Paleo, gluten-free trends thrive at Kitava in SF

Kitava specializes in diet trends popular in Silicon Valley, serving gluten-free, keto and paleo dishes. The previously delivery-only startup opened its first brick-and-mortar location last week in San Francisco and has expanded its services to include catering.

Kitava is on a mission to upgrade fast-casual food in San Francisco.

In 2015, Jeff Nobbs set out to make healthy food approachable. He launched Kitava (formerly known as Mealmade) as an on-demand delivery startup that makes every dish to order and substitutes familiar ingredients with low-calorie alternatives.

The service specializes in the diet trends that tech workers love, like paleo,gluten-free, and keto.

And in an amusing twist, the company operates out of a shuttered McDonald's.

A rising number of tech workers in Silicon Valley are shunning sugar and processed foods in favor of high-fat, low-carb diets that claim to boost energy, focus, and cognitive performance. What they put into their bodies has a direct effect on their output, according to Nobbs.

On November 2, 2017, the newly rebranded Kitava opened its first brick-and-mortar restaurant in San Francisco. Business Insider had the chance to try the menu before it opened. Take a look.

A number of on-demand food delivery startups have shuttered in the last couple of years, including SpoonRocket, Sprig, and Maple.

By adding a restaurant and a catering business, Kitava hopes to open up new revenue streams that will protect it from a collapse of the on-demand economy, according to Bryan Tublin, cofounder of Kitava. It will continue to deliver through GrubHub, Uber Eats, and DoorDash.

A Big Mac is hardly what's for dinner at Kitava. The startup serves nutritious meals cooked in 10 minutes or less. Every dish is gluten-free, dairy-free, and low-glycemic.

Notations on the menu tell customers if the dish is low-carb (keto), paleo, or vegan. 

A walk-in freezer that once housed frozen beef patties, french fries, buns, and desserts now stores locally sourced produce and pasture-raised meats.

At Mealmade, the menu turned over about every week and a half. The startup looked at user-preference data and picked the most popular meals for its new, slimmer menu.

Most of the dishes take familiar comfort foods and swap in healthier ingredients. Spaghetti and meatballs becomes "zoodles" (zucchini noodles) and grass-fed beef meatballs.

A meal from Kitava averages $14 (the salmon tacos are the most expensive item on the menu at $19). It's comparable to what I pay for lunch from a gourmet salad chain.

Nobbs began paying attention to his diet as a teenager, when he was trying to "get big for the high school football team," he said. It was hard figuring out the right foods to eat.

"I always thought it was really weird that, [with] something like consumer electronics, you go on Amazon and you see big pictures, detailed specifications, and user reviews," Nobbs said.

"Then you go to restaurants and decide what you're going to put in your body, and there's like eight words to describe it," he added.

Kitavan wants to marry fresh, local ingredients and nutritional transparency. Some of the company's most loyal customers have autoimmune conditions or food allergies, Nobbs said.