At its inception, SLAB BBQ & Beer was a humble trailer on the University of Texas campus. Operating with a shoestring budget, a will to hustle and the help of family and friends, founder Mark Avalos said many days back then were spent “sweating our butts off.”
Specializing in sandwiches simply made sense, as the trailer’s main customer base in 2006 was on-the-go college students. Influenced by the taste in Memphis, the Carolinas and Alabama, SLAB’s “sammiches” filled a need in Texas’ barbecue scene and quickly became a cult-favorite.
“The sandwich was also a way to introduce Austin to different styles of BBQ that were found outside of Texas,” Avalos said. “Since I was self-taught, I had the freedom to explore and experiment with different styles and flavors from all major BBQ regions in the U.S.”
Passionate about serving people, music, design and food, managing partner Raf Robinson joined Avalos to open SLAB’s first brick and mortar location in 2014. He loved Avalos’ vision for a hip-hop culture-themed dining experience, as most of Texas’ barbecue restaurants had the same country music on loop.
“We play everything from old school hip-hop and rhythm and blues to more current, fun music that will keep you bobbin’ your head the whole time as you scarf down one of our big ass sammiches or a giant tray of nachos,” Avalos said.
Today, SLAB has three locations in the Austin area: one in North Austin on Research Blvd., another in Cedar Park and one serving bowlers at Westgate Lanes. Its menu items are named after Texas hip-hop legends, including Avalos’ first brainchild: the Notorious PIG, a pulled pork sammich with mustard slaw and Carolina-inspired Backyard Red sauce.
“One of our popular non-traditional items is the El Jefe, which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” Avalos said. “It is a brisket sandwich topped with grilled onions and peppers, queso, jalapenos and add some Fritos for a little crunch.”
What makes SLAB BBQ sammiches some of the best in town? The meat is high quality and locally sourced, smoked “slow and low” daily over oak and pecan wood. SLAB, an acronym for “Slow, Low & Bangin’,” embraces bold flavor combinations, and its array of sauces and side items are made in-house from scratch.
“Our bread comes fresh from a local bakery. We source top quality meats from our suppliers like Goodstock by Nolan Ryan and Smokey Denmark. If you haven’t tried our banana pudding, do it,” Avalos said. “Each of our restaurants has a great selection of local craft beers to go with your BBQ.”
Posted in every restaurant, SLAB’s mission statement is simple: “Keep it 100.” To Avalos and Robinson, the motto means aiming for one hundred percent customer satisfaction, one hundred percent of the time.
“If you aim for 100, you’ll get excellence every time,” Robinson said. “We want each person to leave with a smile.”
SLAB BBQ employees’ dedication to customers and culture extends past its restaurants. Robinson compared their sense of community to the book “Stone Soup,” noting that when talents and resources are contributed to others, it makes for a better “pot of soup,” a.k.a. city, for everyone.
“We try our best to love our neighbors in the community. We partner with local nonprofits and churches to help meet the needs of refugee and underserved populations in Austin,” Robinson said. “We also support our local art community, education initiatives and leadership development programs.”
Looking ahead, it is still just the beginning for the barbecue aficionados. For its fourth Austin location, SLAB BBQ has partnered with Nomadic Beerworks to create a “fun, backyard BBQ experience” in Sunset Valley at 6218 Brodie Lane coming this fall.
SLAB BBQ will serve its full menu out of an on-site trailer, with dedicated indoor and outdoor seating at a newly renovated barn. Nomadic Outpost, the new Nomadic Beerworks concept, will feature a full bar with craft cocktails, beer brewed in-house and local guest taps.
“There is a sprawling lawn and shaded grove with beautiful mature oaks that join the two buildings,” Robinson said. “There are plans for an outdoor stage and weekly live music and events at the site. There is plenty of room on the property for the whole family to enjoy.”
Interested in learning more about SLAB BBQ & Beer? Head to their website at www.dopebbq.com to check out the menu and merchandise or order online.
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