The Midtown lunch rush is back.
On a sweltering summer weekday in Midtown Manhattan, where, supposedly, nobody works anymore, a fashionable crowd lined up on the sidewalk in front of Mediterranean fast-casual eatery 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.
Remember the pandemic? Remember when Midtown restaurants were on their last legs? Tell that to the trendy lunchers waiting up to 90 minutes in a line-out-the-door situation for their lemon chicken bowls.
“I’ve stood in line for as long as an hour and a half to get food here. It’s good and it’s healthy,” Kathleen Miszkiewicz, 25, told The Post, sweating under the beaming sun.
Cava first launched back 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.
In the TikTok clip, which has garnered more than 1.1 million views, a horde of sustainability-seekers are shown sacrificing their hourlong lunch breaks while waiting to be served $13 veggie, protein and grain blends.
So popular are Cava’s build-your-own bowls, with options like falafel, spicy lamb meatballs and roasted vegetables, as well as an array of delicious dips, that those hoping to procure lunch from the not-so-fast food chain often attempt to beat the rush by pre-ordering via Cava’s app or website. Miszkiewicz, who ordered ahead with her two colleagues, found those efforts foiled.
“We pre-ordered our food [online] at 11:30 am for pick-up at 12 pm Now it’s 12:30, and we still have to wait,” the business consultant said. “It’s annoying, but the food’s worth it.”
The restaurant’s bewildering popularity makes a strong case for the return of the city’s power lunch hour, which took a steep nosedive in 2020 and 2021 while most of the workforce worked (and ate) at home.
But the Broadway Cava’s general manager, Yasmairi Mercedes, said her store has seen a boom in patronage since more jobholders were required to return to their offices, many on a hybrid schedule, 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 locations, such as the Cava on 42nd Street near Bryant Park and the one on Madison Avenue at 40th Street, are commanding crowds of peckish midday patrons, too.
And as nine-to-fivers continue readapting to their brick-and-mortar work lives, many are using every minute of their afternoon recess to eat, drink and perhaps even make a love connection.
“I wish,” said Cava frequenters and fashion retail co-workers Emily Seitz and Jill Folger, both 26, when asked if they’d ever flirted with a fellow corporate hottie on Cava’s nightclub-like line.
The work besties, who pre-ordered their take-out, waited 15 minutes as part of the pick-up throng.
Still, most seem satisfied just to gain entry and score some good afternoon nosh.
“The line is almost always really long,” Mani, 35, who works in construction and asked not to share her last name, told The Post. In the past, she has waited more than 45 minutes for her usual habanero chicken bowl, leaving her with only 15 minutes to feast.
In buzzer-beater cases like that, Mani said, laughing, “I just run back to my office and eat real quick.”
Similarly, software pro David Carmichael, 29, told The Post that he usually doesn’t mind letting the minutes tick by as he waits for a falafel and feta bowl.
But even he has his limits. “Whenever I see the line out the door, I walk away,” he said.
Such was the case for Loren Fass, 33, and her workmates, who all took one look at Cava’s intense line and immediately opted to eat elsewhere.
“It’s long, and we have to get back [to work],” groaned Fass, a staffer at a women’s intimates wholesaler in Midtown.
Others were similarly destroyed by the Cava mob.
“I’m not a wait-in-line person,” said Meagan Neville, 37, who stopped by with her fashion industry co-worker Margaret Derby, 30.
“It’s good food,” said Derby. “But the TikTok nightclub [aspect] isn’t for me.”