By: Alix Wall

The fact that a lemon tahini vinaigrette is the standard dressing on the new salad offerings at Vitality Bowls is a subtle hint as to the origin of its cofounder, Israeli American Roy Gilad.

“We both love the Mediterranean diet, and that’s what we both gravitate toward, so when creating these recipes, there was no doubt about it,” said Gilad’s wife, Tara. “We sometimes eat Vitality Bowls seven days a week, and wanted to create something we want to eat every day.”

Now a successful franchise, Vitality Bowls was founded by the entrepreneurial couple in 2011. Both were raised in the Bay Area, though Roy’s family came to the East Bay from Israel when he was 8.

Originally from Jerusalem, his parents visited the U.S. when Roy was a baby, and his father fell in love with the idea of the American dream. He moved the family to give them all more opportunities than could be found in Israel, said his son.

“He was definitely a capitalist, and both my parents were entrepreneurs,” Roy said. “Being an entrepreneur in this country is so powerful because the barriers to entry are so low. Such a capitalistic society really promotes innovation, and that’s what brought them here.”

Tara was raised in a Jewish family in Sebastopol, where they grew much of their own food.

“My mom was a nutritionist, so we lived and breathed health,” she said. “There was no white flour or sugar or anything processed in our house. Everything was fresh.”

Today, a power couple responsible for close to 150 cafés either open or in development in 17 states, they did not develop the Vitality Bowls concept on a lark as a money-making idea. Nor was it a longtime aspiration. It grew out of the fact that their daughter was born with severe food allergies.

“I couldn’t feed her regular fruits and vegetables,” said Tara. “I was making her baby food and creating smoothies for her, creating healthy ways for her to get good nutrients.” She discovered that the baby could tolerate fruit from other countries, but she was highly allergic to the fruit grown in the U.S.

“We started trying to source fruit from other countries,” and that’s when the couple stumbled onto the concept of superfoods, or foods that offer plenty of nutrients without a lot of calories. Once they decided to launch a company, they were able to use their experience procuring fruit from other countries to order larger quantities for their business from international vendors.

Before they opened Vitality Bowls, Tara was making her own acai bowls for her daughter at home. The acai berry, from Latin America, was just becoming more known; today most people are familiar with its virtues and know how to pronounce it.

Roy, who traveled for work at the time, liked to try superfood bowls in different countries. He was confident Tara’s could best all of them.

“We metamorphosed from making baby food to acai bowls, which have been around for centuries,” she said. “We took the best-quality ingredients and created these recipes, and now there are a lot of copycats. We believe we pioneered them in the U.S.”

Most of their superfood bowls contain various nuts, seeds, fruits and healthy fats like almond milk or coconut. Their green bowl features spirulina and spinach.

The Gilads opened the first Vitality Bowls in San Ramon, where they lived at the time, with bowls and juices and several panini on the menu. In addition to acai, the bowls featured other tropical superfoods such as graviola (soursop) and acerola, also known as the Barbados cherry.

They quickly opened their second location in Pleasanton, and then later their third in Walnut Creek. By 2014, they decided to franchise.

While the initial café concept did just fine in the warmer states, they noticed a dip in sales in colder climates as they continued to expand. They also listened to feedback from their customers.

“The paninis weren’t enough, they wanted something bigger,” said Tara. That’s when they introduced grain bowls, wraps and salads, using antibiotic-free, all-natural meat.

Last year, Vitality Bowls was recognized as a lucrative franchise opportunity on the industry website Entrepreneur, and it has received other awards, including top honors for its acai bowls. There are local outlets in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Gatos, Santa Rosa, Mill Valley, Castro Valley and Livermore, among other locations.

I went to the Walnut Creek location and picked up some salads, which were hearty and filling and contained some surprising ingredients, such as a hard-boiled egg pickled in beet juice. We also tried the superseed avocado toast on a hefty chunk of whole-grain bread. It was definitely the kind of food one could eat often, as it felt healthy and not overindulgent.

With more expansion on the horizon for 2022, Tara said, “Our goal and mission has always been to bring healthy food across America in an allergy-safe manner.”

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