Sara Tillman, pioneer of the Bishop Arts restaurant scene, has died
Sara Tillman, an Oak Cliff native and owner of a Bishop Arts District restaurant from 1992, died after a two-year illness. She was 68 years old.
Friends and loved ones gathered at Tillman’s bedside after he entered the hospice on Friday. Musician Jerry Don Branch, a longtime friend, played guitar and sang for her. Tillman died around 7 a.m. the next morning, July 23.
Tillman was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome in 2020, and his health gradually declined from there, friends say.
“She remained the same old Sara,” says Diane Kyle Edwards, a friend since 9th grade. “The same spirit, the same Sara.”
Born Sara Wyrick, she grew up in Oak Cliff and went to Kimball High School.
A certain Oak Cliff celebrity is embedded in its history. Maybe it should be engraved on his headstone, says Donna Johnson, a friend of 40.
“Her claim to fame, and you’ll hear it from many people, is that she dated Stevie Ray Vaughan for six weeks in eighth grade,” Johnson said.
She met her second husband, Ricky Tillman, around 1980. Ricky, a chef who worked with Dean Fearing and Richard Chamberlain, opened Tillman’s Corner in 1992.
The West 7th Street restaurant predated the Bishop Arts District brand and brought small businesses to our neighborhood at a time when there was virtually no business investment here. Their neighbors back then were the Olines Barbershop, the Soda Gallery, and not much else.
When Ricky died of cancer in 1997, Sara Tillman continued the business, eventually leaving her job at Republic Title to run it full time. In 2007, she partnered with event planner Todd Ficus to redesign and rebrand the restaurant as Tillman’s Roadhouse, a more upscale concept than its predecessor, and it has received numerous accolades.
Tillman’s Roadhouse and Hattie’s were the “key players” in making Bishop Arts a destination, says owner Jim Lake.
“She was always at the front door greeting people, and that’s key to the success of self-employed businesses at Bishop Arts,” Lake says. “Not only would she be at the front door, but she would be out on the sidewalk talking to people.”
A fan of live music, including her brother-in-law Bill Tillman, Sara has always been the life of the party, Edwards says.
“I would say, ‘Sarah, I’m really tired. I want to go home,” Edwards said. “She’d be like, ‘Oh, you go ahead. I’m going for a ride.
In the ’70s, they frequently traveled to Austin to see Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Willie Nelson, and all those three named Texas country singers.
One night in the early 70s, after a show at a club off Bee Caves Road in Austin, Edwards found a $20 bill on the floor, and they thought they had won the lottery, spending it like 20 years. do, on beer and wine. The next morning, she and Sara woke up to cows peeking through the windows of Edwards’ Toyota Corolla.
“I guess we had fun that night,” Edwards said.
Later, she and Ricky spent their days camping in Oklahoma, and they spent a lot of time with friends at Grapevine Lake. After Ricky’s death, Sara traveled with her Republic Title buddies.
She sold Tillman’s Roadhouse and retired in 2016; the restaurant closed in 2019.
“I spent a third of my life going to this building every day,” she wrote on social media at the time. “I love all the memories made there and all the friends I made.”
And Sara Tillman had so many friends.
When she was hospitalized in 2020, members of the Oak Cliff Gardeners Facebook group organized to move all of her plants to her greenhouse before a cold snap. So many people showed up that the job took less than an hour. The volunteers showed up again when it was time to move all his plants in the spring.
Tillman’s beloved dogs, Quinn and Curly, predeceased her. Curly passed away just a few months ago.
His father and mom died in 1996 and 2007 respectively.
She is survived by one brother, Tom Wyrick, and her sister-in-law Joyce.
Calvario Funeral Home is taking care of the funeral and she will be buried near her parents and Ricky in Maypearl.
“She made everyone feel like he was her best friend. It’s just Sara,” Johnson says. “It’s a character trait that I try to perpetuate in my life. It is a gift that is completely unique.