Serial entrepreneur and restaurateur Raymon Glenn Thomason of Amarillo, TX, passed away at the age of 78 on June 29, 2021, with his wife Linda at his side.
In the last days of his life, he did what he always did — encouraged others to start their own businesses, told his favorite family stories, and ignored his doctor’s orders and ate what he damn-well pleased.
Shortly after eating a piece of coconut cream pie that was snuck into the hospital by one of his daughters and then telling his two of his children that they should start a real estate business together, his sister-in-law Marianne Thomason arrived at his side.
“I don’t know if I ever told you this,” he said – which was a hint that he was about to tell a favorite story that we’d all heard before — “Mike [his brother] and Marianne started dating when they were working for me at the Cattle Call [a BBQ restaurant he owned in Amarillo’s Westgate Mall]. I knew Marianne was something special, so I offered Mike a $100 per month raise if he’d settle down and marry her.”
He always left out the part about Mike turning down the raise but marrying Marianne anyway.
That was, of course, Raymon’s style. After the difficult childhood he and his siblings endured, Raymon took on the role of de facto family patriarch in his mid-30s. He wanted a whole family again and tried to make sure that everyone in the family had what they needed to not just survive but thrive. From providing employment to partnering in family startups to bribing marriages (just the one time that we know of,) he strove to be someone that his siblings, children, nieces, and nephews could turn to in times of need.
Born October 15, 1942, in Bugtussle, Texas, Raymon was the oldest of the Thomason children. Growing up in the shadow of the Great Depression, he, his parents, and his first four siblings (Anita, Martha, David, and Michael) struggled with poverty in their early years. That constant grind led him to early employment to help the family’s ends meet.
“When they split us up into foster homes, it was the most painful thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
This from a man who, in the 1970s while working at one of his first businesses, was standing on a gas tanker truck when it exploded, leaving him with 3rd degree burns and shattered bones.
With the children separated from each other, he thought that if he’d just worked harder, worked longer, the family would have had the money to stay together. That set him on a life-long path of “work harder, work longer, take care of others.”
His entrepreneurial side took hold when he worked at the Circle S grocery store in Tulia, Texas. When offered an ownership position and the chance to run a store of his own in Dumas, Texas – his hometown – he took it and began to open a series of successful businesses in Dumas and Amarillo.
His love of all-things automobiles drove him to open a service station (a full-service gas station that also fixed cars) and a fuel supply business. After the gas tanker explosion and recovery, he took on an opportunity to open the first Dairy Queen franchise in Dumas. The restaurant was the number one grossing Dairy Queen in the country for several years and attracted customers ranging from local patrons to traveling celebrities such as the Harlem Globetrotters and country legend Mel Tillis. The drive-thru line often wrapped around the building in the 1970s prompting Raymon to start the same kind of drive-thru service that we now only see at Chick-fil-A.
Next door to the Dairy Queen, he opened a small gas station named the PDQ, and then a Taco Plaza – another franchise from the Dairy Queen family. Selling the lot of them, he turned back to fuel with the Thunderbird Truck Stop on south Dumas Ave. However, the hooks of the restaurant business dug in deep, and his thoughts soon turned back to serving food. Just south of the Thunderbird, he opened his first of three BBQ restaurants – a franchise of Sutphen’s BBQ.
Opportunity took him to Amarillo where he opened his first non-franchise restaurant: The Cattle Call – a BBQ restaurant of his own design. While some doubted that a large, sit-down restaurant could be run in a shopping mall, Raymon saw the future of the mall experience and strode forward. As an unmitigated success, the Cattle Call made doubters into believers and Raymon into an overnight success in the eyes of the public (despite 15 years of building successful businesses.) And, of course, the Cattle Call also made at least one marriage … but we already covered that.
Through the end of the 80s and 90s, he parlayed his restaurant successes into catering the musical TEXAS, opening the San Antonio Mexican food restaurant, and then purchasing and expanding the Country Barn Steakhouse and BBQ restaurant. His vast experience in kitchen design caught the attention of Bell Helicopter who hired him to design their cafeteria kitchen and then take over the running of the facility.
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Raymon had a tendency to be stubborn and set on his own path with his own set of standards that his employees might not agree with. One of the funnier episodes occurred when his nephew, Kenny Cook – who will be performing the eulogy – was giving out too many packets of honey and most were finding their way into the trash as they were left on the table unused by the customers.
“I’d just gotten a bill from Ben E. Keith,” Raymon said. “I knew exactly how much he was costing me at every table he waited. “
After a stern lecture, Kenny returned to the front of the restaurant where his aunt, Linda, was working.
“Would you look at my ass?” he asked. “Seriously, I think part of it is missing from that chewing.”
More often than not, though, the chewings in the short term fostered long term respect and admiration from those who had the opportunity to work for him.
Two days before his passing, a former employee who had taken his share of chewings and even been fired by Raymon three times came to pay his respects.
“I know we didn’t always see eye to eye. It seemed like we butted heads all the time. But I would not be the man I am today if you hadn’t been in my life and helped me understand how to take care of a business and how to lead. Thank you, Raymon.”
Through all the success and accolades, Raymon never forgot why he fought so hard – family.
“I don’t know if I told you this often enough,” he would start. He had told us, of course. But he never felt like he said it enough even though he said it all the time. And then he would finish, “I love you.”
Raymon was preceded in death by his parents, sisters Martha and Anita, and brothers David and Michael.
He is survived by wife Linda; daughters Tamara and Micah; son Tracy; granddaughters Mackenzie and Aubrey; great-granddaughter Meredith; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Services will be held at 11:00 A.M., Tuesday, July 6, 2021, at Boxwell Brothers Ivy Chapel with Kenny Cook Officiating. Burial will be at Memory Garden Cemetery. Arrangements are by Boxwell Brothers Funeral Directors, 2800 Paramount Blvd.