Several things are a little different about Cava, the Washington-based company that opens its first location in Charlotte this week.
Cava started in D.C. 11 years ago as a full-service restaurant with a Greek and Mediterranean menu. Then it became a product line, with Greek-inspired dips and spreads that are carried in Whole Foods (including the popular whipped Crazy Feta). Then it added a fast-casual (like fast-food, but fancier) format and started expanding fast, with 45 locations.
So we were mildly interested when we heard the 46th location will open Thursday in University City, the first of three Charlotte-area locations planned this year. (The others: Birkdale Village this spring and Park Road Shopping Center this summer.)
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Then we heard a little more about co-founder and executive chef Dimitri Moshovitis and we really got interested. Moshovitis, it turns out, has ties to Charlotte’s Greek restaurant community.
Moshovitis’ late uncles, Emilios and Charlie Leris, used to own the Knife & Fork, the diner that used to be at Sharon Amity Road and Independence Boulevard. They didn’t start it – it was built in the 1950s – but they bought it 1982, after coming to Charlotte in 1977.
Moshovitis’ family has been in the restaurant business since his grandfather came to America in the early 1950s and started working as a busboy and dishwasher in New York and New Jersey.
“He would send his family (in Greece) money and that’s how my dad came to the States,” he says. “Food is such an important part of our culture, it’s almost like a running joke – if you’re Greek, you open a restaurant.”
The real irony: When people like Moshovitis’ father and uncles first started restaurants in America, the last thing anyone wanted to eat was Greek food.
“People weren’t gravitating toward (Greek),” he says. “So they started doing 24-hour breakfast, grits, things that people in the area wanted to eat.”
Today, of course, we’re all clamoring for it as a healthy cuisine with big flavors. At Cava, they have a format that lets you mix and match things to customize what you buy. Cava also uses some local-ish ingredients, such as lamb from Border Springs in Virginia and cookies from Appalachia Cookie Co. (It also pays $13 an hour as a starting wage and includes paid sick leave, parental leave and vacation time.)
While both of Moshovitis’ uncles have died, he lived here in Charlotte as a young man and worked at Dean & Deluca when it first opened around 2000. Last year, when he was in Charlotte, he had coffee with his uncle Emilio in the SouthPark area near Dean & Deluca.
“He said, ‘I won’t be around to see this, but you will open a place in Charlotte one day.’ That meant a lot to me.”
Cava officially opens Thursday at 10:45 a.m. at 8936 JM Keynes Boulevard, across from UNC Charlotte. But you can try the food and do a little good Wednesday. They’ll have free lunch from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and dinner from 5-7 p.m. It’s free, but you can make donations that will go to Sow Much Good, the local nonprofit that works in underserved neighborhoods.