All photos by Tom Starkweather
New York is a place of choices – but when there are a lot of choices, the unfortunate reality is that many of them won’t be that good. For the Mexican food scene, things may have just changed with the arrival of B’klyn Burro, a San Francisco style restaurant in the making. Recently, Untapped Cities was invited to a special pop up dinner by the up-and-coming culinary team.
The evening was the last of a month-long series of pop up events that has taken place in different areas of Brooklyn, namely East Williamsburg and Clinton Hill. Pepe, one of main men behind B’klyn Burro, started out with a fairly simple but brilliant idea: to recreate authentic San Francisco style Mexican food. That concept, in and of itself, generated an entire conversation – many restaurateurs make “Mexican-style” food without a lot of knowledge or skill, and thus there is a common misconception that Mexican food is cheap and lacking in diversity. But the reality tells a different story – there are always people that put a lot of love and care into their food, in addition to quality ingredients and their unique regional spin. “It takes a taquero (a taco and burrito chef) to add their signature to the food through their process,” Pepe explained.
The real secrets behind San Francisco Mission Style Burritos, by the way? Technique, delicious ingredients, huge portions, and a lot of tin foil – to accommodate the on-the-go lifestyle, of course. Sounds like a perfect match for New Yorkers.
Aside from learning about an interesting twist on a cuisine, what drew us most to the people behind B’klyn Burro was ultimately their enthusiasm and passion as they get their venture off the ground. Interestingly, Pepe comes from a background in film, and his approach to these first steps in founding a business have a distinctive spark that stems from his creative history: “This idea of bringing folks together and connecting over a common theme, common goal, shared or learning experience is something I think I’ve always strived for with my filmmaking…I’ve approached the Taqueria business as making a film, and B’klyn Burro is the story, subject, and script.” The people behind the scenes are critical, as well: “I believe I’ve cast the film with a great lead and support, Felix and Darren.”
From left to right: Pepe, Darren, and Felix
Pepe’s not afraid of opening up a dialogue with the folks he works with, and he trusts their expertise. “Working with Felix [the chef] has been great…from the start, I was committed to using very clean meat: non-antibiotic, no hormones, and organic feed. With that standard in place, it allowed him to open up the meat to new flavors that are impossible with most commercial meats. He was hesitant at first because he was working under the premise that he was here to just cook and make burritos. But one night…we did a brainstorm about creating possible dishes. He had never participated in a structured brain dump. It did not take long for him to understand that this was his opportunity to get out some of the ideas that were never considered by his previous employers. Bang! He brought up barbacoa de borregopenca de maguey, a slow roasted lamb with cactus, that was traditional in his home state of Puebla. We knew we had our next meat offering.”
These incredible and distinctive aromas immediately filled the pop-up locations they were serving, and without quite having a home of its own yet, B’klyn Burrito asserts its identity.
Passion, a great idea, and thinking outside the box are critical to getting any project off the ground, but Pepe and his team were practical, as well: “I needed to create a business proposal and plan.” So he immersed himself in an intensive, 16 week workshop at WIBO (Workshop in Business Opportunities), a small nonprofit that provides training and support to entrepreneurs and small business owners. It was here that instructors and classmates asked Pepe to go beyond the burrito, challenging him with important questions and discussing potential strategies – like his brilliant pop up model.
But at the end of the day, what’s the bottom line? Simply that you’ll reap what you sow. “And much like creating a film, the ultimate goal in starting your business should be to open up, premiere and share. We’ve only begun sharing our work and only hope to grow,” Pepe says.
B’klyn Burro opened a permanent location in Brooklyn in 2016:9 22 Fulton St. Brooklyn, NY 11238. Special thanks to Tom Starkweather for his photography. You can check out his website here.