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Jax Daily Record Monday, Sep. 20, 202104:50 AM EST

CAVA Grill taking over some Zoës Kitchens in Jacksonville

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Washington, D.C.-based Cava Group bought the chain in 2018 and is converting some of the restaurants nationwide.

Fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant operator Cava Group is converting some of its Zoës Kitchen stores into its CAVA Grill concept and it appears that at least two of the five Jacksonville area locations are involved.

The city is reviewing preliminary plans for Cava Group to renovate the Zoës Kitchens in Brooklyn Station on Riverside and at St. Johns Town Center.

Washington, D.C.-based Cava Group bought Plano, Texas-based Zoës in late 2018.

The concepts are similar.

Zoës offers a Mediterranean-themed menu that includes hummus, falafel, salads, soups, pitas, kabobs, plates, bowls and sandwiches.

CAVA Grill features a build-your-own line for diners to choose among bases, dips and spreads, proteins and toppings, including lamb meatballs, roasted vegetables and grilled chicken. It serves bowls, pitas and salads.

The permit applications show an estimated renovation cost of $175,000 each at 90 Riverside Ave. in Brooklyn, near Downtown, and at 4624 Town Crossing Drive in Town Center.

The plans specify the tenant will renovate the restaurant space within an existing one-story building, with minor renovations to the kitchen including mechanical, plumbing and electrical work.

The “red architecture + planning firm” of Columbus, Ohio, submitted the plans.

In addition to the two listed in permits, Zoës Kitchen has locations in Mandarin, Bartram Village and Ponte Vedra Beach. There has been no official indication of those conversions.

Nation’s Restaurant News reported March 24 that Cava Group’s $300 million acquisition of Zoës expanded the company from 66 to 326 locations across the U.S.

CAVA Grill does not list any restaurants in Florida. Zoës has more than 15.

There are five Zoës Kitchen locations in Northeast Florida, but two could be converted into CAVA Grills.

Restaurantdive.com said in March that Cava Group had converted seven Zoës and planned to change another 12 this year.

NRN.com reported that at the time of the purchase, Zoës was considering the closure of up to 10 locations amid declining sales trends.

It quoted Brett Schulman, CEO and co-founder of Cava Group:

“Our goal has always been to bring Cava to more communities, and with the acquisition, we were able to strategically expand and diversify our real estate portfolio, unlocking significant value through scale and cost-effective real estate conversions.”

It said Cava Group was converting 12 Zoës Kitchen locations to CAVA Grill in the first half of this year, and planned to reveal “ambitious growth plans” for the second half of 2021 and beyond.

Cava Group did not respond immediately to emails and calls for comment.

“Conversions are an efficient, cost-effective means of market entry, as we repurpose a good deal of the existing restaurant infrastructure when converting to a CAVA location,” Schulman told Nation’s Restaurant News.

He said a motivation behind the acquisition of Zoës was the chain’s presence in suburban communities, noting that Cava Group had seen a shift toward suburban living before the pandemic began.

“As the pandemic accelerated the shift towards suburban life, with people moving from major cities at a faster rate than ever before, we were able to accelerate plans to convert Zoës Kitchen locations to continue meeting customers where they are,” he said.

The NRN.com site said the acquisition gave Cava Group opportunities for menu synergies across the two Mediterranean-themed concepts. 

Schulman said Cava Group had been positioned for the demands of the pandemic.

“Cava has been a digitally enabled brand since day one, and invested in access points pre-pandemic that now serve as a competitive advantage,” he said. 

Bloomberg.com reported April 27 that there were 113 Cava and 176 Zoës locations, with plans for more than 50 conversions this year and more in 2022. 

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