Industry News | September 24, 2015 | QSR Exclusive Brief

Investors Funnel $45 Million into D.C.-Based Cava Grill

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Fresh off an infusion of venture capital in April, Cava Grill received $45 million in funding from equity investor Invus, existing partner Swan & Legend Ventures, and new partner Revolution Growth.

The Washington, D.C.–based fast casual plans to use the influx to fuel its expansion of stores and Consumer Packaged Goods, as well as to invest in its employees and to augment its technology initiatives.

“We’ve just been building momentum, and we felt as we’re opening our first store in LA in the next couple of weeks, we continue to see positive momentum from our existing stores and really strong openings from our new stores that we’ll continue to see positive results,” says CEO Brett Schulman. “We’ve always wanted to bring Cava to a larger audience.”

Cava, which began as a full-service Greek-Mediterranean restaurant, opened its first limited-service location in 2011 and has since grown to 11 locations in the greater D.C. area. In April, the brand received $16 million from Swan & Legend to develop its presence on the West Coast and merge Cava Grill with its CPG division into the umbrella Cava Group.

Schulman says the partnership with Revolution Growth began organically since one of its cofounders, Ted Leonsis, was a patron and fan of the original full-service concept Cava Mezze. Revolution Growth, which also counts tech pioneer Steve Case as one of its founders and partners, has a history of investing in emerging fast casuals. In 2013, the firm funneled $22 million into D.C.-based Sweetgreen and participated in funding an addition $35 million this summer.

(Click here to read an exclusive Q&A with Steve Case about how foodservice has learned from the tech startup scene.)

Similar to Sweetgreen, Cava Grill has built the brand around a commitment to quality and a passion for the food. Schulman grew up with cofounders Ike Grigoropoulos, Ted Xenohristos, and Dimitri Moshovitis, and emphasizes the importance of those ties in running a company.

“We talk about Cava being a culture, not a concept, and we talk about for our team members it being a lifestyle, not a paycheck,” Schulman says. “I think myself and our cofounders are all passionate about what we do and we want to make sure that everybody that’s in our organization isn’t hitting the snooze button.”

In addition to bolstering the employee experience through benefits like flexible scheduling and charitable paid time-off, Schulman says the funding will allow Cava Grill to develop the next generation of mobile ordering and personalize the experience for consumers. On the back end, the brand hopes to expand operational efficiency by utilizing big data—an area of which Cava Grill already leads the pack; in March it hired Josh Patchus as chief data scientist.

Furthermore, Schulman says Cava Grill will be working to strengthen its relationship with the ranchers and farmers who provide the food. With so many plans in the pipeline for Cava, the support of third-party partners hints at a promising future.

“To have a prestigious, local, successful investment firm be able to be partnered with and support us was really great,” Schulman says. “We get excited by the confidence and support of our investor partners that we think it’s a validation on the shift in the way people are eating and the people seeking out fresher, healthier cuisine.

By Nicole Duncan

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