We interviewed Sonny Bryan’s son Bill Bryan for our Lakewood/East Dallas March cover story about cycling. Bryan commutes by bike from his home near Flag Pole Hill to work at SMU.
Sonny Bryan died at 63 in 1989, less than a year after being diagnosed with cancer. Sonny, Bill Bryan told us, used to log all the miles he rode. In the months after he received his first chemo treatment, he rode 850 miles around Oak Cliff.
“The doctors marveled at how strong his heart and lungs were,” Bill Bryan says. He believes cycling improved his dad’s quality of life in those last months.
In February, Advocate columnist Gayla Brooks Kokel wrote about the original Sonny Bryan’s on Jefferson. And DallasPioneer.org has a brief history of the Bryan family. Here are the highlights:
“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 10 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 21st century has begun with Dr. William Jennings Bryan III as a United Methodist minister on the faculty of SMU (that’s Bill Bryan) 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.”