We’re happiest when we’re sharing our food, our culture, and our vibes with others. And we couldn’t do that without every one of our CAVA team members. It’s a fanaticism that can’t be faked – it’s a passion we just have to share.

So we’re hearing straight from our team about how they savor life – not just while they’re on the clock, but – even more importantly – while they’re off it.

Today we’re chatting with Yolando, a Culinary Lead, about his new role, and his favorite recipes — at CAVA and at home:

How long have you been at CAVA and how did you get your start?

I’ve been at CAVA for about a year and a half. Before CAVA, I worked nearby, at another fast-casual restaurant. I noticed the construction over time, and one day, I popped in and met the Area Leader and asked about hiring. She said that they needed a griller — and the rest is history.

Have you ever worked on the grill before?

Not really — this was my first time ever being a griller. But I’ve worked in a lot of kitchens before. I was excited to try something new.

What was the training like?

I was taught everything I needed to know to make the best food possible. I learned about working on the grill, how to prepare and cook the meatballs, how to lay the chicken right on the grill. I learned about setting timers, seasoning the proteins, cooking the lentils, prepping and frying the falafel.

Why did you like working on the grill?

I enjoy cooking on the grill because I enjoy cooking, period. I enjoy seeing people sit down and eat good quality food, being full, getting up saying “hey, that was good, I’m coming back.”

Tell us a bit about your current role, Culinary Lead. How did you go from griller to this new role?

My GM, Stephanie, recommended me as a candidate for this new role. She’s been on me for awhile, encouraging me, telling me I have what it takes to be a manager. So I signed up to the culinary lead training program. It’s a three-month training program that includes both culinary and leadership skills. I learned everything from running a shift to leading with empathy. It was a really good experience.

CAVA Culinary Lead, Yolando, manning the grillWhat is a day in the life of a CAVA Culinary Lead?

When I arrive in the morning, I make sure the restaurant is clean, both the kitchen and dining room. I work with team members doing prep, make sure they are using the recipe book. Then I ensure that the food that’s been prepared tastes right, is safe, and is overall to CAVA’s standards. And – I also make sure we have fun.

In this new role, do you still get to do any of the cooking?

Sometimes! If the griller is on a break or away for any reason, I step in. If the prep team member is behind or needs a break, I step in until they are back. The rest of the time, I am likely on the line, serving guests.

What is your favorite CAVA recipe to make?

The spicy lamb meatballs. They are so good. You have the spicy harissa in there, the salt, the pepper…I like spicy food in general, so I love this one.

CAVA Spicy Lamb Meatballs on the grillHow do you make sure the recipe turns out right every single time?

I always stick to the recipe card: I make sure we use the right proportions, measurements, and cooking methods — and then I taste it myself.

Other than the grill, what are some other methods of cooking you enjoy at CAVA?

I like the Woodstone — it’s a really good roaster. It roasts the veggies and the veggies come out nice and soft and seasoned. The pita, too – they come out warm and perfectly charred.

What’s unique about doing your role as the culinary lead? What do you like about it most?

I like feeling like I can impact food quality. It’s my responsibility now to ensure that the food we prepare at this location lives up to the CAVA standards. And as a leader, I can use my knowledge to help other team members do their job well, and have fun doing it.

What new leadership skills have you developed in your training?

I learned to run the shift well. Identify my team members’ strengths, and assign them accordingly. Some team members are better at getting the pitas in and out of the oven, others are really good at adding toppings quickly and accurately. It’s about knowing the right portions and doing so quickly. I identify when I need to step in and train someone, show them the right way to do things.

What’s your favorite thing about working at CAVA?

I get to smile and see new faces every day. I get to see people happy that they’re eating good quality food. And I just love working in the kitchen. I’m just a restaurant man.

What’s your favorite memory from working at CAVA so far?

One day, Chef D, CAVA’s executive chef and founder, stopped by and tasted the food. He loved my lentils and asked about how I made them. He said they were cooked just right, and it really made my day. I pointed out I actually add the oil after cooking so that the lentils are smooth and shiny. They used my tip to tweak the recipe, and now we all make it this way!

Yolando Williams, CAVA Culinary Lead, preparing a pot of lentil

Which CAVA value do you identify most, and why?

Thoughtfulness. I spend my days thinking about my team members. I’m thinking about the CAVA restaurant I run, I think about how the food should be prepared and served, and of course, about our guests.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I’m a Deacon in my church, so on Sundays, I run devotional services. Other than that I just go home and chill, play with my dog. I just bought a little Chinese Shar-Pei puppy, Buddy.

What’s your favorite thing to cook outside of CAVA?

I love making spaghetti, lasagna, and adding shrimp that I make on my back patio grill.

Did you grow up on Italian food?

Yes, my grandmother taught me how to make lasagna. She passed away last year. On her last day, she watched me cook lasagna on FaceTime.

It was her dream to get to see me with the chef jacket. The last time I visited Philadelphia, where I’m from, I visited her grave and in addition to the card and flowers, I added a picture of me in my chef jacket, so that she knows.

We have to ask: What’s your go-to CAVA bowl?

Basmati rice, half grilled chicken, half spicy lamb meatballs, tomato and onion salad, and then a drizzle of Sriracha Greek yogurt and Green Harissa.

We’re looking for passionate and positive go-getters like Yolando to join our growing CAVA team. Think you’re the one for the job? Join us.