The Texas Tavern was founded by Issac N. (Nick) Bullington and opened on Friday, February 13th, 1930. The original recipe for the “World Famous Chile” came from a hotel in San Antonio, Texas. Nick Bullington was the advance man for the Ringling Brothers circus and would travel a year ahead of the circus booking shows. After eating a bowl of the chile he asked the chef for the recipe (the original recipe has been modified several times to suit local taste). He had thought of opening a small short order restaurant at a later date and was accumulating recipes, ideas, and thinking about where to settle.
Roanoke, Virginia was one of ten cities that Nick considered settling down in and was eventually chosen because it was a railroad city and seemed as if it was going to be a major city in Southwest Virginia. Henry Bullington, who was not related to the Texas Tavern Bullingtons, told grandson Jim Bullington about the day Nick leased the Texas Tavern land. In 1929 Henry Bullington was a salesman for Thurman and Boone furniture store located at the corner of Church Avenue and Jefferson Street (later the site of the Heironimus store). Nick Bullington came to the store and approached Edgar Thurman, who owned the vacant lot where the Tavern is now located. They walked up to the site, discussed the property and came to an agreement. Everything was done initially with a handshake. The building was completed and opened about 5 months later.
Nick operated the business for about 4 years and then opened an identical Texas Tavern in Lynchburg, Virginia. Within a year or so his son, James G. Bullington, who was living in Florida, came to Lynchburg and eventually bought the Lynchburg Texas Tavern (the Lynchburg “Tavern” was torn down in the early seventies when AEP purchased the property).
After several years Nick’s health began to fail and James G. began to travel from Lynchburg to Roanoke several times a week to help run the Roanoke Tavern. World War II was approaching and this became a serious situation due to a shortage of help and problems getting supplies. The Lynchburg Tavern was sold to Charles Van Cleve in 1940 and James G. moved to Roanoke. Nick died in 1942 and James G. Bullington became the sole owner of the Roanoke Tavern.
The ownership of the property was still split. Mr. Thurman owned the land and the building was owned by James G. Bullington. The lease was year to year and did not afford a lot of security, to say the least. This continued for many years after Mr. Thurman died and the property was held in trust.
In July 1966, James N. Bullington, son of James G., joined the business as Night Manager. After several years he became General Manager and eventually purchased the business. In 1983 he was able to complete purchase of the land from Colonial American National Bank, who administered the Thurman Trust. This secured the future of the business at the original location.
James Matthew Bullington, great grandson of the founder and son of James N. Bullington, joined the business full time after graduating from Roanoke College in 1997 (he worked part-time while attending college). On February 13, 2005, James N. Bullington officially retired from the Texas Tavern and handed over the keys to his son Matt, who continues to uphold the longtime Bullington tradition of running the Texas Tavern.