With build-your-own bowls, house-made juice and more, the fast-casual chain Cava Grill opens its first Richmond-area restaurant next month. (Photo courtesy Cava Grill)
[2/8 Update: Cava Grill at 810 W. Grace St. opens on Thursday, Feb. 16, serving free lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day.]
Anyone who tells you "there's no such thing as a free lunch" certainly never stepped foot in a Cava Grill on opening day. Next month, this fast-casual Mediterranean chain is set to open its first of three Richmond-area restaurants and, as per company practice, it's giving away free lunch from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. during its launch.
"It's kind of our tradition to say 'Thank you for welcoming us to the community,' and to also give back to our community as well," says Nikki Rappaport, director of brand and marketing for the chain. To do this, Cava partnered with local food nonprofit Tricycle Gardens, and donations given during any of the three locations' openings will benefit that organization.
As of yet there's no opening date for the first Richmond Cava, which is set to fill the former home of the VCU-area Pie Five Pizza Co. at 810 W. Grace St., adjacent to Panera and Chipotle. But after its launch next month, the others are soon to follow: The Cava team expects to open both its Short Pump restaurant (11780 W. Broad St.) and Midlothian location (1401 Huguenot Road) by the end of summer.
The format is simple: Build your bowl or wrap by starting with a base of grains (saffron basmati rice, brown basmati rice and black lentils), salad ("SuperGreens," arugula, spinach, romaine and mesclun), a combination of those, or pita bread. Then choose up to three dips and spreads, from a selection including tzatziki, eggplant-and-red-pepper hummus, roasted red pepper hummus, "crazy feta" and harissa, and then it gets really fun with proteins: braised lamb, chicken, falafel, grilled meatballs, roasted seasonal vegetables, spicy lamb meatballs or braised beef. Toppings run the gamut from fresh mint to cauliflower-and-quinoa tabbouleh, and dress it all with lemon-herb tahini, a yogurt dill sauce, a Sriracha Greek yogurt, a vinaigrette — you get the idea. Even with a lamb or braised-beef add-on (around $2 extra), your meal should ring in under $12 before tax.
Speaking of that lamb, Cava Grill already sources a number of its ingredients from Virginia purveyors, including Border Springs Farm. "That's been a really great project that we kicked off last year: getting [their] lamb, which you know is incredible and served at some of the best restaurants on the East Coast, but served at a $10 price point at Cava Grill," Rappaport says. Richmond's Cava Grills are also partnering with Whisk bakery in Shockoe Bottom for a specialty Cava cookie to be sold at the chain's local restaurants.
Those looking to taste some of Cava's goods in advance of the openings can already find small-batch dips, hummus and salads at Whole Foods and Ellwood Thompson's. Next month, those looking to avoid that VCU foot traffic can use the brand's new app for ordering ahead and skipping the line. And while three is an already ambitious number of restaurants to open at once, Rappaport says there may be more on the horizon: "These are the first three, but they might not be the last three."
Cava Grill is located in the VCU neighborhood at 810 W. Grace St., in Short Pump at 11780 W. Broad St. and in Midlothian at 1401 Huguenot Road, with all three restaurants set to open by the end of summer.