By Kari Smith
If you have not experienced the T-Room, have you REALLY experienced Lynchburg? Some would say you haven’t, since legendary diner Texas Inn has been serving hamburgers, hot dogs, breakfast fare, and their famous chili in the Hill City since the 1930s. The iconic spot is one of the oldest, continuously operated eateries in the area, having served over 6 million customers – “1,500 people, 15 at a time”, in reference to the original diner’s 15 stools.
Think classic diner food. I mean, you can’t exactly add Fried Bologna to your breakfast plate just anywhere… Texas Inn is best known for their “Cheesy Western” – a fried egg, cheese, and “golden” mustard relish atop a hamburger and bun. (If you’re worried about your uh, digestion, of such a decadent concoction, T-Room regulars suggest you wash it down with a large glass of buttermilk.) In addition, the menu includes very reasonably priced breakfast food – plates, sandwiches, and sides like their tasty Maple Oatmeal. Their sandwich menu consists of burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, hot dogs, corn dogs, and more. Bring the kids for an “Unhappy Meal”, which includes a Texas Inn paper hat. (We know you want one too…) Don’t forget their famous chili, which is made in-house, twice weekly. Enjoy a bowl while you are there, and take home a pint, quart, or gallon for later. If you can possibly save room for dessert, choose from delicious pies and cakes, or the “Sissy Britches” – a diner-style float with ice cream and cherry cola.
The T-Room is a hit amongst local college students from Liberty University, University of Lynchburg, and Randolph College. It has even landed a spot in local fraternity culture with pledges having to complete missions involving visiting the popular hangout. The diner is also popular with families, and actually feels like family to its staff and regulars. “I thought I would only stay here for a year, but when I got to know the customers and staff, they became like my family”, long-time Texas Inn server and legend Ms. Debbie told me. Now, after working the diner for decades, Debbie tells me that many of their customers are repeat customers who have been coming for many years. “It’s the only little diner in town and it stays open until midnight,” she goes on to tell me, explaining that the diner is a popular after-party spot, and that their famous mustard relish (made in-house weekly) is jokingly called “hangover medicine” by some. These days, the diner only stays open until midnight based on current restrictions, but previously, it was well known as a 24-hour establishment.
Confused about the names? I was too, after reading about Texas Tavern and Texas Inn. Rhonda Rankin, who has been a T-Room fixture for over 20 years, explains to me that the original Texas Tavern was first opened by Isaac N. (Nick) Bullington in the 1930s. Nick had the fascinating job of traveling a year ahead of the famed Ringling Brothers circus, booking their tour dates in cities he traveled through, which quite honestly sounds like more fun than modern booking through email or cell phone… After eating a bowl of chili in a San Antonio hotel restaurant, he bought the “chile” recipe from their Mexican chef, in hopes of one day opening a restaurant. That secret recipe has remained part of Texas Inn, passed from owner to owner through the almost-century of the establishment’s existence.
The original Tavern was opened in Roanoke, but after four years, Nick opened the Lynchburg Texas Tavern in 1935 and operated there until the Tavern was torn down in the 1970s and the operation moved to its current downtown address. In December 2012, the second Lynchburg location (110 Cornerstone Drive) was opened. The Cornerstone location is only slightly larger than the original downtown store (422 Main Street), with a few extra classic red diner stools and a small table. In September 2018, Lynchburg native Dave Saunders (founder of brand communications agency Madison+Main in Richmond, Virginia) took ownership of the iconic diner in September 2018. Dave first visited the T-Room with his dad when he was 7 years old and has loved the nostalgic restaurant ever since. In his tenure, he has made only minimal additions to the menu while carefully preserving the history and vibe of the place as it was in his childhood.
You’ll want everyone to know about your visit to the T-Room, so grab a t-shirt, trucker hat, magnet, or
Texas Inn shot glass (in-store or online) to show the love. If you are craving that Texas Inn coffee, grab yourself a branded mug and a 1-pound bag of their locally roasted “Diner Blend”, a signature 100% Columbian coffee, which is roasted locally.
The popular restaurant, like every other small business, has been affected by the mandates caused by COVID-19, but they continue to offer take-out and accommodate as many eat-in patrons as safely possible while still following all government mandates and codes. They also offer delivery service through GrubHub, Uber Eats, and Door Dash.
You can imagine the stories this Hill City icon could tell. If you have not yet partaken in this bit of Lynchburg history, head over to Texas Inn and order a Cheesy!
Kari Smith is a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a child, writing poems and songs. In 2006, her dream became reality when she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to sing and record her own original compositions. She continued on to pursue writing magazine articles and blogs to chronicle and share her personal adventures and interests. Besides teaching music and performing in the Richmond, VA area, she also enjoys riding horses, raising goats and chickens, and gardening.
Find out more about Kari HERE