Customer Story | National Fast-Casual Chain
How Cava and Zoës Kitchen Teamed Up to Streamline AP
Zoës Kitchen and Cava are 2 major fast casual chains that merged in 2018. Here’s how they merged their AP systems into a single seamless operation with Plate IQ.
Zoës Kitchen is a fast casual chain with over 200 stores across the US. In 2018, the company was acquired by Cava, a fellow purveyor of casual Meditterranan food. After consolidation, the newly-formed Cava Group had over 300 locations — and a mountain of paper invoices.
This is the story of how Zoës Kitchen’s intrepid AP manager merged the two companies’ AP systems into a single, seamless operation with Plate IQ and saved hours of manual paper processing.
Even before being acquired by Cava, Zoës Kitchen was drowning in a paper-based AP process.
GMs would receive invoices, enter the details into inventory software, and scan the paperwork to the corporate office. It was a slow, error-prone system.
When AP manager Whitney Hamiter joined the company in 2016, modernizing this process was one of her priorities.
We would print out 5,000 pages a week of just invoices. I used to have someone every Tuesday who would sit there and print. That’s all they did.
“The rest of us would grab pages and audit against the inventory software. It was a huge pain.”
Aside from killing a lot of trees, the process was opaque. “If you ever had to reference an invoice again, you had to go through a whole filing cabinet.” Invoices frequently fell through the cracks.
When Cava acquired Zoës in 2018, Whitney suddenly found herself responsible for streamlining two manual AP workflows instead of one. But as the mountain of paper doubled, so did Whitney’s resolve to fix it.
Cava didn’t just bring a higher volume of invoices. They also mandated a switch to NetSuite. That’s where Plate IQ came in.
“The software integrated well with our accounting software,” Whitney says. Plate IQ was able to get digital invoices directly from vendors and push them into both the accounting software and Netchef, Cava’s inventory management software. This freed up expensive NetSuite storage and created a critical connection in the tech stack.
Some of the vendors we work with don’t have any kind of feed into NetSuite. We liked the setup and the ease of that connection — really the simplicity of Plate IQ in general.
Simplicity meant an easier transition for store managers. “They don’t like these complex systems. They want to just go in and approve really quickly,” Whitney says. “The look and ease of the software is a big benefit.”
Under the hood, however, the Cava team built and customized advanced approval routing.
“We liked that we could create our own workflows in Plate IQ. In our corporate group, for example, we’re creating an escalation process that’ll get certain invoices in front of the right approvers faster. It’s super helpful in getting a more up-to-date P&L.”
Cava and Zoës have finally tamed the paper workflow. Electronic invoices arrive directly in Plate IQ, ready to be reviewed. Physical invoices get scanned into digital, searchable files.
“If someone in corporate wants to look at a specific invoice, instead of accounting having to pull it up for them, they can just go into Plate IQ and find it. Same for the stores. If a GM is wondering what’s hitting their P&L, they can see quickly. It’s really made the close process more efficient.”
Underneath Plate IQ’s simple interface, Whitney added custom logic to the Corporate workflow that sends specific invoices to the proper approvers — and that automatically escalates invoices if they remain un-approved for a certain period of time. The result is more visibility and timelier approvals.
“If the insurance invoice comes in, we can send it right to that department for approval.”
And then we have the delegation of authority set up so that if the reviewer doesn’t approve it by a certain date, Plate IQ escalates it to the next person automatically.
Plate IQ Insights’ Spend Analysis tool is helping store managers and the supply chain team stay ahead of changing costs.
“Store managers notice now if an item is charged strangely. You know, if one invoice charged $5 for a case of beef and the next was $10, they’ll reach out to the vendor.”
“I use the accrual report on almost a daily basis,” Whitney says. “We’ve asked a lot of vendors to send things directly to Plate IQ rather than their corporate contact. So even though something wasn’t approved and pushed into NetSuite for close, I’m able to accrue for anything. All the reporting is just much closer to what it should be.”
Greater efficiency, beautiful unity
With Plate IQ, the combined AP team is getting more done with 2 fewer members than either Zoës or Cava was before. Not only is the invoice workflow more efficient, it’s provided a critical point of unity for a newly combined company.
Plate IQ got us unified. Instead of my team having to toggle between two different things, they use one platform, both for Cava and Zoës, and for all corporate invoices. It’s just easier to manage everything when you’re on one simple process.