Pita, falafel, spicy lamb meatballs, and tzatziki: you’ll find all these and more at CAVA, the Washington-area fast-casual spot that’s been serving balanced and craveable Mediterranean cuisine since 2011.
Described as “flavorful and healthy,” CAVA’s extensive menu includes customizable meals from Saffron Basmati Rice grain bowls to pita with seasonal soups. The company also has a line of dips and spreads available at Whole Foods markets in the city.
CAVA has several locations across the District, as well as in neighboring cities like Bethesda and Alexandria. And they’re expanding. After receiving $45 million in venture funding in 2015 and recent series C funding of $30 million earlier this year, CAVA is opening storefronts across the country in states like Connecticut, New Jersey, California, and New York.
A handful of GW graduates are part of this growing culinary favorite. Though they have very different roles, you’ll find them hard at work at CAVA’s headquarters, just a few short Metro stops away, in Chinatown. We spoke with Nikki Rappaport, CCAS BA ’09, Josh Patchus, CCAS BS ’10, Tyler Calder, CCAS BA ’13, Eric Breese, CCAS BA ’15, and Lizzie Anderson, GWSB BBA ’17—who just joined the team after three years interning at CAVA—to find out what it’s like working for this exciting (and delicious!) D.C.-based company.
Was there a moment where you realized you were working with other GW alumni?
Nikki Rappaport, Director of Brand and Marketing: As the first CAVA employee, I was lucky enough to bring in other GW alumni to our business. [We] have many mutual friends and that’s how [I] know Eric. Tyler and I used to work with each other when I was working at GW and she was a student.
Tyler Calder, Copywriter: I think the funniest of these moments was when I realized Eric and I had the same major, and we have two very different jobs. I think it goes to show how you can really shape your path with a major like American Studies—he landed in tech, and I landed in marketing, but we both look back fondly on the classes that got us here.
Eric Breese, Corporate Infrastructure Specialist: Not necessarily—but this is in large part because the network of GW alumni is what led me to CAVA. I knew that I wanted to work with passionate people, and the alumni network helped steer me toward CAVA for that reason.
What does an average day at CAVA look like for you?
Lizzie Anderson, Creative Project Coordinator: Every day is different. I’m always helping out with different project, researching new ideas, or assisting in community outreach. But I always have CAVA for lunch!
Nikki: Every day at CAVA is different for me, which is why I love it so much. I oversee brand strategy, experiential and digital marketing, creative direction, customer experience, PR, and internal communication for our brand. So one day I’m on a photo shoot, another day at a restaurant opening or event in LA or NYC, or in strategy and design meetings with my team of 17. We keep it interesting here!
Eric: It’s hard to say that there is an average day! I’m responsible for making sure our teams at CAVA have access to, and can effectively utilize, the best technology to do their jobs. I can spend much of a day helping people with basic computer troubleshooting, but I can also spend time in meetings and on calls working to pin down the systems and processes people will use to keep the Crazy Feta flowing.
Tyler: I don’t know that there’s an average day. My job is equal parts storytelling and strategy, so no matter that the project is, I’m always thinking about the message we want to send and how we can do it in a way that’s effective, creative, and true to CAVA.
Can you cite a recent example of when you’ve been able to use your GW education in the field?
Eric: I’m an American Studies major, which often leads to a lot of “what exactly is that?” questions. There are a few ways to answer that question, but I find that the best way to explain the strength it has provided me is in the importance of storytelling and communication. Laying complex information out in a way that makes it easy to digest and analyze is really important every single day.
Nikki: I majored in journalism, and while I’m not a journalist, storytelling is at the heart of what I do every day. Classes and mentorships by amazing writers like Steve Roberts instilled in me best practices and creative ways to approach storytelling to this day.
Were you involved with any clubs or organizations on campus that prepared you for your work today?
Tyler: I think GW’s focus on internship experience was the biggest boost for me. Copywriting is a writing-based creative/marketing role, so an editorial internship with USA TODAY and a marketing internship with GW Athletics gave me the writing and marketing foundation I needed to start thinking like a copywriter. And another internship with No Kid Hungry piqued my interest in food issues, and how nutrition and vitality are so intertwined.
Nikki: I was the editor of the Cherry Tree Yearbook, which taught me about leading a team of diverse writers, managing budgets, and building a creative project from start to finish. My Colonial Inauguration leadership roles sparked my interest and prepared me for a career in customer service.
Lizzie: At GW, I was involved in a few different business organizations—GW Women in Business (GWWIB) and Delta Sigma Pi) that allowed me to practice my professional skills and deepen my marketing knowledge and experience. I actually met my current CAVA manager at a GWWIB networking event. I was also on the executive board of my sorority, which developed my leadership experience. Doing a sustainability minor also prepared me to work for an organization that cares about its environmental impact.
And what advice would you give a student who’s thinking about pursuing some type of career in the restaurant industry?
Eric: If anything, I might tell them to not search for jobs within a specific industry. Figure out how you want to impact the world and what you want to do every day to make that happen, and then search for roles at transparent companies with passionate teams. Two years ago, I would have never imagined myself working at CAVA, because I limited my job search by industry, rather than looking for a group of people trying to do good things in smart ways.
There are a lot of fast-casual restaurants around campus. What makes CAVA a unique dining experience?
Nikki: CAVA has that eat-it-once and crave-it-forever quality. It’s food that fills you and fulfills you, both literally and inspirationally.
Lizzie: We like to say CAVA’s “a culture, not a concept”. This rings true for me every time I experience CAVA, because both the restaurant and the food feel authentic. The flavors are bright and bold, but are still healthy and approachable.
Eric: CAVA provides healthful, responsible meals at an incredible value. I couldn’t sum it up any better than that!
And last but not least, do you have an #OnlyAtGW moment?
Tyler: Seeing Michelle Obama speak was definitely an Only at GW moment for me. Now that I think about it, both times I saw her were a direct result of volunteer opportunities I learned about through GW.
Nikki: 2008 Election Night was pretty incredible, and a memory I will never forget.
Eric: I was attending the rally outside of the Supreme Court in March of 2013 during the oral arguments for the case that would eventually lead to DOMA being ruled unconstitutional (United States v. Windsor). A friend asked if I wanted to get on his shoulders and hold up a flag, and next thing you know, a photographer came up…a few hours later, friends were telling me they had seen my photo all over the news. Lo and behold, I had become a Getty Image. While the flag was rainbow-colored, it was not a Pride flag, though—it was an Italian Peace flag.—Sophie Ota, SMPA ’18