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The Female Pioneer Behind Salt Lick Bar-B-Que Dies at Age 104


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In Driftwood, Texas, the Salt Lick Bar-B-Que holds down the town as one of the best barbecue joints in the country. While the Salt Lick is famous today for its world-class barbecue, in less connected times, word-of-mouth drove plenty of Texans and out-of-towners out to Driftwood to cozy up to the open barbecue pit for a taste of the best Texas had to offer.

Opened in 1967, the Salt Lick was pioneered by Thurman Roberts, Sr. and Hisako Tsuchiyama Roberts. Roberts even built the restaurant on the ranch where he was born. It is with heavy hearts today that we report that Hisako T. Roberts passed away on Thursday, January 18, 2018 in Austin. She was 104.

We are saddened to report that Hisako Tsuchiyama Roberts has passed away at the age of 104. In addition to co-founding The Salt Lick in 1967 with her husband, Thurman, she was also an incredible wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Hisako ran the restaurant with her husband until his death in 1981, after which she and her son Scott carried on until her retirement in 1987. Frequent customers of the Salt Lick knew Hisako, even in retirement, could be seen daily at the restaurant overseeing the food and eating peaches with vanilla ice cream at table 14. We will continue to honor Hisako and the iconic restaurant and legendary barbecue sauce she created. She will be remembered for her excellent cooking, green thumb, financial acumen, love of education, vivacious reading habit, and fondness for PBS. We are grateful for her long life and will miss her dearly. In lieu of flowers, the family request donations be made to https://www.klru.org/donate/ or The University of Texas at Austin.

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As Austin360 reported, Hisako Roberts outlived her husband and Salt Lick co-founder Thurman, who passed away in 1981. Tsuchiyama Roberts herself ran the business until 1985 when she handed the reins over to son Scott Roberts and his wife Susan. Salt Lick's strong family ties make it not only a good barbecue spot, but a reminder of what Texas food is all about: family.

Tsuchiyama met Roberts while he was stationed in Hawaii with the Navy during World War II. After marrying, they relocated to Driftwood where they would settle down and open Salt Lick. With a masters degree in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, Tsuchiyama Roberts "brought her flavors of her own culture to the smoked meat specialists," according to Austin360. In the 2014 bookSalt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family, and Love, Roberts pointed out his mother's tempura-fried additions to the menu with vegetables and shrimp.

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One anecdote shared by Austin360 via Scott Roberts' book highlights Tsuchiyama's no-fuss attitude. Tsuchiyama Roberts once felled "a charging buck with the swing of a pecan bucket she was using for shelling and killing it with a rock while her husband and his friends were away on an unsuccessful hunting trip."

Driftwood is calling.

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Tsuchiyama Roberts has appeared on multiple television segments highlighting the Salt Lick, with the most notable appearance being a 1986 episode of Great Chefs of the West with Salt Lick chef Tim Adler. The episode first premiered on PBS, and was later picked up by the Discovery Channel. She frequented the restaurant even into retirement and local regulars often recognized her at Table 14, eating peaches with vanilla ice cream.

Hisako Tsuchiyama Roberts was proceeded in death by husband Thurman, and son Butch. She is survived by son Scott Roberts; daughter-in-law Susan Goff; granddaughter and Salt Lick Vice President Maile Roberts-Loring and her husband Brian Loring; and great-grandson, Emory Loring. Per Austin360, the family requests donations be made to KUT or The University of Texas at Austin in lieu of flowers.

In a time when women rarely received masters degrees, let alone spearheaded one of the most iconic barbecue joints in the United States, Hisako Tsuchiyama Roberts was an exceptional and original pioneer. Whether or not she knew the impact of her legacy, her dedication makes her a strong role model in the barbecue world. A pioneer of Salt Lick, and a pioneer of women in the smokehouse, Hisako Roberts worked hard every day of her life to provide for her family. As a result, she provided for us all, too.

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Watch: 10 Reasons to Thank a Texan Today