Nestled in the buzzing foodie paradise of Southern California, Mort & Betty’s is flipping the script on Jewish deli classics with a vegan twist. Join VegOut as we chat with owner Megan Tucker and learn more about the dishes that have put her pop-up on the map!
VegOut (VO): Let’s start from the beginning. What inspired you to start a Jewish vegan deli?
Megan Tucker (MT): Well, my journey in the food industry has always revolved around innovation and heritage. I worked in food from a young age, starting at a Greek deli and moving up the ladder at Whole Foods. While developing vegan recipes there, I realized I missed the hands-on cooking experience. With the rise of plant-based alternatives and my experimentation with vegan options like beet pepperoni and carrot lox, the idea clicked—why not a Jewish vegan deli? And what better homage than to name it after my grandparents?
VO: Fascinating! How do you balance tradition with a vegan approach at Mort & Betty’s?
MT: Our focus is on celebrating vegetables without relying solely on seitan and tofu. We’ve created dishes like our “Gefeltimish,” which is a delightful blend of yellow carrots, mushrooms, and jackfruit. It’s about making vegan food accessible, whether you’re a foodie or someone exploring dietary changes for health reasons.
VO: Can you talk more about your connection with local farms and producers?
MT: Absolutely. We source from local gems like Sunrise Organic Farm for our carrots, and I personally pick up fresh produce at the end of each farmers market to whip up something special, like a unique knish. We use organic flour from Central Milling and whole grain flour from the Tehachapi Grain Project, supporting heritage grains and sustainable agriculture. It’s all about creating that farm-to-popup experience.
VO: And when did Mort & Betty’s officially open its doors to the public?
MT: We started on November 11, 2018. It’s been an exciting journey since then, with lots of growth and community support.
VO: As the founder, what are some signature items you’re proud of?
MT: Two of my favorites are the “Megan Thee Scallion” bagel (an open-faced everything bagel with scallion cream cheese, carrot lox, house pickled chilis, kalamata olives, and a generous amount of sliced tomato and dill) and the “Uncle Larry” bagel (named after my actual uncle, which is an olive bagel with scallion cream cheese, white carrot white fish salad, pickled green tomato, fennel and onion slaw). We also have a unique tahini chocolate chip black & white cookie made with 50% Sonora flour. Each item has a personal touch, either through my culinary background or family connections.
VO: What sets Mort & Betty’s apart from other vegan options out here in LA?
MT: I believe it’s our commitment to authenticity, quality, and innovation. We’re not just about creating vegan alternatives; we’re about elevating vegetables to star in their own right. Plus, we’re constantly experimenting—even our drinks, like the world’s first pickle seltzer, reflect that.
VO: Did you say pickle seltzer?
MT: I sure did! Last summer I was trying to think of a refreshing non-sugary drink that would be healthy and taste great. So, naturally, I froze some pickle brine from my natural fermented old-school kosher dill pickles I sell at markets, turned it into ice cubes, and added that to some seltzer water with frozen chunks of watermelon and sprigs of dill for garnish. It’s actually really good!
VO: Before we wrap up, could you share a bit about the namesakes, Mort and Betty?
MT: Of course. Mort and Betty were my grandparents, descendants of Lithuanian immigrants, and incredibly inspiring individuals. Mort was an engineer and an amateur butcher who loved sharing with others, while Betty had a passion for piano and a knack for leadership. Their resilience, ingenuity, and care are the pillars of Mort & Betty’s.
VO: Megan, it’s been truly enlightening. Thank you for sharing your story and the heart of Mort & Betty’s with us.
MT: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure sharing our passion for plant-based delights with some chutzpah!