Food News

Pioneer of Bishop Arts Restaurant Scene, Sara Tillman, Has Died

Sara Tillman, Facebook
Sara Tillman, a pioneering figure in the Bishop Arts District restaurant scene, died on July 23 at age 68. She was raised in Oak Cliff, attended Kimball High School, and lived and worked in Oak Cliff throughout her life. She was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome in 2020.

She and her husband, Ricky Tillman, who was a chef, opened Tillman's Corner in 1992 on West Seventh Street. It was later rebranded as Tillman's Roadhouse, then Tillman's Bishop Arts. It was known for classic Texas dishes like Frito pie, chicken-fried steaks and tabletop fire-roasted s'mores. The restaurant closed in late 2019 after more than two decades in business.

Tillman was not just a business owner — she was a voice and advocate for the neighborhood.

Tommy Mandell works for Exxir Capital, the company behind many Bishop Arts District businesses, including Paradiso and Casablanca. His family was also longtime friends with the Tillmans and says their restaurant was one of the first things that popped up and helped define that community.

"Tillman's was able to carve out a place for itself and had a nice decades-plus run that did a lot for the community," Mandell says. "Ricky and Sara were a big part of that. They had big personalities and weren't scared. They took it head on."

Mandell added that Sara Tillman had a vibrant presence and was always the life of every party. He says part of the reason she was able to open and operate a restaurant for so long was due, in part, to her outgoing personality.

Diane Edwards went to high school with Sara and they remained lifelong friends. She recalls when Ricky was considering opening a restaurant and went to visit the space. According to Edwards, Ricky said, "I see something here."

"It was just nothing down there at the time, but the beautiful old buildings that, I don't know why, were just barren at the time. So he opened it [Tillman's Corner] in '92 and was successful, and he passed away in '97 of cancer. So, Sara continued on with the restaurant," Edwards says.

"Everybody loved her," Edwards says. "She was just a party girl." 
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.