Emerging Concepts | November 2013 | By Daniel P. Smith

Standout Store: Cava Greens

Denver-based fast casual incorporates seasonal, fresh ingredients into health-focused menu.

Healthy Denver based fast casual offers fresh instead of processed ingredients.
At Cava Greens, hand-tossed salads feature premium ingredients, including figs, pomegranate seeds, tofu, and salmon. Cava Greens
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When Patrick Fox opened Cava Greens in 2002, he fashioned it to be the anti–quick serve.

The food court–based eatery inside Denver’s 56-story Republic Plaza dishes up custom, hand-tossed salads alongside a range of fresh and natural offerings. The store resists processed foods in favor of dozens of seasonal foods, including figs, pomegranate seeds, and lean proteins, such as tofu and seared salmon.

“Everything comes in dried, fresh, or cured, and the store processes it forward,” Fox says, noting that fresh nuts and seeds are toasted in the store, homemade vinaigrettes are made from extra-virgin olive oil, and soft drinks are not on the menu.

A trained chef, Fox discusses the inspiration for his concept, its evolution, and its future.

What inspired the launch of Cava Greens?

I was working as a marketing manager for Compass Group, and that job had me traveling a lot and falling into some poor eating habits. I saw the growth of salad concepts elsewhere and, combined with the impact heart disease and diabetes had on my own family, I began thinking about creating my own concept. That’s the birth of Cava Greens.

How has Cava Greens evolved since you first opened?

During the economic crash, I reworked the menu and got rid of the dogs. We went from about 60 options to about 45, eliminating items like artichoke hearts, scallops, and crab legs that we were either consistently tossing or that were failing to meet our value proposition. Those were tough but necessary decisions.

You opened a second Denver location in 2007, but closed it in 2011. What did you learn from that experience?

Had I known the economy was going to crash, I wouldn’t have opened that second store and would have saved myself the expense and heartache. But my downfall there was more than the economy; parking and location killed me, as did the closing of a nearby hospital.

With any future location, I’d go for something smaller and do a deeper analysis of the particular area’s prevalence of my core customers, including the daypart and weekend draw. That’s definitely the mindset I’ll be employing in the future.

What are your future plans for Cava Greens?

I’m flexible about where Cava Greens is headed, but I’m in no rush. The way I see it, I have three potential avenues for growth: finding a super investor who understands and supports our mission; developing my consulting work for Cava Greens–like concepts; or creating a wholesale business to fund the opening of another shop. Any way I go, I know I want to keep as much control as possible.