Four years ago, El Patio was on the brink of disappearing for good. The modest Austin restaurant opened just north of the University of Texas campus in 1954 and stayed in the family after founder Paul Joseph died in 1995, with three of his children continuing to run the business. When they announced plans to close the Tex-Mex institution in summer 2019, citing the need for a break, there was an outpouring of community support. A team of extended relatives helped reopen the restaurant that fall.

The new generation of owners is upping the ante. Concertgoers who attended the Austin City Limits Music Festival in October might have noticed an El Patio trailer on-site, serving up chips and salsa for a fest-bargain price of $5. Within weeks, the first jars of El Patio salsa hit the shelves of niche stores, like Tiny Grocer and Thom’s Market, both in Austin. By December, liquor-and-more superstore Spec’s had signed on to carry the product in dozens of locations across the state.

At the helm of this new venture, dubbed El Patio Foods, are three twentysomething cousins who are all members of the Joseph family—and of two other families prominent in Texas music. First cousins Sled Allen and Jeff Attal Jr. are nephews of Charles Attal, who cofounded ACL Fest promoter C3 Presents (now owned by Live Nation). Sled’s grandfather is legendary Lubbock-raised songwriter and sculptor Terry Allen. Joining them is Brandon Joseph Downer, their third cousin and a grandson of the restaurant’s founder.

Sled and Jeff started working at El Patio when it reopened in September 2019 under an ownership group that included Kristyn Ciani (a granddaughter of Paul Joseph) and siblings Charles Attal and Jennifer Attal Allen. They recruited Jennifer’s son Sled, who’d recently graduated from the University of Colorado and was working for the Denver Nuggets, to come home and help run the restaurant’s day-to-day operations.

Jeff, who is three years younger than Sled and also graduated from Colorado, started busing tables at El Patio and gradually made his way up the ranks to general manager. Brandon didn’t work there, but El Patio was deeply ingrained in his family’s bloodline. “The restaurant was always something I was passionate about,” he says. “My grandfather started it, my uncle worked here, my mom worked here, my aunts worked here.”

Sled and Jeff began tossing around the idea of jarring and selling El Patio’s salsa in 2021. “A lot of [the restaurant’s] clientele has moved out of Austin, and they can’t get El Patio anymore,” Sled says. “So we wanted to make a way [for] people who had moved away, and want that homey feeling of being inside of El Patio, to be able to open up a jar wherever they are.”

El Patio's jarred salsa.
El Patio’s jarred salsa. Eli Samuel
Jeff Attal II, Sled Allen, and Brandon Joseph Downer of El Patio Foods.
Jeff Attal II, Sled Allen, and Brandon Joseph Downer, of El Patio Foods. Peter Blackstock

El Patio’s salsa is described on the label as “tomato-forward, with jalapeño and a mix of salt, lime and garlic.” It has a rich, almost smoky flavor; the “medium” variety is respectably spicy, while the “hot” style has a more significant kick. The ingredients are basically identical to those of the salsa served in the restaurant, but salsas sold in grocery stores must be cooked to make them shelf-stable. 

Most grocery stores in Texas carry wide selections of salsas, from the big dogs such as Pace and Herdez to a seemingly endless and evolving cast of smaller brands. El Patio is among a few Texas restaurants that have expanded into jarred salsa, along with Joe T. Garcia’s, from Fort Worth; El Fenix, from Dallas; and Jaime’s Spanish Village, which closed in Austin in 2010 but lives on through its salsa.

Sled, Jeff, and Brandon all attended the Lollapalooza Music Festival in Chicago in July 2022. “We got into a good conversation about the restaurant,” Sled recalls. As it happened, Brandon had also been thinking about marketing El Patio’s salsa. “It was totally independent of each other,” Brandon says. “We started talking more about it, [and decided] to run with it.”

They cut a deal with a facility in Fort Worth to cook and package their product. A key adviser was Scott Jensen, who cofounded Stubb’s Legendary Kitchen in 1990 to help Texas barbecue legend C. B. Stubblefield get his sauce in stores. Stubblefield died in 1995, but his barbecue sauces, marinades, and rubs are now available internationally. Walmart had already begun carrying them when spice giant McCormick bought the Stubb’s line in 2015 for $100 million.

“It’s kind of like I get to relive the early days through the eyes of these three young guys,” Jensen says. “What’s similar is that you still make the stuff the same way: you put [ingredients] into a kettle, you cook it, you pour it into a jar, and you put a lid on it. And you still have to knock on the door of retailers and beg them to get excited about what you’re doing.”

But the market has gotten more competitive since Stubb’s launched. “You have to do more to find your place on the retailers’ shelves,” Jensen says. Stores generally charge brands for shelf space, and “most of them want a lot more money than they used to,” Jensen says. “And the distributors that bring it to the retailers have gotten more financially aggressive and sophisticated.”

Getting into Spec’s has been a boon for El Patio Foods, which plans to begin offering tortilla chips later this year. Spec’s specialty-food buyer Reginald Pearson helps select salsa brands for the Houston-based chain, which has around two hundred stores statewide. Pearson says El Patio’s salsa is currently in about forty of those locations, in cities ranging from Houston to El Paso.

It’s not easy to get into Spec’s, which generally carries about two dozen salsa brands at its larger stores. “We get around three or four salsas a month that people want us to take a look at,” Pearson says. Because Spec’s is entirely a Texas operation, the store favors Texas companies when choosing its salsas, which helped give El Patio a shot. Another key factor, Pearson said, was that the restaurant already had a long-standing relationship with Spec’s as a liquor buyer.

Future goals for El Patio Foods include getting into H-E-B stores—“That is the absolute dream,” Jeff says—as well as expanding beyond the state. In January, the trio showcased El Patio’s salsa at a specialty foods convention in Las Vegas; they’ll be at another in Southern California in March.

El Patio also wants to explore offbeat avenues such as music venues (which makes sense for such a musically connected family) and hotels. “[Hotels are] a great place for us to spread our story,” Sled says. “These are people coming in from out of town, and here we are with a jar of salsa that tells the history of our restaurant and what our family did.”