Salsa First, Jalapa Jar Brings Austin-Style Breakfast Tacos to Brooklyn

With their fresh jarred salsas and breakfast tacos, the guys at Jalapa Jar are trying to change the morning meal game in the city.

Editor’s note: This week, we’re featuring makers housed out of Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Foodworks. The incubator recently opened in the Pfizer Building and has a knock-out first class. Be sure to stay tuned as we highlight some the the city’s up-and-coming food and drink makers:

You know a salsa is good when a Texan gives it their seal of approval. Jalapa Jar, started by Texas transplants, gets that seal (and you can taste it for yourself if you win this week’s giveaway). With their fresh jarred salsas and breakfast tacos, they’re trying to change the morning meal game in the city. We talked to Tommy Byrnes about where they come from and how they plan to grow.

Edible Brooklyn: What inspired you to start your business?
Tommy Byrnes: My cousin Steve and I were keen to start a business of our own, leveraging our experience in finance and business development, and the reaction to Joel’s (our third partner) salsa recipe, every time we made it, was too genuine to ignore. Even still, we had to find a way to validate the salsa beyond our family and friends, so we “crashed the party” at the 2015 Austin Hot Sauce Festival, throwing a little house party across the street from the festival, luring in salsa lovers with promises of free beer, and the response was fantastic, so we knew we had something we could really put out into the market. Even the local police agreed!

We were fortunate to get right into Smorgasburg to further prove concept and experiment a bit. In addition to selling the salsa at Smorgasburg last fall, we were able to realize a longtime dream of bringing Austin-style breakfast tacos to New York as a way to feature our salsa, evolve our brand and expand our offerings.

EB: Why is Brooklyn still a great place for small business owners?
TB: The energy, creativity and the affordability. As the “brand” that is Brooklyn continues to grow, it’s easy to see the “affordability” tag waning (and there’s definitely some great opportunities popping up in Queens and the Bronx), however you still see so much growth and development in Brooklyn providing so much opportunity. There are physical developments popping up and infrastructure being invested in, like with the partnership between the city and a place like Brooklyn FoodWorks. Residents and tourists are also very eager to try new foods and products.

There’s an expectation that there’s something new and exciting going on in Brooklyn and if you can hit on that with the right product, the right brand, etc., then you’re suddenly in front of millions of people throughout the city and visitors from all over. Hopefully, you can really capture something and grow with it. Perhaps that’s more “value” for your investment than “affordability,” but either way you put it, it’s so important for a new business to be able to manage costs while also putting yourself in a position to capitalize on demand, and Brooklyn is perfect for that.

Jalapa Jar in its natural habitat #2016Ammys #atx

A photo posted by Jalapa Jar (@jalapajar) on

EB: Where do you want to see your business in the next three years?
TB: We want to use breakfast tacos as a gateway to get people to experience the salsa and our brand, helping us establish the brand before mass producing and distributing the salsa. If we can do this right, then we think it will help us grow as a fast-casual retail business and a CPG (consumer packaged good).

We believe we’re at the forefront of a breakfast revolution. The breakfast tacos are already such a part of the Austin food scene but are conspicuously missing from the menu anywhere else; McDonald’s and Taco Bell are advertising “breakfast all day” to the masses, and a few cafés have opened in the city that specialize in breakfast, so we believe we can be the go-to fast-casual option for breakfast, with the fresh-made salsa being the perfect topping to elevate the experience.

We’re debuting a breakfast taco stand in the Clark Street subway station in mid-May; it’s underneath the old St. George Hotel, which is now a college dorm and it’s the main stop for visitors coming to check out Brooklyn Bridge Park. If we can get commuters, college kids and tourists to fall in love with our breakfast tacos and our fresh-made salsa, then we really see ourselves opening a number of those across the city for the breakfast commuter crowd.

Our full vision includes a flagship location in each city, where we will produce all of our salsa and focus on local distribution of the salsa. We envision the flagship location as a place where people can come in and see the process and custom order their own salsa. The store will also feature breakfast tacos as well as other fun and seasonal offerings. We then have ambitions to expand that concept to various other cities, with both the grab-and-go breakfast-taco-focused locations as well as the flagship store. We’d love to be in at least four or five cities in three years and perhaps even abroad…. I lived in Shoreditch, London, for the last two years and I saw a “Brooklyn” T-shirt about three times a day, so we think it could work there as well. We shall see.

EB: Who are the other local makers you admire?
TB: We really love what Van Leeuwen has done with their brand and managing their retail and distribution growth. Anna at The Good Batch has been an inspiration for us, as well as being very kind with her time to provide some advice and guidance as we started out. Blue Bottle does such a great job with their overall brand and feel; it’s been fun watching them grow out of San Francisco and into L.A. and New York.  

The list is long because we’re fortunate to meet so many makers at Smorgasburg and Brooklyn FoodWorks, like Anjali with Bija Bhar, who has a great product. Watching her hustle around by herself to grow her business has been impressive, too. It’s been fun to meet people like Lyra with Ginger Root and Omena with Omena’s Love Bliss, who’ve been making great food for years and now have a chance to grow their business with all the resources Brooklyn FoodWorks provides. Sometimes I think they are even more excited about our salsa than we are and that makes it all very fun and creates a great community vibe.

EB: Where can we find your products?
TB: You can find us each Saturday and Sunday at Smorgasburg, also on Saturdays you can find us at Sycamore Bar and Flower Shop hosting Texas Taco Brunch, and soon at the corner of Clark and Henry in Brooklyn Heights, serving up breakfast tacos and fresh-made salsa seven days a week!

For fresh jars of salsa, look for us on the refrigeration shelf at Brooklyn Kitchen or order up online; if you live in NYC, we’ll deliver salsa right to your door!

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Alicia Kennedy is a Long Island–born, Brooklyn-based food writer and recipe developer.