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CAVA Acquires Zoës Kitchen for $300 million

The three lifelong Rockville friends who created CAVA got their start in Bethesda restaurants

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A dish served at Zoës Kitchen

Zoës Kitchen website

With a chain of more than 60 restaurants and a well-regarded line of dips and spreads available in 250 Whole Foods Markets, boyhood friends Ike Grigoropoulos, Dimitri Moshovitis and Ted Xenohristos have come a long way since they opened their first CAVA restaurant in Rockville in 2006.

The announcement Friday that CAVA has acquired the Zoës Kitchen chain of fast-casual restaurants for $300 million means the partners have come a whole lot farther.

Zoës Kitchen has more than 260 restaurants in 20 states, including locations in Park Potomac, Gaithersburg and Germantown. CAVA operates four full-service restaurants (locally in Rockville and Olney) and more than 60 fast-causal CAVA Grill eateries in nine states and Washington, D.C. There are CAVA Grill locations on Bethesda Row and in Westfield Montgomery mall in Bethesda as well as in Gaithersburg’s Kentlands, Potomac and Silver Spring.

Both CAVA and Zoës serve Mediterranean cuisine.

Lifelong Rockville residents and friends, Grigoropoulos, Moshovitis and Xenohristos got their start in the restaurant business in Bethesda. Grigoropoulous and Xenohristos were waiters at Olazzo; Moshovitis was the chef at the Tel Aviv Café, which in the early 2000s occupied the space on Cordell Avenue where Barrel + Crow is today.

After their shifts, the three friends would get together and talk about opening a restaurant. “We talked about this for a good year or two,” Xenohristos told writer Steve Roberts for  a 2014 Bethesda Magazine story on the three friends. “Why don’t we open a restaurant that serves little mezze, small plates, like they do in Greece? All the restaurants in this area serve these big plates; we’d never seen that in Greece. What country did they come from? Why can’t it be different?”

The Rockville restaurant got off to a rough start, according to the magazine story:

“Their first two customers looked at the menu and said, ‘We don’t want small plates, we want big plates. Full dinners.’

Ted raced to the kitchen. The partners consulted. We’ve talked about this for years. No big plates. Let’s just stick to our guns, they decided.

Ted delivered the news. The couple got up and left. ‘You should have seen our faces,’ Dimitri recalls. ‘We were like, defeated.’

The customers who stayed presented other problems. Since the owners couldn’t afford a computer, the waiters wrote orders on little Post-it notes.

‘When we put them up in the kitchen, the heat would melt the glue, so all the tickets were falling everywhere,’ Ted recalls. ‘We were all on the kitchen floor, all three of us, trying to find the tickets. We ended up giving half the food away because we were screwing up orders.’

Siga siga—slowly slowly—business picked up. Some regulars would stay late, drink steadily and start dancing on the bar. Heel marks are still visible from some particularly vigorous moves.

‘We’d sleep here sometimes,’ Ted says. ‘Half the time we were exhausted, and half the time it was because we were too drunk to drive home.’”

In a statement to 1,800 CAVA employees posted Friday on the company’s website, the three partners and CAVA CEO Brett Schulman said, “Today, we announced a plan to expand our CAVA family by acquiring Zoës Kitchen, a well-regarded Mediterranean brand that shares our heritage and passion for exceptional guest experiences … . This opportunity is truly exciting and will now position CAVA as the leading player in the Mediterranean culinary space.”

 

 

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