Small Business Spotlight - Cava Restaurant
The Captivating Cuisine of Cava Restaurant
Traditional Mexican cuisine at its finest….
Swinging open the big green door, you are greeted by a sweet smiling face of a young and friendly hostess. The scent of tortilla chips and freshly made sangria embrace you as your are escorted to a cozy yet, somewhat private booth. The low chatter from the other patrons sounds joyful and happy. In a word, Cava feels like home. Before you can even ask, an assortment of house-made salsas is placed before you, accompanied by a basket of warm rainbow-inspired tortilla chips. You dive in, not even waiting for the server to take your order. A Blood Orange margarita is a must, a favorite amongst those who visit the restaurant. The server, who has been with the family owned restaurant for more than a decade, suggests a few must haves. Before the nights’ end, you have tried a few too many of the delicious margaritas from their vast list, and can barely move out of your seat, as you have enjoyed some of the highlights of the detailed menu - Alaskan Halibut Ceviche, Gambas al Ajillo, Cava Caesar, Enchiladas Mariscos, and Halibut Veracruzano. This was definitely your cheat day. And all so worth it - the atmosphhere, the service, the amazing cocktails, make Cava a place where you not only indulge, but you frequent. The vibe is friendly, the food is good and reasonably priced, and the history behind the name is iconic. Its no wonder Cava has been the longest running restaurant on Coast Village Road. So sit back, grab a Sangria, and let Carlos Lopez-Hollis, owner, tell you why Cava is what it is
How long has Cava been open?
We have been in business for 22 years now!
Tell us about your family and history.
I grew up in Santa Barbara. My family opened Carlitos Café y Cantina [on State Street] 41 years ago and decided to take the plunge with a new eatery on sleepy Coast Village Road back in 1997. Growing up, I never thought I would get fully involved in the family business. A decade away from Santa Barbara [for studies, travel and work], however, made me hungry to return to the area and learn the business inside and out. I had finally and fully realized what an incredibly awesome product and culture my family had fostered all those years.
What type of eatery is Cava? What is your specialty?
Cava is a relaxed yet sophisticated Latin eatery. We focus on fresh, unique dishes that satiate. A classic Chile Relleno, fresh Halibut Ceviche, Enchiladas Mariscos, a delicious grass-fed Ribeye with Chimichurri sauce… it is quite a dynamic menu with something for everybody. We have a charming interior that appropriately reflects Montecito’s understated elegance. We also happen to make the best Margarita you will find in Montecito!
What sets you apart from other eateries on CVR?
We are the longest-running restaurant on Coast Village Road! We are also one of the few that is both locally AND independently owned. We take pride in piloting a family-owned business.
How do you keep yourself updated with your customers’ needs and wants?
Cava has always been focused on fresh, unique, flavorful food. We know who we are and are mindful of staying in our lane. We continually strive to maintain our delicious simplicity versus chasing the newest trends or “cool” waves; those types of joints always flame out in this town, as we have seen repeatedly. I think our die-hard patrons appreciate the fact that our incredible Tomatillo Salsa, as an example, tastes exactly the way it did when we opened our doors 22 years ago.
Do you have other locations? Where is it?
I do. After running Cava for a few years upon returning to Santa Barbara in 2004, I had the audacious [read: stupid] idea to open up my own restaurant in Santa Ynez! Thankfully, it worked out—Dos Carlitos Restaurant & Tequila Bar just celebrated its 10 Year Anniversary and continues to charge ahead. The success of my shop up in Santa Ynez propelled me [along with my wife, Amanda] to purchase Cava fully back in 2011 (up until then I was a managing partner). I love having a business in Montecito, where we reside with our two young children, and also having a presence in the Santa Ynez Valley—a place near and dear to my heart. .
If you could go back to the beginning, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself, or someone else looking to enter the restaurant business?
Just focus on what you’re doing. Eliminate the “noise”—of which there is plenty in this industry. Great products always win out.
Other than your own place, where do you enjoy going for a good meal?
The Village Cheese & Wine is a civic treasure.The folks over at C’est Cheese do incredible things.Barbareño is, pound for pound, the best restaurant in SB if you ask me.Lastly, we’re big fans of the wonderful new addition to Coast Village Road, Bettina
What is the one thing no one knows about Cava? (ie. Mascot, unusual you’re your staff communicates, team brainstorms, how you select specials).
Just how many ingredients are in our criminally underrated Mole Sauce. (33!)
If your business was a famous book, song, or movie, what would it be and why?
The movie Cast Away (2000) immediately comes to mind. The movie doesn’t bamboozle you with fluff or flair, it stays the course and takes you on a slow, beautiful journey ripe with resiliency and hope. The personnel (Tom Hanks, Holly Hunter, etc.) are dynamite, much like our awesome and dedicated staff (most of which have been here for a decade, if not two.)
Cast Away stands the test of time—if you were to re-watch it today (19 years later) it feels neither tired nor antiquated, but rather strong and endlessly poignant.If I’m ever mindlessly flipping through the channels and stumble upon it I’m hooked for the duration of the film.I liken that staying power to how our cuisine, ambiance and overall “vibe” continues to bring people back year after year
What is your favorite quote?
”You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks.” -- Winston Churchill
What are you binge watching these days?
Barry (HBO) is superb, witty writing. Billions (Showtime) is fun and light for that necessary eye-candy fix. But lately we’ve mostly been binge watching our children, ages 4 & 1. LOL.
What got you involved in CVA? The board?
I reached out to the CVA Director on 1/10/18. We all know what happened the day before. I felt compelled to do my [very] small part in helping to rebuild Montecito and in particular this wonderful corridor of Coast Village Road.
I live up the street, own a business here and walk with my wife and kids here every day. I believe in this area’s long term viability and am fully committed to working towards a safer, vibrant, functional and beautiful Coast Village Road.