Start to Finish: What Inspires Execs | October 2017

What Inspires Cava CEO Brett Schulman

In six years, Cava has expanded to 35 quick-service locations, five full-service units, and a strong retail presence in Whole Foods.
Brett Schulman believes people are eating out more than ever. Cava
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I started my career in finance. Although it was a good income, it was unfulfilling from a personal standpoint. My wife, who had also been in finance, started a natural snack-food company with her mother, and I helped them on the side. We grew it to a point where we brought on private-equity partners, and then I started to think about what I wanted to do next.

A college friend introduced me to her cousin Ted [Xenohristos], who was one of the founders of Cava Mezze restaurant along with Ike [Grigoropoulos] and our chef-partner Dimitri Moshovitis. At the time, the guys had one single full-service Cava Mezze restaurant and had started to sell the popular dips and spreads in a couple of Whole Foods, and were looking for help with that business. We immediately hit it off and had a shared vision for where Cava could grow and what it could do.

In January 2011, we opened our first Cava, which Dimitri likes to call our “chef casual.” Fast-forward to today and we have 35 Cava locations and five full-service Cava Mezze restaurants, and our products are sold in about 200 Whole Foods.

People are eating out more than ever, and they’re seeking higher-quality ingredients. When we can take these naturally healthy nutritional profiles, great flavors, and fulfilling foods to a reasonable price point, we’re really solving a problem for a variety of consumers on the go. Whether it’s families after a sports practice, office workers during the day, or a couple grabbing a bite to eat before a movie at night, this could really satisfy all those occasions where people don’t have to sacrifice taste or fulfillment.

We want to create an amazing experience for our guest. We also want to create a prosperous environment for team members. To achieve true collaboration, it’s important to foster an atmosphere of transparency, which requires candor, but it’s rooted in positive intent. When people are working together and have the opportunity to make an impact, they’re not only growing the business, but they’re also growing themselves.


What’s your favorite menu item at Cava?

Half saffron basmati rice, half lentils, a scoop of Crazy Feta, a scoop of Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, and chicken, topped with cabbage, Cauliflower Quinoa Tabbouleh, crumbled feta, a little fresh mint, and finish it off with Green Harissa dressing.

What menu item or operational strategy are you most proud of?

Our starting minimum wage is $13 per hour regardless of the state. We also have paid sick leave, paid parental leave, and paid community leave where team members can use one paid shift off a year to work on a philanthropic endeavor.

Who has inspired you as a leader?

Gregg Popovich, the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs. As the players and the game have changed, his culture of teamwork and excellence has never wavered. He’s a leader whose style is reflective of how we like to lead here at Cava.

What are some of your interests outside of the business?

I love spending time with my wife and three children and, when time permits, travel with them. We just took a trip to Iceland and Europe this summer.