What we learned about Sonny Bryan’s BBQ while writing a bicycling story

12.02.01 Will Bryan  opt The people and perils of Dallas bike culture
Bill Bryan, son of Dallas BBQ king Sonny Bryan, was featured in our March cover story.

Each time we work on a story that requires interviewing and getting to know lots of pertinent (to the piece) people, we meet someone with a fascinating story that isn’t part of the story, really, so we don’t get to include much about it in the story.

Confused? For example, for our March cover story about cycling, we interviewed Bill Bryan, a White Rock area man who rides his bike from his home near Flag Pole Hill to work at SMU.

Bill is the son of Dallas BBQ legend Sonny Bryan. Like his son, Sonny, a longtime Oak Cliff resident, was a cyclist.

Sonny Bryan died in 1989, at age 63, following a short battle with cancer (he reportedly died less than a year after being diagnosed). Sonny, Bill told us, used to log all of the miles he rode and in the couple of months after he received his first chemo treatment, he rode 850 miles around hilly Oak Cliff.

“The doctors marveled at how strong his heart and lungs were,” Bill says. He certainly improved his quality of life those last several months by way of this exercise, Bill believes.

DallasPioneer.org has a brief history of the Bryan family. Here’s a highlight or two:

“Sonny is remembered by Dallas as one of the happiest people in Texas … (following his father’s example) Sonny never expanded beyond the one place he could operate himself. His fairness and humor made him an excellent employer.”

One of his employees worked for him more than 60 years.

“Sonny and (his wife) Joanne’s two sons began washing dishes before they were ten years old. They learned that the restaurant business was more about people than it was about food. Following the tradition established in 1920, they wanted to do something besides barbecue. The twenty-first century has begun with Dr. William Jennings Bryan III as a United Methodist minister on the faculty of SMU (that’s our ‘Bill’) and Dr. Burt Chapman Bryan as a dentist in Coppell.”

Before he died, Sonny “sold his legendary name and recipe to four of the customers. In 2001 they operate fourteen Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse barbecue restaurants across North Texas. The new owners have cloned the barbecue sauce (to gain shelf life) and sell it nationally at Macy’s.”

One more tidbit about Bill Bryan: he’s also the guy responsible for this wild pig picture.

You can also read our history column about Sonny Bryan here from February’s Oak Cliff Advocate.


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