Morris (Mo) Pittle, affectionately known as “El JewBoy”, is the proud owner of Jewboy Burgers, frying deep in the heart of Austin, Texas. The once food trailer is now a fully-functional counter service restaurant. If you find its name to be “unorthodox”, just wait until you try what JewBoy has cooked up. With an unapologetic fusion of Border and Jewish culture, JewBoy has only two laws of ethics at his restaurant: “We’re gonna watch no news. We’re gonna watch sports, cooking shows. Only thing I ask of my customers is that they be nice, and they come hungry.”
Mo stays humble to his roots and his craft. “I’m not a chef, I don’t claim to be, and don’t want to be called that. We make food that is good to eat, an atmosphere that hopefully people will find easy, and that’s it.“ Mo left El Paso in 1990 to go to school at the University of Texas, but found himself back on the border playing circuits in a cover band. After getting a gentle push out of his parents house, Mo came back to Austin and graduated with an Advertising degree. He then started a Consulting agency in 2002 in El Paso, and later on moved back to Austin.
In 2016 Mo started the first “JewBoy Burgers” food truck in front of a Mattress Firm on Burnet Rd. Mo explained that the store was a client of his, so he would perform a type of ‘community outreach’ at lunch, using the food truck as a ‘social media incubator’ and to help build his own brand. JewBoy’s goal was to have the food truck be a ‘ground-level force in content generation’:
“If you put a hyper local business in front of your store, it will draw some eyes on your own store.”
JewBoy had gained traction with this strategy, and relocated his baby to the legendary E 6th Street. He required more employees here, and in the end, moved to the Burnet Rd food trailer park. “It was a great run with nice people on E. 6th but the demographics didn’t exactly fit my business model at that time.”
In July 2020, Mo embraced an opportunity to open an official restaurant, describing his new location as “basically turnkey” and “COVID friendly”. JewBoy Burgers has been operating since September 1st at 5111 Airport Blvd.
I got around to questioning Mo’s motives behind the madness that is “JewBoy Burgers”.
CHRIS: Why did you decide to move back to Austin after starting an agency in El Paso?
JEWBOY: “El Paso is a great place, everything about it from the people to the food to the culture. Yet, doing business there is a constant uphill battle, as far as doing something progressive.”
“It’s easy to sit in front of a client and say, ‘Hey, generate content.’ It’s harder to actually do it… the thing I love about food is I have much greater control of my product and I’m able to reflect my vision clearer.”
CHRIS: This seems like a tough spot for a restaurant. I live down the street, and I’ve seen two restaurants not make it within a year at this Airport Boulevard location. The food was good at both places.
JEWBOY: “Well, they had some good runs here, but there’s competition in this small area. It’s got the bones of a KFC, but [it makes sense] to run a counter service rather than sit down style place during COVID.”
Opening up a restaurant anywhere in Austin is certainly going to draw attention and competition, but for Mo, he has seen his unique combinations of cuisines, including burgers, burritos, cerveza and chutzpah, as well as deep fried treats, bring all kinds of customers to the shiny new object that is JewBoy Burgers’ first restaurant. One item in particular has been featured on Thrillist: The 30 Most Essential Austin Food Experiences, where it’s said that “The Oy Vay Guey (Way) Burger is the true mensch among the whole section though—spicy green chillies melt in the ooze of the burger’s pepper jack cheese, while a tangy blob of mustard and some pepper cut through all the greasy goodness.”
CHRIS: So, how did the name come about?
JEWBOY: “I grew up in a traditional-reformed Jewish household. In El Paso there are two very different, but at the same time, very similar cultures. So, I was exposed to the border culture. In the 80’s everybody was a homeboy, “I’m a Jewboy”. It sounds derogatory, but it’s all good-natured. I’m still friends with those guys and they’ll say, “Man, we never called you that.” “Yes you did. It’s alright man.” One of the things I love about the Mexican border culture are the nicknames. Your name could be Francisco, your name will be Pancho. Ignacio is gonna be Nacho. Ishmael, his name was Smiley. I wanted that one. Everybody’s got one. Jewish people don’t do that- if your name is Morris, your name is Morris. It’s just as simple as that, Jewboy is a reflection of traditional Jewish culture and Border culture.”
CHRIS: Is that fusion of cultures reflected in the menu?
JEWBOY: “Let me clarify, there is no such thing as Jewish cuisine. Judaism is a faith. Wherever they go, that’s where the food is going to be reflected. I’m the guy that goes all over town. Some people in El Paso never leave their little bubble. I met people in the lower valley who had never been to the west side. I’m a guy who will wander anywhere to get food…. I would literally go everywhere for food. It’s remarkable how the burgers taste… by and large, border Mexican food is poverty cuisine. Y’know? So they use a lot of onions and chiles to give it flavor, because salt and spices, they’re expensive, not efficient…. Jewboy is my reflection of the two cultures. If Kinky Friedman’s version of Jewboy is a Jewish Cowboy, my version of Jewboy is a Jewish Cholo.”
At this moment, a customer throws away an empty burger wrapper and puts up his tray.
JEWBOY: “Thank you bro!”
JEWBOY: “The menu here you’re going to see a Hatch Green chili cheeseburger, [you’ll see] Latkes- a German-Polish potato pancake. Taking from some of those different influences and putting them in. They’re both cultures about eating, family-centric cultures. El Paso has a vibe that I love. It’s the backyard BBQ capital of the world. I’ll never forget sitting with my friends around a keg and a BBQ going.”
It’s clear Mo wants to capture that same vibe at his own place, as he casually greets a burger-hungry couple to the covered patio room.
“People are starved for entertainment, nine months of quarantine, and going out to eat is now entertainment.”
CHRIS: But let me understand, you don’t want to grow too big, right?
JEWBOY: “I definitely think about expansion and long term goals. Right now it’s about the present. I want it to be right. One thing I learned being involved with advertising is that it’s hard to do things consistently right all the time. Right now there’s so many unknowns in the world, you adjust accordingly and you see what the next 4 years are going to look like. I went from 2 employees to 23 in the span of a month or so, so I’m back to where there’s a lot of moving parts. I’ve built a much better hierarchy in the company where I can dole out responsibilities. I take slower days as research, to get to interact with customers. I err on the side of the customer with portions. It’s my philosophy to err on the side of too much rather than risk not enough. Give the customer more than they paid for. There’s so many places in this country that are working against the consumer. When people leave this place, I like them to feel like they’re getting good value.”
“With my marketing background, it makes me realize if you don’t pay attention to the customer, you’re screwed, man.”
This being the first in our ”featured Dyezz client” series, it was A LOT of fun. Mo is a really great guy, no BS and genuine AF. After the interview he bought me dinner and it was even better than I expected. Mo met John Dyess, owner of Dyezz Security & Surveillance. in high school in El Paso, Tx. and have remained friends ever since. Jewboy Burgers is a client of Dyezz’ security and surveillance systems.
This interview was conducted by J. Chris Ornelas; article written by Adam Schwarzbach.