Sitting down with them at the first
fast-casual CAVA on Bethesda Avenue,
they seem like the same jovial, genuine guys they must have been decades
ago. At one point, Ike jokes that he’s the
best-looking of the three, and he and Ted
(who live in the same Rockville neighborhood) later kid Dimitri for quitting
their basketball team to pursue his passion of becoming a chef. “One of the
main reasons we’ve been successful is
that we remember at the end of the day
that we’re friends,” Dimitri says. “We
still make fun of each other the same
way we made fun of each other when
we were younger. We find time to hang
out. We go to each other’s houses on
the weekends to watch football. I don’t
think there’s a day that goes by that we
don’t talk to each other. It’s a stressful
business, and we try to keep it as fun as
What were you like as kids?
Ted: We grew up as immigrant kids. I
never had a peanut butter and jelly until
I got to college. We would go to lunch
at school and I’d unpack my spanako-pita, and people would be like, ‘Ugh,
what’s that smell?’ And I think we kind
of bonded over that. We had the same
kinds of stories, the same upbringing. I
think we were a little bit wild.
Did you get into trouble?
Dimitri: Innocent trouble, compared to
what you hear about today. Back then
it was like skipping school. I didn’t care
much for school. One common thing we
had is that we had hardworking parents.
I think that made us not get too crazy.
Ike: We also worked a lot. We had jobs
from very young ages. We’ve been working in restaurants for as far back as I can
Ted: My mom worked as a waitress at
the Tally-Ho Restaurant [in Potomac].
It’s my mom’s sister’s restaurant. She
used to drag me there. Even when I was
really young [ 11 years old], on the week-
ends I’d wash dishes.
I’m sure you all have a lot of food-related memories from when you were
growing up. What stands out?
Ike: One big thing for me is Easter. We
used to put a lamb on a spit in our [Gaith-ersburg] neighborhood. As a kid, going
to the bus stop the next day was always
an adventure. Everyone would talk about
it, saying, ‘They had a whole animal on
a spit!’ It’s delicious, but people weren’t
used to seeing things like that.
Ted: I feel like my whole life revolved
around food. Both my parents worked
hard, but then my mom would come
home and still, every single night, she
made dinner. And it wasn’t a frozen
dinner. It would be a leg of lamb, potatoes, it wouldn’t just be one thing. Still
today, she invites us over and makes like
50 things, when you only really need two.
And she always makes enough so that
everyone can take home leftovers.
Dimitri: Like Ted said, there’s not anything we do in our lives that food isn’t
somehow incorporated into it. Whether
it’s a christening of a child, or even a
funeral. Everything revolves around food.
I understand that your immigrant parents weren’t eager for you to go into
the restaurant business, that they
wanted you to be professionals, like
accountants. So what do they think
Dimitri: I don’t think any immigrant
parents come over and think, I can’t wait
to work my butt off so my kids can wash
dishes. Now, they’re obviously proud of
us. I hope.
Ted: Our parents had a short list of what
they wanted us to achieve. Number one
was marry a Greek girl. Number two was
go to school. Number three was become
a doctor or lawyer. We’re 0 for 3. I think
they’re pretty proud of us. I hope so. I
don’t know what else we gotta do.
Ike: My mom cried for two weeks when I
told her I was going to open a restaurant
with these guys and quit my job. Now she
couldn’t be prouder. I think there’s a lot of
pride because we’re doing it with Greek
food and really showcasing our heritage.
Looking back on those early days of
CAVA Mezze in Rockville, what were
some of the biggest mistakes you
made—and what did you learn?
Dimitri: How many pages are you
Ted: We had to learn to operate from a
business perspective. We learned that,
hey, we paid $10 for these scallops, we
should be selling them for $30, not $12.
We also learned real quickly that we
needed more than one dishwasher. We
learned the hard way, because it was us
Dimitri: We were scared. We wanted to
please people, to give them a good deal.
I think the same thing today. We just do
it a little bit differently. We’re smarter.
Ike: I remember bartending for the first
two, three weeks. I’d give all the tips
to whoever I was working with, just to
make sure that they were happy, that
they weren’t going to leave. We were so
focused on that, and [on] putting out a
great product, that everything else was
on the back burner.
When the first fast-casual CAVA was
opened in 2011, five years later, how
much more prepared do you think you
Ted: Probably less prepared, in a funny
way, because it was so different from
what we were doing. Especially on the
food side, we learned real quickly that
the food was sitting on the line, and we
had these deep pans, and it was getting
kind of old and mushy.
Dimitri: We just shortened up some of
the pans and cooked in smaller quantities. That worked some. But then we had
to figure out: When are people coming