A TEXAS LEGEND BEGINS
R. J. “Bob” Lee, a Midwesterner, whose family roots went back to the four-star Savoy Grill in Kansas City, grew up on stories and movies about cowboys, Indians, horses and Texas cattle ranches. The Texas mystique drew him like a lodestone. When he made his way to the Texas Panhandle and to Amarillo with his wife Mary Ann and their growing family, it didn’t take long for him to embrace the Lone Star State and to claim its persona as his own. His only disappointment was that he couldn’t find a first-class Texas-style steakhouse in an area of the country best known for cowboys and cattle.
In 1960, R. J. “Bob” Lee opened The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo on Route 66, the “Mother Road. Its distinctive architecture soon became recognized across the Mother Road as a good stopping place for great steaks grilled over an open flame.
The towering sign of a long-legged cowboy that Bob erected next to the building became a major landmark on Route 66. From the beginning, the Big Texan welcomed weary travelers and migrating families whose roots spread all across America.
The now World-famous FREE 72-oz. steak came to life not long after Bob opened the doors to the Big Texan Steak Ranch.
Beginning in the mid-1960s signs began cropping up along the Mother Road inviting travelers to come in for a 72-oz. steak dinner that was FREE if it could be eaten in one hour. Thousands of road-weary youngsters practiced their ciphering as they converted 72 ounces into four and one-half pounds. Those Big Texan signs became as much of the nation’s culture as the old Burma Shave signs. One company has long-since disappeared with the dust of the old road, but the other still flourishes. Big Texan Steak Ranch billboards can still be seen to the east and west of Amarillo along Interstate 40 and on major north-south routes that run through the Panhandle.
A NEW TRAIL...
In the early 1970s, Interstate Highway 40 muscled its way across the country replacing Route 66 as the major traffic lane. Bob Lee purchased land along the route for the new highway.
He and his family built an new, bigger and better Big Texan Steak Ranch fron the ground up along I-40.
The giant cowboy, now an historical icon, was moved by helicopter from its original location on the Mother Road to its current home on Interstate 40.
THE FIRE -- Up from the ashes
Excitement and prosperity turned briefly to despair in 1976 when a fire destroyed most of the restaurant.
But the Lee family had learnedthrough adversity and they remained undaunted and determined. Everyone -- family members, employees and friends -- pitched in and the restaurant was only closed for one business day. The business continued to grow.