Midtown lunch rush is back.
On a sweltering summer weekday in Midtown Manhattan, where supposedly no one works anymore, a fashionable crowd lined the sidewalk in front of the Mediterranean restaurant Cava.
The Broadway and 38th Street location of the Greek-inspired chain has been hailed, jokingly, 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 wait up to 90 minutes in a line-out-the-door situation for theirs lemon chicken buns.
“I have stood in line for as long as an hour and a half to get food here. It’s good and healthy, Kathleen Miszkiewicz, 25, told The Post, sweating under the bright sun.
Cava was first launched back in the 2010s in Rockville, Maryland, and the brand has now become a staple 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 salads.
The TikTok clip, which has received more than 1.1 million views, shows a horde of nutritionists sacrificing their hour-long lunch breaks as they wait to be served $13 worth of vegetables, proteins and cereals.
So popular are Cava’s build-your-own buns, with options like falafel, spicy lamb buns and roasted vegetables, as well as a range of delicious dips, that those hoping to get lunch from the not-so-fast-food chain often try to beat the rush by pre-ordering via Cava’s app or website. Miszkiewicz, who ordered on with his two colleagues, found this effort thwarted.
“We pre-ordered our food [online] at 11.30 for collection at 12.00. It is now 12.30 and we still have to wait, said the business consultant. “It’s annoying, but the food is worth it.”
The restaurant’s staggering popularity makes a strong case for the return of the city’s powerhouse lunch hour, which took a steep dive in 2020 and 2021 while most of the workforce worked (and ate) at home.
But Broadway Cava’s general manager, Yasmairi Mercedes, said her store has seen a boom in patronage since several job holders were required to return to their offices, many on hybrid planes, earlier this year.
“It’s really nice to see how the business has grown since the pandemic,” Mercedes, 21, told The Post as customers squeezed through the door. “We’re actually making more money now than we were pre-pandemic.”
Other places, like Cava on 42nd Street near Bryant Park and the one on Madison Avenue at 40th Street, command throngs of cheeky diner patrons as well.
And while nine-to-fivers continue to adjust to their physical work lives, many use every minute of their afternoon break to eat, drink and maybe even make a love connection.
“I wish,” Cava patrons and fashion retailers Emily Seitz and Jill Folger, both 26, said when asked if they’d ever flirted with a corporate friend on Cava’s nightclub-like line.
The workers, who pre-ordered take-away, waited for 15 minutes as part of the collection volume.
Still, most people seem happy just to get in and have a good afternoon.
“The line is almost always very long,” Mani, 35, who works in construction and asked not to share his last name, told The Post. In the past, she has waited more than 45 minutes for her usual habanero chicken dish, and she only has 15 minutes to eat.
In such cases of buzzer-beaters, Mani said with a laugh, “I just run back to my office and eat very quickly.”
Similarly, software pro David Carmichael, 29, told The Post that he usually doesn’t mind letting the minutes tick by while he waits for a falafel and feta bowl.
But even he 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 co-workers, who all took one look at Cava’s intense line and immediately chose to eat elsewhere.
“It’s been a long time, and we have to go back [to work]” moaned Fass, an employee of a Midtown female wholesaler.
Others were similarly put off by the Cava mob.
“I’m not a queue person,” said Meagan Neville, 37, who stopped by with her fashion industry colleague Margaret Derby, 30.
“It’s good food,” Derby said. “But the nightclub TikTok [aspect] is not for me.”