When Naomi Stahl got home Friday night with her takeout order from Cava, she discovered an ingredient in her salad bowl that she had not ordered.
A live frog.
“It was jumping all around the bowl,” said Stahl, who lives in Northwest Washington. “Its legs were really long.”
Like mice parts that occasionally show up in fast-food burgers, the frog in Stahl’s salad was an invasive protein.
Cava, the fast-growing Mediterranean restaurant chain that started in Rockville, Md., and has dozens of locations around the country, does not offer frog legs on its menu — dead or alive.
Stahl had ordered chicken.
Was she alarmed? Yes. Yes, she was.
Alone in her Tenleytown apartment, Stahl stared through the clear lid and watched the frog crawling around the other ingredients she had ordered via the restaurant’s app: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, tzatziki sauce and a rather large sliced lemon.
Cava executives said Saturday that the company was investigating how the frog wound up in Stahl’s salad.
Dan Jones, Cava’s chief operating officer, said in a statement that "we sincerely apologize for this incident as it does not live up to the quality or the standards we want and will be working with our team members to reinforce our standards to ensure this does not happen in the future.”
In theory, Stahl, 28, was better equipped to handle the situation than others. She is a doctoral student in clinical psychology at American University. Asked what coping skills she would suggest to a patient experiencing a similar situation, Stahl mentioned deep breathing and mindfulness exercises.
She did not use either strategy.
“I was in a full-on panic,” Stahl said.
Stahl called her boyfriend, Chris Lyford, who was still at work, and pleaded for him to come home.
“For a lack of a better term, she was freaking out,” Lyford recalled. “She doesn’t deal well with insects and rodents.”
And now she had a tiny frog on her hands. Well, not actually on her hands, because there was no way she was going to let the frog out of her salad.
Stahl secured the container by placing on its lid an appropriately heavy and Washington-ish coffee-table book: “Profiles of the Presidents: From FDR to Clinton.”
Still, even with the weight of presidents on the lid, she did not let her guard down.
“I was focused on watching it and making sure it wouldn’t jump out of the container,” she said. “But I also kept a safe distance away.”
When Lyford, a writer for a magazine called Psychotherapy Networker, got home, they took the container back to the restaurant, which is within walking distance of their apartment.
They showed the manager, who notified her bosses. Stahl received a call Saturday morning from an area manager for Cava, who told her the company was investigating the frog situation.
Jones, the company’s COO, said Cava takes the safety of its ingredients seriously.
“The quality and safety of our food is always of the utmost importance to us,” he said in his statement. “Being that we serve fresh produce that is delivered to our restaurants each morning, we have strict steps in place to ensure everything is washed and inspected before serving our guests.”
Stahl and Lyford left the restaurant without ordering another meal.
The frog, now partially covered in tzatziki sauce, was still in their custody. They pondered what to do with it — kill it or let it live. They settled on giving the frog another shot at life.
They took the salad container to a wooded area behind their apartment building, then let the frog go. They acknowledged it had a rough road ahead in the frigid weather.
The couple is finally able to start joking about the incident. Lyford had a good one — that this wouldn’t have happened if Stahl, like Lyford, had ordered a sandwich.
Still, Lyford wasn’t taking any chances with sandwich superiority.
“I tossed it,” he said.