JewBoy Burgers Serve Up Mexican Diner-Style Burgers with a Jewish Twist
When marketing consultant Mo Pittle came up with the idea of JewBoy Burgers, he figured it would make for a cool logo and funny t-shirt. He thought it made for a pretty great logo, with an attention getting name, and now it is emblazoned on the side of a huge white food truck parked beside a busy Burnet Road intersection.
Pittle was raised in the small but healthy and strong Jewish community in El Paso. He described his Jewish upbringing as typical Reform; he became bar mitzvah, was confirmed and went on to teach a year of Sunday school. As an adult, he served on the boards of the El Paso Holocaust Museum and Jewish Federation of Greater El Paso, and remains connected to the El Paso Jewish community.
“El Paso is a diverse, tolerant, multicultural city,” said Pittle, explaining that the city’s Syrian, Lebanese and Jewish communities interact. “I never thought that anyone would disparage my upbringing, and I never thought twice about theirs.”
When he was growing up in the 1980s in El Paso, most of Pittle’s friends were Mexican-American.
“I invited most of them to my bar mitzvah. They said, ‘Our church is like yours, yours is just in Hebrew instead of Latin,’” Pittle said.
After graduating high school, Pittle came to Austin to attend the University of Texas as a pre-med major. Two years later, he took a break but eventually returned and earned an advertising degree in 1996.
Since then, Pittle’s 20-year advertising and marketing career included jobs on the East Coast, California and Phoenix, and he returned to El Paso in 2002, where he founded Two Ton Creativity, El Paso’s first creative boutique marketing firm, which he still owns but restructured so he is now primarily a consultant.
In 2014, Pittle came to Austin. Looking for a change of scenery, he and his longtime girlfriend considered Denver, California’s Bay Area and Phoenix. But financially, and with Central Texas contacts and family, Austin made the most sense.
“I love the optimism in this town. People are supportive and excited,” Pittle said, adding that Austinites connect with and help each other. “Austin is so proud of itself.”
In February 2016 he was playing around with a nickname given by his childhood friends, “Jewboy,” a combination of his Jewish background and “homeboy,” which his Mexican-American friends called each other. He found that JewBoy Burgers made for a good logo that looked great on a t-shirt, and the more he thought about it, he figured why not take the concept from a logo for a fake t-shirt company to actually selling burgers.
“I wanted to see the brand developed, and I wanted to interact with people,” said Pittle, who was working from home as a consultant at the time.
In March 2016, Pittle started acting on the idea, traveling, researching, trying out other people’s burgers, and getting a loan. He worked on recipes with his sister, who had gone to culinary school, and friends helped him with the business side of the operation, guiding him through ordering ingredients and determining margins.
While he knew the name JewBoy Burgers might be controversial, he decided to stick with it because he sees what was initially his friends’ term of endearment, now as a manifestation of his El Paso Jewish upbringing and East Coast family ties and living experience.
Initially a handful of people were upset because they thought the name was derogatory. But he has been diligent about responding to those who have contacted him, and it helps that he is Jewish himself.
“The name has roots in anti-Semitism. I’m not trying to change the past, I’m trying to start dialogue and sell burgers at the same time,” he said. “I want something that has emotional relevance. To me it is relevant and I can defend it.”
Pittle decided to operate out of a food truck since the cost of entry is manageable and a chance to test the company’s viability, and Pittle worked out a deal for a location with one of his consulting clients, Mattress Firm.
JewBoy Burgers opened in October 2016 in the Mattress Firm parking lot at the corner of Burnet Road and Hancock Drive in North Austin. The neighborhood played a key role in the company’s business plan.
“Knowing that the concept was going to be aggressive slash controversial, I wanted to be in a neighborhood where I was confident would at the very least engage in discussion. At best, it’s embraced it. It’s been really great conversations, cool people and very diverse,” he said.
About 70 percent of JewBoy Burgers’ customers are Jewish. While it was not Pittle’s intention, some have told him that his business makes them feel proud to be Jewish.
“The week after the election, people came up to me and said they were proud and excited that I was out there, that it was a direct contradiction to the way the country seemed to be going. I said, “Whoa, I’m not carrying any flags here, I am not carrying the banner. But I’m also not backing away from anything,” said Pittle. JewBoy Burgers’ menu includes six variations of Mexican diner-style burgers – including the yenta, a burger topped with a latke, and the goyim, a burger with bacon, pastrami and swiss cheese – a grilled cheese sandwich with green chiles on Texas toast, latkes and chile con queso with chips.
To make the burgers, Pittle or an employee cooks some onions on a flat-top griddle, then tops the onions with ground beef. They press down the meat, flip it, add cheese and steam it, a method usually found in the Midwestern United States, and top it off with a Pennsylvania-inspired potato roll.
While the nature of the business makes it impossible to put together a reliable projection model and predict future plans this early on, Pittle said he is considering adding matzo ball soup to the menu during the cold winter months and would like to eventually see JewBoy Burgers turn into a brick and mortar restaurant.
For now though, it’s all about burgers, meeting people and getting outside, he explained.
"I just want people to understand, this is a respectful endeavor, not a gimmick. I hope that people respect that, that they understand I'm proud of who I am and where I come from and therefore I'm not afraid to talk about it, but I'm also not going to put it in people's face. But the food is paramount. I take a lot of pride in the creation of the product itself," said Pittle. "It’s about good burgers.”