Hisako Tsuchiyama Roberts, the co-founder of the Salt Lick in Driftwood, one of the most famous restaurants in Texas, died Thursday in Austin at 104.
A native of Lihue, Kauai, and the child of Japanese parents, Roberts met her future husband, Thurman Roberts, while the sailor was stationed with the Navy in Hawaii during World War II. The couple married and returned to Thurman Roberts’ native Texas, opening the now world-famous barbecue restaurant in Driftwood in 1967.
Tsuchiyama Roberts, who held a masters degree in psychology from UCLA, dedicated her professional life in Texas to running the restaurant in the idyllic setting. She brought the flavors of her own culture to the smoked meat specialists, according to her son, Scott Roberts. In his 2014 book “Salt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family, and Love,” he wrote about his mother’s tempura frying of vegetables and shrimp for the menu along with her addition of poppy seeds to cole slaw and celery seeds to potato salad.
After her husband’s death in 1981, Tsuchiyama Roberts operated the restaurant on her own until she retired in 1987, at which time Scott Roberts took the reins of the family business. The restaurant has since become even more famous for its bottled and branded sauces. It also operates a popular outpost at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and a location in Round Rock, with plans to open in Grapevine later this year or in 2019.
In his book, Scott Roberts wrote about his mother’s no-nonsense approach to business and her admirable work ethic; in her obituary, relatives shared a tale of the diminutive Tsuchiyama Roberts felling a charging buck with the swing of a pecan bucket she was using for shelling, killing it with a rock while her husband and his friends were away on an unsuccessful hunting trip.
Tsuchiyama Roberts was preceeded in death by her 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.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to KUT or the University of Texas.