A year after helping Cava Mezze Grill raise more than $60 million from investors, CEO Brett Schulman is raising funds for the 22-unit chain’s employees in the form of a $13-per-hour starting wage, as well as paid leave and a 401(k) program.
Cava’s program will likely serve as a test case for managing intentionally higher labor costs in order to attract and retain staff, while also setting ambitious expansion targets in high-cost markets like Southern California, New York and Cava’s home turf of Washington, D.C.
“We like to say a happy team equals happy customers equals a happy business,” Schulman said.
Cava Mezze Grill’s policies will provide an interesting case study in light of the foodservice industry debate over state and federal higher minimum wages, regulations to overtime pay and mandates for health insurance.
Schulman indicated that Cava isn’t looking to stir up controversy; it just believes its investments in people will enable more growth.
“It took us a few years to really understand our operating economics,” Schulman told the Washington Post last July.
“We’ve matured to a point where we have a good handle on what we can afford and what we can’t afford. … Our industry has to understand that these are household jobs for a lot of folks.”
But Cava Mezze Grill is worth watching for more than its approach to labor: Its menu and customer appeal earned the brand a Hot Concepts Award from Nation’s Restaurant News in 2015.
And the chain is growing: This year, Schulman has set an aggressive target for growth of 15 new restaurants.