The Midtown lunch rush is back.
On a sweltering summer weekday in Midtown Manhattan, where supposedly no one works anymore, a fashionable crowd gathered outside the Mediterranean fast-casual eatery Cava.
The Greek-inspired chain’s Broadway and 38th Street location has been jokingly hailed as “the hardest club to get into in all of Manhattan,” in a now-viral TikTok posted by Big Apple influencer @HannahSueWilson.
Do you remember the pandemic? Remember when Midtown restaurants were on their last legs? Tell that to the trendy lunchers who queue up to 90 minutes for their lemon chicken bowls.
“I’ve queued here for an hour and a half to get food. It’s good and it’s healthy,” Kathleen Miszkiewicz, 25, told The Post, sweating under the blazing sun.
Cava was first launched in the 2010s in Rockville, Maryland, and the brand has now become commonplace in the Washington, DC area. Lately, however, more recently opened branches in Manhattan have become something like the post-pandemic answer to Chipotle, or the various $20 chopped salad joints.
The TikTok clip, which has been viewed more than 1.1 million times, shows a horde of food seekers sacrificing their hour-long lunch breaks while waiting to get $13 vegetarian, protein and grain blends.
So popular are Cava’s homemade bowls, with options such as falafel, spicy lamb meatballs and roasted vegetables, as well as a range of delicious dips, that those looking to buy lunch from the not-so-fast food chain often try to beat the rush by ordering in advance. via the Cava app or website. Miszkiewicz, who ordered ahead along with her two colleagues, found those efforts thwarted.
“We pre-ordered our food [online] at 11:30 am for pick up at 12 noon. Now it is 12.30 pm and we still have to wait”, says the business consultant. “It’s annoying, but the food is worth it.”
The restaurant’s mind-boggling popularity strongly advocates the return of the city’s vigorous lunch break, which took a steep nosedive in 2020 and 2021 as most of the staff worked (and ate) from home.
But Broadway Cava general manager Yasmairi Mercedes said her store has seen a boom in patronage since more employees were forced to return to their offices earlier this year, many on hybrid schedules.
“It’s really nice to see how the company has grown since the pandemic,” Mercedes, 21, told The Post as customers crowded through the door. “We are making more money now than before the pandemic.”
Other venues, such as the Cava on 42nd Street near Bryant Park and the one on Madison Avenue at 40th Street, also draw crowds of hungry afternoon diners.
And as nine-to-fives continue to adjust to their physical work lives, many use every minute of their lunch break to eat, drink, and maybe even make love.
“I’d like to,” said Cava goers and fashion retailer employees Emily Seitz and Jill Folger, both 26, when asked if they’d ever flirted with a fellow hottie in Cava’s nightclub-esque line.
The besties at work, who pre-ordered their takeout, waited 15 minutes as part of the pick-up crowd.
Still, most seem content to just pop in and score a good afternoon.
“The line is almost always very long,” Mani, 35, who works in construction and asked not to share her last name, told The Post. In the past, she’s waited over 45 minutes for her usual habanero chicken bowl, leaving her with just 15 minutes to feast.
In buzzer-beater cases like that, Mani said with a laugh, “I’ll just run back to my office and eat really fast.”
Likewise, software professional David Carmichael, 29, told The Post that he usually doesn’t mind letting the minutes pass while he waits for a bowl of falafel and feta.
But he also has his limits. “When I see the line out the door, I walk away,” he said.
Such was the case for Loren Fass, 33, and her colleagues, who all took one look at Cava’s intense line and immediately chose to eat elsewhere.
“It’s a long time and we have to go back” [to work]groaned Fass, an executive at a women’s intimates wholesaler in Midtown.
Others were similarly put off by the Cava crowd.
“I’m not a person who queues,” says Meagan Neville, 37, who stopped by with her fashion industry colleague Margaret Derby, 30.
“It’s good food,” Derby said. “But the TikTok nightclub [aspect] ain’t for me.”