Most days Terry Sullivan can be found outside in the pit at Sullivan, Old Town BBQ in Lewisville stoking the fire as the smell of Texas post oak wood fills the air.

Sullivan mans the flames making sure they burn clean and hot. He keeps careful watch over the meat, looking for color and misting any dry spots. He ensures the seasonings and trimmings are just right to create the brisket’s bark. He contends with the wind, the heat, the cold and the humidity, which can have drastic effects. These are the marks of a true pit master, he said.

The skills took years to hone, beginning on a stool in his mother's kitchen in Farmers Branch as he watched and learned, and then into his first foray in barbecue where he burnt ribs to a crisp and smoked an inedible brisket. But Sullivan didn’t give up. He studied. He practiced. And 14 restaurants later, he continues to master his craft, he said.

His true passion, however, rests in the smiles of those he serves and the sense of community his newest restaurant fosters, which became its lifeblood during its turbulent opening.
The menu includes 2 meat combo plates like sausage and brisket. $20. (Courtesy Sullivan, Old Town BBQ)
The menu includes two-meat combo plates ($20), such as sausage and brisket. (Courtesy Sullivan, Old Town BBQ)
The backstory

In 2019 Sullivan, Old Town BBQ moved into a vacant building that had been a meat market for 42 years, Sullivan said. For eight years prior, it was Cabels Dairy Mart and carries a significance to the historical fabric of Old Town Lewisville. During remodeling, Lewisville natives were insistent that their memories go untarnished, he said.

With renovations complete and memories fresh but lasting, Sullivan opened the restaurant in January 2020 on the cusp of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sullivan was lucky if he sold two briskets a day, and by February indoor dining was shutting down across the state, he said.

The restaurant was burning money trying to stay open. There were times where Sullivan said he would sit on the edge of his bed and think, “Yeah I’m shutting it down today.”

“These were dark days, especially being a start-up restaurant, but we kept going,” he said.

The city of Lewisville embraced Sullivan, Old Town BBQ, pushing it forward by encouraging city employees to order there, which helped jump-start its takeout business, Sullivan said. By March 2020, he decided to test the principle of “sowing and reaping” and developed a program called “The Whatever Bucket” where people who lost their jobs, single moms, single dads, homeless and whoever was hungry could come in, drop whatever they could afford into the bucket and get a sandwich, chips, banana pudding and a bottle of water.
The 'showin' off platter' includes prime brisket, pulled pork, sausage, pork ribs and choice of four sides. $40. (Courtesy Sullivan, Old Town BBQ)
The "showin' off platter" ($40) includes prime brisket, pulled pork, sausage, pork ribs and choice of four sides. (Courtesy Sullivan, Old Town BBQ)
The impact

That program immediately took off, and soon Sullivan was feeding around 100 people a week. Eventually “The Whatever Bucket” traveled through the grapevine, and donations started coming in from across the country. Some families donated thousands of dollars to feed Texas folks. Customers would come in and buy an extra meal for people they didn't even know, Sullivan said.

“The humanity of all of that was incredible,” he said.

But Sullivan wasn’t done yet. He started another program later in 2020 called “Texas BBQ for Senior Texans,” which helped feed the elderly who were confined to their homes by delivering food free of charge, he said.

“Quickly we were delivering dozens of meals every week, and it was a joy to see tears of happiness on their faces,” he said.

The success of the programs soon spilled over into a full restaurant each week. Today the restaurant stands as a testament to communities coming together and helping each other, Sullivan said. When the chips were down and things got tough, people pulled together, and now customers who have known each other for decades sit and dine together, and others meet new friends with each visit.

“There's something to be said about truly serving people, having a heart for people and living above the circumstances of this world,” he said.
Sullivan, Old Town BBQ marks owner Terry Sullivan's 14 restaurant. (Courtesy Sullivan, Old Town BBQ)
Sullivan, Old Town BBQ marks owner Terry Sullivan's 14th restaurant. (Courtesy Sullivan, Old Town BBQ)
Moving forward

Despite its rocky opening, the future seems bright for Sullivan, Old Town BBQ as it undergoes plans for building an outdoor back patio with a bandstand and full bar that will seat 100, and a street side patio in the front that will seat 40, Sullivan said. The expansion, slated to finish in spring, will set the stage for live music, new menu items and a new space for customers to enjoy their company.

“Through the years, I think what I’m most proud of is what we’ve done in different communities to bring the community together under one roof,” he said.