Tava Indian Kitchen has closed on a $4.5 million round of funding that will fuel the fast-casual Indian chain’s expansion, the company said Thursday.
The investment round was led by the CircleUp Growth Fund, Kensington Capital, Agilic Capital and former Smashburger CEO David Prokupek, through his investment fund HiGrowth Advisors.
As part of the deal, Prokupek, who is now CEO of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service Inc., was named to Tava’s board of directors.
Prokupek said in a statement that Tava has all the elements for a great success story, including “a talented team of founders, amazing food and the capital needed to grow. I am privileged to be part of this emerging concept and look forward to helping Tava become a leading brand in the fast-casual industry.”
Founded in 2011 by college friends Vijay Brihmadesam, Jason Pate and Hasnain Zaidi, the San Francisco-based chain has three units in the Bay Area. Tava offers a contemporary take on Indian cuisine, with all-natural ingredients and a customizable format. The menu features roti wraps, or “burrotis,” rice bowls and salad bowls, all prepared to order.
Tava CEO Jeremy Morgan was previously senior vice president of marketing and consumer insights at Denver-based Smashhburger. He first served as a board member for the Indian concept, and was named CEO in July 2014.
Morgan said the investment represents a minority stake in the company, and the injection of funding will be used to expand, invest in technology and build the management team.
Another one or two units are scheduled to open later this year in the Bay Area, with four to six additional units planned in 2016, as the chain looks to new markets, including Denver and Southern California. Restaurants will be company owned. The chain does not currently plan to franchise.
Going forward, restaurants will be about 1,800 square feet, which is a bit larger than existing units, with the goal of including larger dining rooms in locations conducive to both lunch and dinner business. Eventually, beer and wine will be added to the menu.
Morgan said the chain plans to invest early in technology, such as finding the right point of sale system that will allow the brand to be nimble with ordering, delivery and loyalty applications, as well as back-end systems that will allow employees to have their schedules via mobile app, or to clock in and out on tablets.
“We’re trying to create an ecosystem that’s more for this generation,” he said. “As an early-stage company, we have a real opportunity to build things right from the beginning so we don’t have a lot of legacy stuff to change later. We know we want to be bigger, so we want to do it right from the get-go.”
The company also plans to add to its management team, with hires expected soon in operations and culinary, Morgan said.
Tava will also work on its branding, which is why Morgan, a former marketing executive, was hired.
“The founding team did such an excellent job early on thinking through the initial concept, the food and making sure operations would be scalable. But they invested less in the brand from a design standpoint, and what the brand stands for, its voice and tone, and who the consumer target is,” Morgan said. “We have to move from having the feel of a local brand started by a couple of college guys to a fast-casual brand with similar positioning to the Shake Shacks and the Lemonades of the world.”