Photo above: The food service line at the new CAVA restaurant, 606 Post Road East, where customers select all the ingredients for their meals. Below: CAVA menu offerings include, from left, a balsamic date chicken bowl, a spicy chicken-and-avocado pita wrap and Greek salad.

By Gretchen Webster

WESTPORT — CAVA, a Mediterranean-themed restaurant, where “taste and health unite,” opens Friday on Post Road East, next to Westport Hardware.

“Our goal is to bring people in who have never tried Mediterranean cuisine,” said Patrick Cartier, CAVA’s senior area leader, as the restaurant prepared to officially open. On Thursday, meals were being served for what the restaurant chain calls “CAVA Community Day,” hosted for invited guests when a new location opens.

What’s different about CAVA restaurants, Cartier said, is that ingredients for each meal are chosen by customers passing along a service line. First, they choose either a pita or bowl for the meal. They then continue customizing the meal with greens and/or grains (such as rice) and finish off the meal with a selection of dips, a protein, toppings and dressing. Servers along the line fill requests as customers select ingredients arrayed in front of them.

Photos, clockwise from left: Patrick Cartier, CAVA’s senior area leader at the chain’s new Westport restaurant; a selection of Mediterranean culinary ingredients that diners can choose from to build their meals, and the CAVA storefront at 606 Post Road East, next to Westport Hardware.

This “fast-casual” style of dining has become popular, Cartier said. “You see your food made in front of you.”

CAVA, which has locations in 24 states, was established in 2006 by three men with a Greek background, who opened a tapas bar. In 2011, they started serving their menu in “a fast-food context,” Cartier said, and the business, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has been adding restaurants ever since.

CAVA also makes a large of donation of food to local food pantries or other organizations helping serve the food insecure every time a new location opens. The Westport CAVA donated 200 meals to six different agencies, including the Gillespie Center, the Westport Housing Authority and A Better Chance Westport to mark its opening, according to Haley Schulman, the site director of Food Rescue US in Fairfield County and a Westport resident.

The restaurant not only donates food to those in need when opening a new restaurant, it also makes its meals to order in a way that cuts down on food waste, Schulman said.

CAVA, which also offers pick-up and delivery services, provides a custom experience for diners, according to Cartier. The customer can choose from six different kinds of greens and several kinds of grains that include white, brown or saffron rice to add to a pita or bowl, he said. Then there is a choice of six different dips including hummus, eggplant, Greek cucumber-based tzatziki dip, or “crazy feta dip” made with feta cheese and jalapeno peppers.

For the next step — choosing a protein — the diner can choose lamb meatballs, braised lamb, marinated chicken, harissa chicken with a sweet honey flavor, falafel, or a vegetarian selection with Brussels sprouts and carrots. 

Toppings, at the next step, include tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, feta cheese, Kalamata olives and what Cartier calls “fiery broccoli.” The last step is choosing from eight different dressings to top off the meal.

Also on the menu are several juices, freshly made on the premises, as well as other beverages.

“Anyone who hasn’t come to a CAVA before should come try it,” Cartier said. “We’re committed to providing great food that is healthy.”

CAVA, 606 Post Road East, is open from 10:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Guests can order food through the CAVA app for pick up or from third-party delivery services, including Door Dash and Uber Eats. For more information, call 475-471-4523.

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Freelance writer Gretchen Webster, a Fairfield County journalist for many years, was editor of the Fairfield Minuteman and has taught journalism at New York and Southern Connecticut State universities.