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 Maria, a Culinary Lead at CAVA Rockville, about her role, her favorite recipe to cook, her fondest memories from her five years at CAVA, and her favorite food to make for her family. 

So when did you join CAVA and how did you get your start? 
I’ve been at CAVA for five years now! I joined the very first location, CAVA Bethesda Row, as a team member. I was working as a cashier at another fast-casual restaurant, and a friend who was already working at CAVA told me about it. I came in for an interview, and the rest is history.

What was your first role at CAVA?
I was working on the line and in the front of house – making sure the dining room was clean, clearing tables, and just making sure guests felt welcomed. Then, I also started taking on register duties and then also worked on the grill.  I’ve done almost every role at a CAVA restaurant.

So which role has been your favorite?
I love working the line. I really enjoy talking to our guests and introducing them to our food. I know the menu inside and out, so whenever anyone has questions about allergies or ingredients, they ask me. “Maria, which dressing is dairy free?” or “Maria, which protein is gluten-free?”

Maria Martinez, CAVA Rockville Culinary LeadSo now you’re a Culinary Lead. Tell us about it. When did you start?
Culinary Lead is a new role at CAVA, and I’m in the first group that started its training about a month ago. I’m really excited about it. As the culinary lead, it’s my job to ensure that team members follow all recipes carefully, as well as all safety and cleaning procedures. I help open the restaurant and taste the food every single day.

What’s the hardest recipe to get right?
The falafel. We make it from scratch and it takes skill and experience to get the consistency just right, with some of the chickpeas mashed and some remaining whole. But, it’s also my favorite. Our falafel is tasty and fresh.

And which recipe is the easiest to whip up?
The Cabbage Slaw – we receive the cabbage pre-sliced, so all you have to do is mix all of the ingredients.

What is a day in the life of a Culinary Lead like?
I come in early and help with the opening process. I make sure everyone finishes making the food and beverages they are in charge of preparing for the day. I jump in when needed to make sure everything is cooked and ready to go for when we open our doors.

Right around 10:20am, we break for a meal, and then open right at 10:45 am. While we’re open, I am often on the line, and sometimes at the register. Over the course of a day, I also help clean, and keep an eye on which menu items are running low.  I keep us on track by making sure we prep and cook so that we don’t run out of anything. Before I leave for the day, I make sure that everything is ready for the next shift, and that I’ve connected with the Culinary Lead that is coming in for the afternoon shift.

What is the most important thing in your new role?
The guests. My job – everyone’s job, really – at CAVA is to make our guests happy. As a Culinary Lead, I make sure our food is tasty and available for guests to enjoy. And I also try to say ‘yes’ as much as possible. And then, I also make sure everyone meets our safety guidelines, whether it’s food handling, hand washing, or wearing a cut glove.

What is your favorite thing about being a Culinary Lead?
I love coaching and developing others team members. And I’m picking up new leadership skills through the Culinary Lead program. We’re all like family here at CAVA Rockville. Most of us have been working side by side for years, so at first, it was a little uncomfortable to tell my colleagues that they were doing something wrong. But the program taught me how to lead effectively, with empathy, and feel comfortable in my new role.

What is your favorite memory from your five years at CAVA?
Being part of opening CAVA Rockville. It was really exciting. And even though I’ve already worked at CAVA for several years, I learned more about my job through the pre-opening training. We had three days of intense training to bring everyone up to speed and it was really beneficial. And the opening itself was fun and festive – lots of people came through!

What was your proudest moment at CAVA?
I feel a sense of pride every time I see something that isn’t quite right and I fix it. A recent example was one day recently when I came in and one of the juice dispensers was not working properly. I took the time to take it apart and put it back together and then it worked. It’s a surprisingly complicated piece of equipment with a lot of parts that have to fit together, so I felt good about resolving the issue myself.

What’s the hardest part about your job?
Honestly, it’s English. I’m still learning. I also encourage my team members to always speak English with me and each other, so that we all learn together.

What’s your favorite CAVA value?
Definitely positivity. I think a positive attitude makes all the difference in the world. It helps make every day better and keeps the team working together to make the guests’ experience positive too.

Maria Martinez, CAVA Rockville Culinary LeadWhat do you like to do outside of work?
I love spending time with my daughters and my family and cooking for them. I also like to talk with my friends on the phone and connect with family and friends on Facebook.

What is your favorite food to make at home for your family?
Pupusas! I make them for my family all the time and they can’t get enough of it.

Finally, we have to ask: What is your go-to CAVA bowl?
Here’s what I eat almost every day: SuperGreens, brown rice, lentils, Crazy Feta, Traditional Hummus, falafel, cabbage slaw, crumbled feta, and Lemon Herb Tahini.

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