The Celiac Community Foundation of Northern California is highlighting regional gluten-free small businesses, how they are supporting the community and how we can support them in turn during the coronavirus pandemic.
By Carolyn Neff
Little Gem’s entire menu at their original Hayes Valley location is available for delivery and carry-out during the stay-at-home order in San Francisco! Plus, family-style meals, such as roasted chicken with seasonal spring veggies (add vino, too, if you like), have been added to make it easier for people to enjoy healthy meals made with seasonal and fresh ingredients—and without having to cook. Order on Caviar, UberEats and DoorDash. #LittleGram colorful shots of your orders for a repost from @littlegem.restaruant.
Imagine you’re arriving for a San Francisco symphony, all dressed up, excited for the performance, and out of nowhere, a waft of fried chicken. Whether you’re frustrated the fried smell will seep into your fancy clothes or drooling, hoping that wherever that smell is coming from is still open when the performance is over (or frustrated and drooling), that fried chicken is only one of the bites on Little Gem’s delicious (all gluten-free and dairy-free) menu.
Little Gem’s wildly popular fried chicken was “accidentally” added to the restaurant’s menu after head chef Dave Cruz experimented cooking for a friend. The demand for the Korean-style tempura-battered fried chicken became so great that Little Gem could not keep up.
“We were making it in pots and bought a portable little fryer,” describes Eric Lilavois, Little Gem’s founder.
With the San Francisco Symphony sitting just blocks from one of Little Gem’s locations, the restaurant has made it easy for people to enjoy a world-class performance followed by a delicious home-cooked meal.
So much so, that when Little Gem decided to stop making fried chicken as they expanded, “there was such an uproar,” says Lilavois.
This is not the first time Little Gem has received quite a bit of excitement.
Little Gem opened its doors at the end of 2015 in San Francisco as a place where everyone could find a delicious meal regardless of dietary preferences or restrictions. The restaurant drew media attention for uniquely attracting primarily gluten-free crowds, without ever marketing as a gluten-free restaurant. The real attraction soon revealed itself: great food that happens to be gluten-free.
Today, Little Gem is a “destination for modern healthy eating.” It has become a restaurant for everyone—an “ultimate success” in the eyes of Lilavois, who, along with business partner Cruz, runs Little Gem.
The entire Little Gem menu was constructed so that people with celiac disease and other gluten-related disorders never have to worry. The restaurant also generously caters to dietary preferences.
“There needs to be a place where everyone can go, where nobody needs to worry,” says Lilavois, who struggled with a series of dietary restrictions himself before removing gluten and feeling better within days.
“People don’t realize that the restaurant is gluten-free,” says Lilavois, “but those that need to find us, find us.” People from all over the world dine (albeit currently take-out style) at this modern California eatery.
Globally inspired and produce-driven, the menu is completely free of gluten, dairy and sugar. Little Gem prides itself on making colorful bites and nourishing entrees instead of reinventing food to be gluten-free. Most of the menu adapts to the season, such as a zesty lemon custard with oat flax seed crumble and spiced street corn in the summer. The veggies change almost daily depending on what is in season, too. Staple items include the “most popular” bibimbap, a take on the Korean classic, and the now infamous fried chicken.
When Little Gem opened its second restaurant in Cow Hollow (sadly not currently open), they made sure to have a large fryer to make this “second most popular” menu item.
Lilavois and Cruz are still figuring out a way to bring the fried chicken back to Hayes Valley. With decades in the restaurant industry—Lilavois started as a bus boy in a Colorado ski town, before working as an executive at Thomas Keller Group and alongside research and development chefs, including the founder of Cup4Cup, cool stuff—Lilavois and Cruz are sure to find a way.
While there is much uncertainty about when and how Little Gem can reopen for in-house eating, they have not thought too much about changing what they do, because, as Lilavois describes, “we have a lot of people who really love delicious food and we love to make people happy.”
And at this time, when dining options are limited as everyone has to shop and cook for themselves and budgets are tight, Little Gem is trying to stay open to serve the community. If you don’t feel like cooking but still would love to eat a delicious meal (a special occasion, perhaps), Little Gem is here for you. You’ll enjoy it even more when you can have the full dining experience there—and we all hope that’s soon.
[Feature photo above is tacos, plate below is bibimbap]