St. Louis chef’s latest venture kind of did come out of left field

Husband and wife Simon and Angelica Lusky outside of their restaurant, Revel Kitchen. Photo: Bill Motchan

By Bill Motchan, Special to the Jewish Light

An army marches on its stomach. So, too, does a major league baseball team, and for much of the past decade the St. Louis Cardinals players have been well fed by Simon Lusky, the Jewish team chef. This year, Lusky made a big transition from feeding ballplayers to consumers. His focus is on fresh, nutritional and most importantly, delicious meals, out of his two Revel Kitchen locations.

Lusky, 29, loved the challenge of creating healthy food for elite athletes, but he’s excited about his latest challenge. He was probably destined for a career in the kitchen. Lusky’s father ran a catering business in Pittsburgh out of his basement in a house that once housed a synagogue.

“I think I was born to be in the restaurant business,” Lusky said. “Everybody on my mom’s side of the family cooks, and my dad had a falafel company. It was almost like I had to do it. Food was always around.”

One of the first important meals Lusky prepared was a full Thanksgiving dinner for his family. He was 14 years old. He also picked up some useful background on Moroccan and Israeli cooking from his father. The restaurant business was the family business, so Lusky studied cooking and earned a degree in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales, followed by a bachelor’s degree in nutrition.

“It was a little different path for a chef, and I eventually got into sports nutrition,” he said. “After culinary school, I had an opportunity to do an internship with the Cardinals in Jupiter, Florida during spring training in 2010. Then they offered me a job to stay on for the rest of the season, which I did.”

Lusky and his wife Angelica moved to St. Louis for the job with the Cardinals. He also served as the sports nutritionist for the St. Louis Rams for the 2011 season. At the same time, Lusky was a corporate chef for Solae, a former division of DuPont Foods. The following year, the Cardinals offered him a fulltime job as team chef, the job he held through the 2017 season.

It was quite a departure for both the Rams and Cardinals players to get nutritional meals freshly prepared rather than the catered food they’d come to rely on. But they quickly gained an appreciation for the healthy options Lusky provided.

“They never had a chef and never had a nutritionist before,” he said. “It was huge. . . it’s called a changeup, right? But it was a really easy transition because the players were able to see their food being made. Previously, they were using great caterers but catered food is never as good as it is when it’s prepared fresh and you miss that connection of when you see the care and attention of a chef who cooks everything to order. 

“It makes you appreciate it more because you see what goes into it. The players were very appreciative because they let you know if they liked something or didn’t, and part of the job was to feed the baseball team as healthy as I could.”

In 2012, while he was getting his feet wet as the Cardinals team chef, Lusky started doing meal prep for St. Louis Blues players and other elite athletes. He and Angelica (who has a degree in hospitality from Johnson and Wales) began running a side business out of their home.

“I was doing the full-time gig for the Cardinals and for the next year we were doing it from our house, and through word of mouth it spread and we were doing it for athletes,” Lusky said. “So we had a great niche business for athletes. Then in 2012, we signed a lease on a space on Cherokee Street because we grew to a point where we couldn’t do it out of the house anymore. Then we decided to try and generate some more revenue with a storefront café.”

The café on Cherokee was known as Athleteeats. The idea was good, but clientele on Cherokee Street was more interested in less healthy fare.

“I also fell out of love with the prepared meal service,” Lusky said. “I learned from another Jewish guy in Miami who runs a prepared meal business and who was really open with me and let me see his operation that you really need to do a huge volume if you want to succeed. We were at a crossroads, and I enjoyed that time but I didn’t like selling leftover foods. And I learned that trying to run two businesses under one roof is complicated. We also recognized that Athleteeats wasn’t the best name. So in 2015 we decided to re-brand and we opened Revel Kitchen in Brentwood.”

Two years later, Joe Goldberg, owner of TruFusion St. Louis, came calling. Goldberg was a fan of Revel Kitchen’s fast casual and healthy food. His fitness and yoga center on the ground floor of the former Clayton Famous Barr building needed just one thing—a restaurant that fit in with the setting.

“I wanted to include a restaurant in this community,” Goldberg said. “We are all about fitness and yoga classes, and we wanted our people to have an opportunity to carry that outside of the class, so we looked at getting healthy food in the space. 

“Knowing Simon was the chef for the Cardinals, it was a natural fit, and I asked if they were interested and when I described the fitness classes and the yoga center he said, ‘We’re your perfect client!’”

If you are searching for healthy, tasty food, the two Revel Kitchens are worth a visit. True to Lusky’s roots, you’ll find Mediterranean specialties like Moroccan sweet potatoes topped with goat cheese. The menu also features southern specialties, Latin-influenced dishes and seasonal items like jackfruit carnitas. Of course, there are plenty of keto diet options, and Lusky’s staff goes through quite a bit of cauliflower and tofu.

Nowadays, the closest Lusky gets to major league ballplayers is when he crosses paths with Alex Rodriguez, who has made TruFusion St. Louis a regular stop. When he started out as the Cardinals team chef, Lusky was something of a pioneer. Most teams didn’t place as much of an emphasis on nutrition. That has changed, and the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement now mandates nutritional meals for players.

Lusky enjoyed the experience of cooking for ballplayers but he’s happy now just preparing healthy meals for regular St. Louisans, and potentially well beyond this area.

“I want to have 100 Revel Kitchens,” he said. “It’s a scalable concept that we can make even better.”