baltimore branch, the group has been growing Cava Grill since the first location debuted in Bethesda Row in 2011. Eight of the Mediterranean eateries currently exist in the greater Washington area; three more are slated to debut in Fairfax, Ashburn, and at National Airport by the end of summer. Schulman says the company is still “actively looking” for spaces in DC, Maryland, and Virginia.
The initiative to head west came about after the company completed its third funding round, and found the LA market friendly towards the health-minded ethos of the Grill.
“We always say our goal is to be health-conscious, budget-conscious, taste-conscious, and time-conscious,” says Schulman. “We’re still planning to grow mindfully.”
The menu has also evolved—and skewed healthier—since the initial Bethesda opening, incorporating more vegetarian, vegan, and allergy-friendly options, house-made juices, mixed “greens and grains” bowls, and items from local producers. A number of the Cava Grills now boast wood-stone ovens for baking pitas and roasting vegetables. When the two Los Angeles branches open in the second half of 2015, the lineup will closely reflect those in Washington.
In addition to more eateries, the funding will go towards expanding the Cava line of dips and spreads like fresh hummus, tzatziki, and harissa in Whole Foods and other markets. Currently the offerings are sold in 250 grocery stores, and just entered the Midwestern market. A production kitchen in Los Angeles is in the works for the West Coast.
Cava Grill isn’t the only homegrown chain to find national success with a fast-casual, Chipotle-esque format—and considerable funding. Sweetgreen raised $18.5 million last year, and attracted big-name supporters like Danny Meyer (Union Square Hospitality Group, Shake Shack) and Daniel Boulud. Customizable pie joint &pizza is quickly growing in the Washington market, and recently acquired a $10 million investment for further expansion. Which one is the next Five Guys? Stay tuned.