Credit: CAVA

Starting today, diners who build a bowl or stuff a pita at the Dupont Circle CAVA will be the rapidly expanding company’s official taste testers. CEO Brett Schulman says they’ve rebranded the restaurant at 1222 Connecticut Ave. NW as CAVA’s “Innovation Kitchen,” where they’ll experiment with everything from new ingredients to menus displayed on digital sign boards.

“We’re born and bred in D.C. and we’ve had such tremendous support that’s helped us and allowed us to grow across the country,” Schulman says. “We wanted to get back and have that conversation as we think about how we go forward from here with all the people who helped us get our start.” CAVA got its start in Rockville in 2006 with a full-service Mediterranean restaurant.

Dupont CAVA devotees shouldn’t worry about anything changing too drastically, but as the company expands, even small changes can feel significant. After CAVA purchased Zoës Kitchen for $300 million in 2018, its fleet of restaurants grew to more than 80. “This is a fun experimental kitchen for the whole team to understand where we go from here,” Schulman says.

The Innovation Kitchen will launch with three new items, including the brand’s first new protein in almost five years—harissa honey chicken featuring Madhava organic amber honey. Also look for a vegan dressing made from chickpea water known as aquafaba that’s laced with garlic, and an additional topping—crispy chickpeas.

As they get feedback from customers, the new items will be rolled out to CAVA restaurants across the country. The fast-casual operation has been ahead of the curve in terms of how it gathers data from customers on their likes and dislikes. “We’ll do direct surveying, both digital and physical,” Schulman explains. “We love our data.”

The Innovation Kitchens opens today at 10:45 a.m.

CAVA, 1222 Connecticut Ave. NW; (202) 370-6636; cava.com