After years working in finer dining establishments such as Emilio’s, where he started as a busboy at 15 years old, and Toma, which he helped open in 2013, David Medina quit his coveted role as bar manager at Loquita to open a new State Street restaurant earlier this year. Then the pandemic hit, leaving the Goleta native with no job but plenty of time to plot his next move.
Though Medina had a film degree from the Art Institute in North Hollywood and once premiered a short film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, food was still the obvious choice. Not only had he built a career in restaurants, but as Medina explained, “Hospitality practically runs in our blood.” His brother, Alejandro Medina, co-owns Bibi Ji on State Street, while their mom’s first cousin Isodoro Gonzalez founded and owns the famous La Super-Rica Taqueria on Milpas.
On July 3, just two weeks after deciding what to do, Medina launched Better Burrito, a breakfast burrito delivery service that also sells lunch and dinner burritos wholesale to a number of markets, bars, and cafés around town. “Making burritos is nuts,” said Medina, when comparing the concept to his sit-down restaurant experience. “But sitting on the couch wondering what you’re gonna do is even more nuts.”
That COVID-19 couch sitting revealed the region’s dining deficiencies to the Dos Pueblos High grad, whose mom went to San Marcos and grandpa went to S.B. High. “With people in their houses and not wanting to go out for obvious reasons, I just wondered if there was a better way to offer delivery,” explained Medina. He’d been underwhelmed by the services available, which often overcharge restaurants and then deliver an overdue meal.
What to deliver was the next decision. “I wanted it to be casual and not require a lot of chemistry in the kitchen, but just be about quality and consistency,” said Medina, who homed in on breakfast. The morning meal is not commonly delivered, despite being a critical kickstart for busy professionals as well as parents feeding Zoom-schooled kids — frequently one in the same demographic these days.
As to the menu, that was easy. “The breakfast burrito is something I have always enjoyed,” he explained, “but none have ever fired me up to get them again and again.”
Breakfast burritos are very personal. Because there’s no dominant version — nor a settled history, though stories about Santa Fe or Austin seem most likely — the variations on ingredients and proportions are endless. What you consider just-enough potatoes may seem way too starchy for me, while my need for crunchy bacon will fail to quench your craving for chunky ham.
Medina walks a smart line between such proclivities by keeping his menu to just two items, both of which include browned-butter scrambled eggs, multiple cheeses, and fresh salsa verde. The applewood-smoked bacon burrito offers just enough savory pork, griddled potato, and sweet caramelized onion to satisfy morning meat lovers, while the chile relleno version is even more distinctive, starring smashed pinto beans in a supporting role. He’s about to roll out a vegan version too, pairing cauliflower al pastor (!) with turmeric tofu scrambled eggs.
The burritos, which are $12 each, must be ordered by 7 p.m. the night before for a delivery between 8 and 11 a.m. There’s no delivery fee, but the minimum order is $24. (I found that each burrito could adequately serve, although not fully gorge, two people.)
Medina’s daytime options include that cauliflower al pastor in a veggie burrito as well as poblano-marinated chicken, smoked carnitas, and achiote carne asada versions. They can be found at Break Time Sports Bar and on Fridays at Draughtsmen Brewing while the breakfast burritos (and sometimes daytime options) are also available at Old Town Coffee, Dart Coffee, Santa Cruz Market in Goleta, Gladden & Sons, and Plow to Porch (as an add-on to boxes). Better Burrito is also contributing food to SB ACT’s efforts to feed the homeless and others in need.
The company is based at a shared commercial kitchen space on Aero Camino in Goleta, where Neighbor Tim’s BBQ, Firefly Pizza, and Casa de Comer Foods are headquartered. “It’s a very collaborative thinktank for different entrepreneurs,” said Medina. “It’s been really cool to get tidbits of info, especially for me starting off. They tell me about their experiences.”
For the first two weeks, it was just Medina doing everything, seven days a week. “After you sleep only three to four hours a night for two weeks,” he explained, “you think, ‘Well, I’m gonna die, or I can hire somebody.’” He’s still alive, which means he’s been able to hire a small staff.
“The response I get from people is special,” said Medina. “It makes me feel like I’m really in hospitality again, and doing something that is changing people’s day at least, from mothers that are very happy not to have to cook to business clients who have purchased for their staff.”
One company even ordered 36 burritos, a rare sponsored lunch in these work-from-home times. Said Medina, “It’s a splash of positivity in these murky waters.”
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