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Kitava: Nostalgia with a healthy twist

San Francisco-based fast-casual restaurant focuses on Modern American cuisines with clean ingredients.

Kitava, which debuted in 2017 in a converted McDonald’s restaurant in San Francisco’s Mission District, is expanding outside of California this year, taking its Modern American cuisine with a local twist to markets in Colorado and Texas.

The brand has two brick-and-mortar locations in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., and has delivery-takeout locations in Los Angeles and Houston. A Denver location is slated for later this spring.

Entrée selections at Kitava center around nutritious veggies, healthy fats and “mindful” proteins, said Bryan Tublin, Kitava’s CEO and cofounder.

“The menu features comforting meals for any diet, with a focus on serving real food everyone can enjoy,” Tublin said. “All dishes are 100% free from gluten, dairy, corn, soy, peanuts, refined sugar and seed oils.”

The philosophy is based on the Kitava study, Tublin said, which was conducted by a dermatologist in the Pacific islands off Papua New Guinea.

“What he found was that not only did they not have signs of acne or skin disorders, which was his purview as a dermatologist, but he also noticed that they didn't suffer from chronic illnesses and diseases like we do in the West,” Tublin said.

Tublin was seeking out alternative diets to deal with his own health issues, he said, and came across the Kitava study.

“When I was recovering, there was a seven-month period where I was basically on glorified bed rest. I was cooking a lot for myself because I was trying to put things in my body that met certain needs,” he said. “Really it was embracing anti-inflammatory eating. Eating lots of organic vegetables [and] really thinking for the first time about where my animal proteins were coming from, drinking bone broth, things to support tissues and joints and reduce inflammation.”

Tublin said he could follow the Kitava tenets when he was cooking for himself, but when he was further along in his recovery, “I found it difficult to get convenient food that fit this lifestyle. I was trying to maintain while also having something that was hardy and satisfying and craveable and unique and differentiated as opposed to just going to Whole Foods and going to the salad bar.”

Tublin started testing his meals at farmers’ markets. He later joined forces with Jeff Nobbs, now CEO of Zero Acre Farms, who at the time had a meal-delivery company for customers on restrictive diets, to found Kitava. Nobbs remains a strategic partner and Tublin serves as CEO.

After seeing success with the original location, Kitava opened a pop-up inside a gluten-free brewery in Oakland, which Tublin said helped the partners test that market and look for a permanent home in the East Bay. They opened the second brick-and-mortar store late last year in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.

Takeout and delivery locations opened in Los Angeles’ West Hollywood neighborhood last year and Houston in February. A similar location in Denver will open soon.

“We're excited and encouraged by what we've seen so far in L.A., and it's given us confidence and conviction that we could take it to other cities,” Tublin said.

While the menu is based around nutritious veggies and plants, mindful proteins and healthy fats, Tublin said the meals are prepared with a nostalgic lens.

Two have been on the menu since 2017, including a Sweet Plantain Bowl at $11 with jasmine rice, cumin beans, kale slaw, avocado, cilantro and an almond-based romesco sauce, and the Sesame Chicken Bowl at $14 with jasmine rice, crispy poultry with cassava flour breading, charred broccoli, sesame togarashi, scallions and a ginger ponzu sauce.

Tublin said the company has streamlined the menu a bit as it expands to other regions, targeting about 80% of the Bay Area menu.

“We're being careful about what we roll out,” he said, “because we really want to have the quality there first. We're starting with the best-sellers. We're starting with the proteins that are most appealing to folks.”

Tublin said Kitava is planning to open other locations in the Bay Area. “We do have our sights set on other cities,” he said. “It's exciting to think that Kitava could be in a half a dozen cities or more within the next couple of years.”

The Kitava philosophy won’t change, however, he said.

“You can only be healthy if you put good quality food into your body,” Tublin said. “You can only do that if it's sourced properly and prepare it properly. So we're trying to make that whole process easy for people that are eating out and ordering in.”

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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