El Burro and the Bull – Family Roots, BBQ, and Serving Your Own Community
Blending Gulf Coast seafood, Tex-Mex and European influences through smoked meats and traditional family recipes, Houston’s El Burro and the Bull is a true reflection of the diversity of landscape, culture and cuisine throughout Texas.
Lauren Ignited’s Gregory Perrine caught some time in person with Co-Owner, Executive Chef and Pit Master, John Avila, to talk influences, flavors and the relationship you build with your customers that keep them coming back for more.
Specializing in small batch handcrafted barbecue, El Burro sells smoked brisket, pork, turkey, sausage, and boudin by the pound. Other menu favorites include eggs benedict torta during Sunday brunch, smoked pork and brisket tacos, meaty mac & cheese with smoked gouda and homemade bechamel. The unifying theme throughout the menu is smoke.
John says, “We’re really lucky we’re working with smoke because you not only taste it, but you smell it. When you crave BBQ it puts that trigger in your brain? smoke is the key.”
El Burro and the Bull is located inside The Conservatory, Houston’s first underground food hall and beer garden. Featuring other vendors including Moku Bar for poke, Arte Pizzeria, Noble Rot Wine Bar and The Pho Spot, The Conservatory sees a variety of crowds from lunchtime business crowds to evening happy hours, game nights to working lunch to Sunday brunch. It’s an ever-evolving space.
“It brings in everybody from the beer nerds to the wine aficionados to the barbecue lovers to the pho lovers? it’s not so much as a competition with each other as it is pushing each other to do the best we can so there’s definitely some friendly competition, but I’m happy to say I’m surrounded by people who take a lot of pride in what they do.” ~John Avila
John and wife Veronica are opening a new concept called Henderson & Kane General Store. With a focus on serving the immediate neighborhood within a one-mile radius and being a fixture in the local community, Henderson & Kane is influenced by the family owned general stores in every neighborhood in Houston and the delis of New York City.
Henderson & Kane will feature a similar menu to El Burro plus bagels, croissants, scones and a full coffee bar in the morning, and burgers, tacos, wings, beer and wine at night. They will also sell produce, bread, soda, juice and sundries — and probably their house made BBQ sauce.
Currently the website features a survey for local neighbors to make suggestions for the store’s products and services.
“It’s a good opportunity for us to educate ourselves on what they want and at the end of the day, that’s the goal.” ~John Avila
John owes much of the inspiration behind El Burro and the Bull to his grandfather’s work ethic. His grandfather’s restaurant was part of the central Texas BBQ scene in the 1950s-60s, and as a child sweeping floors there on visits, John noticed one thing that stuck with him — that it was mostly regulars.
Everybody knew who his grandparents were, and they knew who everyone else was. John recalls that he would say, “I’m a very lucky man because I turn the lights on in the morning and my friends show up to visit me every day.”
John continues that tradition by working partnering with his wife, Veronica Avila, who has had a huge influence on design and community engagement, and treating employees and customers like family.
“There’s a huge amount of trust that a customer puts into you the minute that hey open up your door and walk into your place and they’re going to eat something that you made with your hands.” ~John Avila, Executive Chef, Pit Master and Co-Owner of El Burro & the Bull Restaurant Group
Besides Henderson & Kane, what’s next for John and Veronica?
A bakery called Sweet Mary’s, inspired by traditional panaderias, designed using repurposed shipping containers, and named for John’s grandmother.
El Burro and the Bull is located in downtown Houston, TX at the Conservatory Food Hall, 1010 Prairie Street. http://elburroandthebull.com/
Henderson & Kane General Store is in the 6th Ward of Houston at 715 Henderson St. http://hkgeneralstore.com/
Hear more from John Avia in Lauren’s 2016 interview on episode 026 of the Lauren Ignited podcast.