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 (perhaps even more importantly) while they’re off it.
Today we’re talking workplace culture, amazing Cuban flan, and the secret to easy homemade pizzas (spoiler alert: two-ingredient dough!) with Emilee Miles, CAVA’s People + Culture Manager.
Let’s start with how you got to CAVA. Tell us how you got started.
I’m originally from the DC area, but I moved away to West Virginia for my undergraduate degree. I ended up staying there to get my Master’s in Human Resources. Then, I had my son, Vincent, and decided to come back to the DC area to be closer to my family. So I moved back and started a job search here. I saw the CAVA job posting, and while I had heard of the company, I had never eaten there before.
“When I told my best friend that I applied for a job with CAVA, she went insane! She is obsessed with CAVA and insisted that I had to go for it.”
By the time I heard back from CAVA, I actually had already accepted another opportunity. But the same friend insisted that I give it a go. Before my interview, my dad and I went to CAVA and ordered everything off the menu. I was absolutely hooked!
What was the thing that made you say, “Wait, I definitely need to take this job instead of the other one?”
From the very beginning, I felt really comfortable with CAVA’s culture. I just knew I was in the right place. I knew there was so much to be done in the restaurant industry and that CAVA is paving the way – a perfect fit for me.
What is a typical day at your job?
There is no such thing as a typical day in Human Resources! I work on anything from employee relations to workers’ comp to training and development. This is not a Monday-through-Friday, 9-to-5 kind of work. We’re open until 10pm every single night, so I get calls from employees and Managers around the clock.
“My job is to make the lives of our restaurant team members easier.”
What’s the hardest part of your job?
As the People + Culture Manager, it’s part of my job to have difficult conversations. But the unique thing about CAVA is that we see everything as a learning experience. It’s true for the company and for its team members, too. So if I’m speaking with a team member, and there’s an opportunity for improvement, it’s my job to make sure it is communicated right away and in the right way, and that we’re doing everything possible to help that team member be successful.
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
When I go into a restaurant, the team members are excited to see me. There’s genuine mutual respect, and they know I am there to make their lives easier and to help them learn.
When I started at CAVA – like every new team member, no matter what role they’ll have at the company – I went through restaurant training. Even though I had worked in a restaurant before, I found the work to be very labor intensive.
“Having gone through CAVA restaurant training myself, I know just how much physical effort and detail goes into each recipe. Our team members spend eight, nine hours a day here, and then go home and do it all over again for their families — I have so much respect for them.”
What are you most proud of in your job at CAVA?
The #MeToo movement has been all over the news recently. Working for a company that truly believes in everyone’s right to be respected at work, and provides the resources to train our team members and make it clear that we will not stand for sexual harassment — that’s what I’m most proud of. On top of that, I’m proud of other training I’ve led, such as diversity inclusion, especially those focused on the LBGT community. Teaching our managers and leaders to create an inclusive culture has been the best experience for me. You don’t typically learn this in the restaurant industry, so we’re really paving the way.
Do you feel like there were moments in your past experience with the restaurants where you felt like that was missing?
Oh, definitely. I came from a full-service-restaurant background, where there wasn’t even an HR department. I think that CAVA is ahead of the game. We create these training opportunities proactively rather than put out fires after something bad happens. And I’m not leading training modules that have been led in the same way for ten years — it’s all about creativity and innovation. It’s really rewarding to be part of that.
Which CAVA value resonates most with you?
Positivity. There’s a lot of bad going on in the world right now, and CAVA is doing a lot of good. No matter what’s going on outside of the four walls, inside, no matter which CAVA I go into, I’m greeted with positivity. They’re smiling and happy, and I think that attitude rubs off onto us, and then we rub it off onto our families and our friends. We’re spreading good vibes.
Let’s talk about food for a little bit. What do you like to cook?
I’m really into healthy cooking right now. My favorite recipe is homemade pizza. Vincent and I make it together every Friday night. He gets to put his own toppings on, like turkey pepperoni, homemade sauce, barbecue chicken, and fresh vegetables.
Any pro tips? Pizza at home can be tricky.
I use a simple two-ingredient dough made of Greek yogurt and self-rising flour. That’s it. Vincent and I like get our hands all floured up and have fun with it.
What is your favorite food memory?
I lived in Florence for a while in grad school and obviously had amazing food every single day. I took a series of cooking classes while I lived there and learned to make zucchini fritters, a classic pasta bolognese, etc. So delicious.
These days, I create my own healthy spin on those recipes. I gained a lot of weight during my pregnancy. I love food. Working in downtown DC, there are a lot of options, and it’s just easy to choose food that actually doesn’t make you feel great. So more recently I decided to start tracking what I choose to eat and just take my wellness back into my own hands. It’s given me the ability to get creative in the kitchen.
Do you feel like CAVA fits into that mentality?
Oh, absolutely. That’s the best part of it. I can eat at CAVA every single day and still lose weight. And I don’t have to order the same thing every time – I can switch it up and get different protein or different kind of greens or toppings, so it’s never boring. It helps to know that if I don’t feel like cooking, I can go to CAVA and I don’t have to feel bad about it.
Is there someone in particular that has been an inspiration for you and your interest in cooking?
My dad. He escaped from Cuba in the sixties. When I was growing up, my dad worked incredibly hard, at least twelve hours a day, six days a week if not seven. When he retired three years ago, he started doing all of the cooking, since my mom still works. And he’s a really great cook, very creative. He doesn’t even really follow a recipe, just creates things. When I moved back to the DC area, I lived with them for awhile, and his cooking inspired me and helped me through a difficult time in my life.
Does he make traditional Cuban dishes? What’s your favorite?
Every Christmas Eve he’ll make the traditional Cuban meal: pork that takes 48 hours to make, black beans and rice, yucca, sweet plantains, and homemade flan. His flan is really, really good.
What motivates you?
Vincent, my son. I’m his only parent, and I know that I have to be healthy, have a stable income, and be able to provide for him. And all while making meaningful memories with him, and being there for him. Everything I do is around him.
What is your favorite CAVA order right now?
Romaine lettuce, Eggplant and Roasted Red Pepper, half grilled chicken, half roasted seasonal vegetables, pickled banana peppers, cabbage slaw, tomato and onion salad, diced cucumber, and Sriracha Greek Yogurt.
We’re looking for passionate and positive go-getters like Emilee to join our growing CAVA team. Think you’re the one for the job? Join us.