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‘A cultural icon’: Roanoke’s Texas Tavern serving up nothing but smiles for nearly a century

Walking into Texas Tavern is like stepping back in time.

As you step inside the local gem, the smell of sizzling burgers engulfs the room, 10 bright red stools line the stainless steel counter and lively chatter swarms around you as people from all walks of life dig in. Memorabilia showcasing the restaurant’s rich history adorns the walls; a bright red vintage 1950s machine with glass Coke bottles sits proudly, and a white and red menu spans across the bustling eatery, offering some of your favorite fixins.’

[RELATED: Know of a tasty spot in our area that you wanna see featured on WSLS 10? Nominate them here]

For nearly a century, Texas Tavern has made quite the name for itself in the Roanoke community, serving up smiles with a side of nostalgia to the Star City and beyond. From its World-Famous Chili to its iconic Cheesy Western, you’ll be sure to find some classics that were also on its original 1930s menu.

“We haven’t changed a whole heck of a lot. It’s one of our strengths,” said Matt Bullington, the proud fourth-generation owner of the cultural icon. “When you sit at that counter and you order, I want it to be the same or better than [what] you had in 1930. I don’t want it to look a whole lot different.”

For decades, the Texas Tavern has served as a home away from home for customers from all walks of life. (This photo was taken in the 1930s- or 40s)

For decades, the Texas Tavern has served as a home away from home for customers from all walks of life. (This photo was taken in the 1930s- or 40s)

Texas Tavern prides itself in spoiling its customers.

Texas Tavern prides itself in spoiling its customers.

Matt said when it comes to the restaurant’s success, one thing is for certain: simplicity is key. It’s all about finding something the community loves and sticking with it. I mean, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

“If you do it right and you do it well, you don’t have to do a ton of different things,” said the Roanoke native. “We’ve always tried to keep it simple, and I think that simple allows you to be more consistent and do it well.”

Here's a look at the Tavern's grand opening day - the man on the far left is founder Nick Bullington.

Here’s a look at the Tavern’s grand opening day – the man on the far left is founder Nick Bullington.

Exactly 94 years ago Tuesday, Matt’s great-great-grandfather Isaac (Nick) N. Bullington opened the doors to Roanoke’s Texas Tavern for the first time. A true adventurer at heart, before its opening, he had been an advance man for the Ringling Brothers Circus and would often travel across the country to book shows. It was during a trip to San Antonio, Texas, that a small moment would significantly change his life forever.

One bowl of chili there was all it took – Nick loved the taste so much that he decided to bring it back home with him. He asked the chef for the recipe, tweaked it a bit to suit local tastebuds, and well, the rest is history.

“He was an interesting character. He was really entrepreneurial by nature … He always thought something ‘Texas’ would have an allure to it – kind of have a mystique, the mentality of Americans. So, if you look at the front of the building, the arch looks like the front of the Alamo a little bit, and he did that on purpose to kind of pay homage to San Antonio because that’s where he found the chili recipe when he was staying a hotel down there.”

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Now, decades later, you can still order a nice warm bowl of chili with the same timeless recipe that’s been used since 1930.

“I think that [Texas Tavern] weaves itself into a fabric of Americana. People crave those unique, authentic places that have just stood the test of time.”

Texas Tavern - photos taken in 2024

Texas Tavern – photos taken in 2024

As you may imagine, upholding a family legacy for four generations isn’t an easy feat, but it’s made possible with diligence and a hard-working demeanor, something that runs in the Bullington family.

“When I first started working for my dad, he said, ‘You need to do every single job in here better than everyone else, all the time.’ You don’t command respect, you earn respect, and so, I’m very much a believer that with any management, you lead by example,” said Matt.

And all great leaders must first become great servants, which is a value that the Tavern embodies 24 hours a day and 364 days a year.

“It’s just a real melting pot, kind of a temple of democracy,” Matt said. “That’s why we’ve always jokingly called it the Roanoke’s Millionaires Club. Whatever your status is, leave it outside, you come in and we treat you like a millionaire.”


Source: WSLS News 10

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