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 swapping stories and cooking tips with Eugene, a grill cook so good that CAVA teams talk about him from coast to coast. Eugene is the reason the grilled chicken at Culver City is marinated, seasoned, and charred to perfection – and he knows what it takes to bring a smile to customers’ faces while he’s doing it. Eugene’s passion for all things culinary has made him an asset to our growing West Coast team, but it was his hard work that earned him high marks and a job when he first started with CAVA as an intern through our L.A. Kitchen partnership.
Tell us a little bit about what you do at CAVA and how you got your start on the team.
I started out as an intern through L.A. Kitchen. My dedication was evident during that internship, so CAVA offered me a job. Now I’m a Grill Cook, but they call me The Grill Master because I’m efficient at what I do and I love it.
How was the transition?
It was easy. Miguel [the general manager] is a great guy – he’s very fair and very understanding, and he takes good care of us. It all just felt transparent.
And this is an awesome team – it’s the best group of people I’ve worked around in my life.
What’s the best part of your job?
Interacting with customers, for sure. A lot of people in culinary positions are in the back of the house so they don’t get to see their customers. But to be able to chop chicken and talk to them at the same time is really cool – especially when it’s a crazy-busy day. That’s the best part of it.
What made you want to work with food?
I started in the culinary field in high school, at a vocational center, and it was something I took to naturally. I tried a whole bunch of other careers – from construction to security, but food is what stuck. I like to see the smile on people’s faces when they eat food that I’ve prepared.
That’s the satisfaction I get – more than my physical paycheck even. That’s what gets me through long days or when I’m tired. Being here, I get to see my regular customers every day. When they come in, smile, and greet each other, I can tell I’m making a difference in their lives at that point.
“Some people find their passion early in life, and cooking has been that passion of mine. To be able to live it now is just wonderful.”
Have you had any favorite experiences with customers?
We had family join us one day who was visiting from the Middle East – they were on vacation and they came and immediately after went on Yelp and talked about how authentic the experience felt and how we were able to help them navigate their visit with customer service and kindness. That felt good.
Have you been able to teach others your grill skills? What do you tell them?
Yeah, actually as we speak, there’s an intern chopping chicken over there [points to the kitchen] – he landed here just like I did. Yesterday was really rewarding because his school came for a pop-in after his first week of being here, and they asked him his best experience so far. He said it was working with Eugene – “he’s patient, he’s hard, but he’s fair.”
“I always say hang in there. Read your recipe cards and don’t be afraid to suggest new ways of doing things to leadership or other team members.”
What’s the secret to the best grilled chicken?
Honestly, the prep. You have to make sure the flavors are there. Make sure it’s marinated right and to keep the grill turned up high.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to train kids in martial arts. I’ve been doing a lot of training in stand-up boxing lately. That’s my hobby outside of here. My father was a boxer, and I boxed for a little while out here at Broadway Boxing Gym. I’m getting ready to turn 35 though, and now that my cooking career has taken off, I’m passing it on.
Do you think there are similarities between teaching at work and training young boxers?
Yeah, definitely. It’s about being patient and finding the best way to convey the knowledge that you have to younger people.
What are some personal goals you have at CAVA?
I would definitely like to move into management, and then after a few years doing that, I’d like to start my own business one day – a bed and breakfast in Malibu.
Tell us more about L.A. Kitchen.
L.A. Kitchen is a second-chance kitchen. The motto there is no food or no human goes to waste. They take people from rough backgrounds – just like rough-looking foods maybe, that normally wouldn’t make it to the shelves because of a bruise here or there – and train them to be able to turn that food into meals for the homeless, sick, shut-in, and elderly.
What did you like about working at L.A. Kitchen?
I was there for 15 weeks, and it was a great experience – it didn’t hit me until maybe a month in. I was leaving L.A. Kitchen and I looked over and I saw two homeless people sitting on the side of the road. They had our packages, and they were just sitting and eating the way that people are sitting and eating at CAVA right now. In that moment, I knew that I was making a difference.
Do you see yourself going back and working with L.A. Kitchen?
Yes, definitely. Right now at the church that I go to, there are a few of us from the same class at L.A. Kitchen, and we’re in talks with them about putting together an alumni board. They do a lot of work with fruits and vegetables so we want to help make sure people know how to cook protein too because that’s a needed skill in the industry. L.A. Kitchen teaches safety and sanitation really well. We want to come together and teach the next class now.
Okay, last question, but an important one. What’s your favorite thing to eat at CAVA?
The Braised Lamb. I’ll usually get a Pita, Crazy Feta, Eggplant + Red Pepper Dip, Braised Lamb, and Pickled Onions with Sriracha Greek Yogurt. And that’s how it’s done.
We’re looking for passionate and positive go-getters like Eugene to join our team here at CAVA. Think you’re the one for the job? Join us.
L.A. Kitchen believes that no human or food should go to waste – that’s why they’re empowering, nourishing, and engaging their community. Learn more.