Local couple ahead of the curve on healthy choices for over two decades

Gail and Keith Kitsis. Photo: Rick Gould

Patricia Corrigan , Special to the Jewish Light


Like so many of us, Gail Kitsis grew up eating canned vegetables and canned fruit packed in syrup. Those days are over. 

Kitsis and her husband, Keith, longtime advocates of fresh, healthy food, founded Crazy Bowls and Wraps restaurants in 1994. Today, CBW has 15 locations in the St. Louis area and four in San Diego employing 250 people. 

“We were ahead of the trend, the first in the market to bring this food to St. Louis,” said Gail Kitsis, 50, who added that for the most part, diners have embraced Crazy Bowls and Wraps. 

“People in St. Louis are very educated about food,” she said.

The Kitsis family are members of Congregation Temple Israel. Kitsis made time recently to talk about her work.

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When did you first get interested in eating well? 

I was athletic in high school, and when you stop being athletic, you change the way you eat, and that affects how you feel. Unhealthy food can make you depressed. I’m not always perfect, but I am a big believer in eating right. 


How did you come up with the concept for Crazy Bowls and Wraps? 

When Keith and I met in 1991, I was teaching at Crestview Middle School, and he was in the insurance brokerage business in Phoenix. He was really into the rice bowl restaurants there, and he kept saying that was the future of eating.


What happened next? 

We married, and I moved to Phoenix. When we decided to open a rice bowl restaurant, we returned to St. Louis – Keith is from here, too. First, I got a job with a competitor and, in 1994, we opened the Bonzai Express in Creve Coeur.  


How did it go?

We paid $10,000 or $15,000 for recipes we never used, and people didn’t really understand brown rice. We decided our focus was too narrow, so in 1997 we expanded from just rice bowls to rice bowls and wraps. That’s when we renamed our place Crazy Bowls and Wraps. 


What challenges has the business faced over the years? 

When the low-carb trend hit, we were serving brown rice and whole wheat tortillas, and we made a menu change. That was a disaster. We changed way too quickly.


What did you learn from that?

We didn’t need to change. We needed to stick to our true purpose, serving fresh, healthy, minimally processed foods. That’s what we believe in, and that’s what we’ve been successful with, though of course you can’t rest on your laurels. 


Have you made other changes? 

We’ve been serving kale since 1997. For a long time, people thought of kale as garnish, but we have put it in our dishes for a long time. Eight years ago, we started serving quinoa, and that was before most people knew what it was or how to pronounce it. 


And that’s what customers want?

Yes. They also want organic chicken and grass-fed steak, the healthier proteins. Our biggest sellers are the teriyaki chicken bowl with steamed veggies, and the fajita bowl. We have really good falafel and seasonal soups, and this summer we’ll offer a new chopped salad and expand our line of organic teas. 


Are your kids interested in the restaurant business?

They are not. It’s hard! They hear us talk business 24/7, see the reality of the working life. Whatever they decide to do, I want them to be invested in their careers, to love what they do.


We’ve learned that one thing you do is perform, and you and your husband will be on stage March 5 for the J Associates’  “Lip Synch Live” fundraising event.

Yes. I’m at the J almost every day, and it seems I have agreed to a duet with Keith. I can’t tell you any more than that. It’s a secret!