Menu on a Mission

Cava CEO Dishes on Dining in a Pandemic World
By Sala Levin ’10 | Illustrations by Valerie Morgan

Restaurants vying to survive the pandemic had to do more than stock up on to-go boxes and hand sanitizer.

As the noontime stampede from office workers seeking a salad or sandwich nearly vanished, fast-casual eateries instead needed to serve up bigger changes—and attractions.

In this uniquely competitive environment, Cava, the Washington, D.C.-based Mediterranean restaurant chain now with locations in 12 states, has thrived. CEO Brett Schulman ’95 says the COVID-19 pandemic “has allowed us to reflect on future plans and quickly accelerate certain initiatives that were planned for months or even years down the line.”

Here are some of the pandemic-prompted updates that he says helped Cava avoid fallen competitors’ fates and adapt to customers’ changing lifestyles and tastes.

STRAPPING SUPPERS: Early on in the pandemic, the Cava team noticed that check sizes were growing, as families stocked up on meals for coming days or simply needed more food for children and other relatives who may have returned home. “Family meals” now offer platters for bigger groups.

CHEF-Y CHOICES: Harissa, spicy lamb meatballs, lentil tabbouleh, yogurt dill dressing—a new customer discovering Cava online might have trouble knowing what components taste best together. Cava introduced chef-curated bowls from its culinary team “to quickly meet heightened demand for flavorful and convenient meals that eliminated any guesswork,” says Schulman.

AN APPEALING APP: Cava launched its new app “to further bridge the gap between the in-store and digital experience,” says Schulman. The app is visual and linear to clarify the ordering process.

SUPERMARKET SPECIALS: Sales of Cava’s grocery store products grew by double-digit percentages; its line of dips, sauces and spreads—available in Whole Foods and other grocers before the pandemic—met a demand for more exciting dining-at-home flourishes.


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