Sarela Herrada: Helping CAVA bring healthy Mediterranean food to tables across the U.S.
Although her mom, brother, and sister were all engineers, Sarela Herrada (’12 I E) says it was the latter who influenced her to become an industrial engineer. “I learned from her how versatile the major is and how an industrial engineering degree can lead to robust careers.”
While exploring colleges “outside her comfort zone,” the Rockville, MD, native discovered that Penn State had a highly regarded industrial engineering program. After being accepted to the University, she continued to take on new challenges, completing two internships that she says helped her see the ‘bigger picture’ of working at large companies.
“At GE Transportation, I was a quality control intern, so I learned about processes and procedures as well as the procurement side of the business,” recalls Sarela. “As a continuous improvement intern at Kraft Foods, I obtained my Six Sigma Green Belt certification by utilizing Lean Six Sigma methodologies that I learned at Penn State, to collect and analyze operational data for Kraft’s Spry Dryer Project.”
After graduation, Sarela joined Manhattan Associates in Atlanta, GA, as a consultant, in order to “gain a more robust perspective of how businesses work and flow through the economy.” Her clients included major apparel, consumer products, and retail companies. Specifically, Sarela worked with one client—Nike Canada—to identify optimal processes for warehouse stocking and efficient online ordering fulfillment. While she enjoyed this experience, she was traveling every day of the week and, after about six months, decided to move on to a position that would offer a better work-life balance.
In 2013, Sarela returned to her hometown to become the operations systems manager at Mayorga Coffee, a small niche manufacturing company. There, she helped manage internal operations systems, streamline the company’s manufacturing line, and implement new software for more efficient enterprise resource planning.
“I was proud of what I accomplished in my first year at Mayorga, but it was a small company and I didn’t have room to grow,” says Sarela. “So, I took a few months off to travel around the world. It was’t long before someone I knew at CAVA reached out to me, because they were looking for someone to help improve their vendor management infrastructure.”
Sarela began consulting for CAVA before officially joining the company as a supply chain manager in February 2015. In December 2016, she became director of food and beverage.
“It has been a crazy ride—a really fun, exciting ride,” says Sarela. “When I started I was the fourth employee. Now CAVA has more than 80 employees at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., and over 800 staff in 29 restaurants.”
And the company continues to grow. Earlier this year, CAVA received series C funding of $30 million and expects to add 15 additional locations to existing markets in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. by the end of 2017.
In her current role, Sarela says she loves having the opportunity to bring healthy high-quality foods to communities.
“The sourcing and procurement and the value and thought behind what we do is very unique to us,” she explains. “We only source fresh meats and cage-free chickens, and we source local whenever possible. We care about the food experience that our customers are having and we want to bring them the best food in a fast-casual setting.”
Reflecting on her Penn State engineering education, Sarela says the industrial engineering program taught her how to take a methodical and thoughtful approach to solving day-to-day challenges.
“It may sound cliché,” she says, “but Penn State engineers truly do think outside the box.”
Sarela resides in Washington, D.C.