Tired of dreading work on Mondays, Brett Schulman swapped finance for food — a leap of faith that appears to be paying off.
The restaurant world is a 180-degree turn from his former career. While in finance, he worked in equity trading at Alex. Brown, Bankers Trust and later Deutsche Bank. At first, he loved the deal-making aspects of the job, but as the industry transitioned toward computer automation, Schulman's enthusiasm waned.
He hungered for something more entrepreneurial and fed that craving by helping his wife grow her natural snack food company, Snikiddy. He served as COO there and later left to be CEO of Cava Group, the parent company of two Mediterranean restaurant chains and a consumer packaged goods brand. The company has received $61 million in financing to date.
"I got really interested in food and the opportunity to change the way people think about eating, the way they are eating and the accessibility to fresh food," Schulman told CNBC in an interview last year.
Schulman shared his top tips for people thinking of switching careers:
- If you're unhappy at your current job, fix the problems or move on.
- Discover a new passion and turn it into a career.
- Don't be content. Always be looking to evolve.
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Schulman's involvement with Cava grew out of a 2008 meeting with Ted Xenohristos, Ike Grigoropoulos and Dimitri Moshovitis, who were putting an American spin on traditional Mediterranean cooking at their Maryland-based restaurant, Cava Mezze.
The co-founders hired Schulman to consult on a new line of business: packaged dips and spreads they were selling in Whole Foods and similar organic markets. Schulman's prior food experience and financial expertise quickly earned him an equal share partnership in Cava.
He joined at a time when consumers were increasingly eating Mediterranean foods, such as hummus and Greek yogurt. Schulman saw this trend as an opportunity to create a healthy, Mediterranean-based fast-casual eatery.
"The idea behind Cava Grill was bringing the restaurant quality that we serve in the full-service experience to a time-conscious consumer," Schulman said.
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Cava Grill seems to have whetted the public's appetite. The multimillion dollar financing it received last year has helped feed that desire by funding restaurant expansion, new technology, staffing and supply chain improvements. The chain has already mushroomed from several locations in the D.C. area to 16 spots in four states with future plans to spread across the U.S. Eight new locations are set to open this year and another 15 to 20 the following year.