Mo Pittle doesn’t see himself as a chef or even a restaurateur. He’s just a guy who loves food, so much so that he opened up JewBoy Burgers in 2016 and just a few months ago, JewBoy Sub Shop.
“I love to eat. I’m just, you know, I’m a fat guy,” he told The Nosher. “If you love to eat, you figure out a way to make food.”
Pittle, born in Cleveland and raised along the U.S.-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas, was brought up on a typical Ashkenazi Jewish diet of matzah ball soup, latkes and brisket. (He now boldly says that what Jews have done to brisket is a “travesty”). But his favorite dish might be matzah brei, although he admits he ironically hates Passover thanks to some teasing at school.
“We weren’t kosher, but we didn’t eat bread during Passover and we fasted on Yom Kippur until we became teenagers,” he said. “And I remember going to school with a matzah and salami sandwich or something and the other kids were like, ‘What the hell is that?’”
Before jumping into the food business, Pittle worked in advertising as a copywriter and creative director before transitioning to become a consultant. Working from home, he and his now ex-wife decided they didn’t need to stay in El Paso and moved to Austin.
Eventually, Pittle got tired of working from home and decided to rejoin the corporate world. “You know it’s bad when the dog stops talking back to you,” he laughed. During his search for a new job, a recruiter told him that his “tangible skill set had diminished.”
“[What] is that supposed to mean?” Pittle recalls thinking. “I’m 40-whatever-years-old. I’m better than I’ve ever been!” What Pittle really heard was a recruiter telling him that he’s too old for advertising. So he started thinking about what he was interested in, the things he talked about every day. “It just comes back to food,” he said. “I like to eat and I like to talk about food.”
Pittle thought about food so much that he made up a logo for “JewBoy” Burgers just to throw on a T-shirt; he thought it’d be funny. “I sent it to a friend of mine… they laughed their ass off,” said Pittle. His friend thought it was a genuine idea and encouraged him to turn JewBoy Burgers into a real business. Pittle was hesitant, but with those discouraging words from the recruiter ringing in his head, he decided to put together a menu and google “How to open a food truck in Austin.”
Pittle knows that “JewBoy” is a bold choice. He still gets comments or emails telling him the phrase is disgusting. But, “El JewBoy” was an affectionate nickname given to him by his classmates in El Paso.
“All of my Hispanic friends had nicknames,” he said. “If you’re a Jesús, you’re a Chuy, if you’re an Ignacio, you’re a Nacho. That’s cool to me that they get that. We don’t get that as Jews because we name ourselves after people who are already dead.”
Pittle knows the term can be and has been used in a derogatory way. But he insists neither he nor his friends see it that way. “I just decided it kind of had a nice rhythm to it,” he said. So “JewBoy Burgers” became the logo for a T-shirt that inadvertently led to a restaurant.
“Originally my plan was burgers and latkes,” he said. “Just a single burger and a latke.”
To get the line of credit needed to open up a food truck, Pittle had to turn to his father to co-sign. His father, however, was unimpressed by the burger and latke concept and told him to come up with a fuller menu. “I stayed up late one night and just came up with a menu,” he recalled.
That’s what you get at JewBoy Burgers today. It all starts with The JewBoy burger patty: one-third pound of freshly ground beef smashed over sautéed onions and topped with two slices of cheese, steamed. From there you can get the Oy Vay Guey, a Sloppy Jose, the Yenta or the Goyim: a JewBoy patty with grilled pastrami, bacon and melted Swiss inspired by a burger Pittle had in Salt Lake City.
Pittle opened the food truck in October 2016. In summer 2020, a friend called him up about opening up a brick and mortar restaurant. They opened in September and expanded to the JewBoy Sub Shop in April 2021, where you can get a Chutzpah Chicken Schnitzel covered in tomato gravy and melted mozzarella on a toasted ciabatta roll and Traif Toasted Turkey, with bacon bits on thinly sliced house-smoked turkey, covered in melted provolone cheese on a fresh ciabatta and served with brown gravy.
JewBoy Burgers has always been about embracing three cultures: Jewish culture, Border culture, and Austin culture; for Pittle, culture is everything. “Culture is what drives our society, what defines us, what moves us and I am so sick of watching our society try to whitewash everything,” he said. “It’s OK to be different. It’s OK to celebrate differences. And so when it comes to food, I’m just like, yeah, I’m gonna celebrate every weirdness and difference that I have. Because why not?”