Tyler’s Barbeque in Amarillo is closed on Sundays and Mondays, but on Monday, June 5, owner Tyler Frazer wasn’t sure when he would reopen. It had been raining almost every day for two and a half weeks in Amarillo, and the floodwater was creeping up his parking lot. He announced an indefinite closure.

A friend offered to bring a couple dump truck loads of sand to the restaurant if Frazer had sandbags to fill. He wanted to say no. The thought of shoveling all that sand into hundreds of orange bags to surround the restaurant was daunting and seemed like overkill. The rain had stopped. Frazer’s friend reminded him how bad he’d feel if the rain continued, flooding the building, and he hadn’t taken the opportunity to stop it.

Frazer gathered family and friends, seventeen in all, and filled five hundred bags, stacking them like bricks around the building. Looking over their work, he thought I hope we’re wasting our time. The water hadn’t receded when another overnight storm hit two days later, and water came up to the sandbags. For safety reasons, the city decided to cut power to the neighborhood, but Frazer said he wasn’t notified. When he realized the power was out, the coolers had already been off for too long. “We lost all our food,” he said.

He had to fill the classic grain truck that sits in front of the restaurant, as a sort of mascot, with boxes of raw meat and haul it to the dump. The rain finally did stop, and fire departments from surrounding areas sent big trucks into town to assist with rescue operations. “I guess those guys hadn’t played in the water much, because they were going fast splashing water everywhere,” Frazer said, noting the wake from those fire trucks is really what tested his sandbags. The city’s pumps did the slow work of draining the streets and parking lots, and Tyler’s remained closed for ten days.

Tyler's BBQ Survives a Flood
Brisket, turkey, ribs, green beans, and jalapeño cream corn from Tyler’s.Photograph by Daniel Vaughn

I visited Tyler’s last Friday, the day after Frazer finally opened the place back up. Flying into town, I could see the raging red waters of the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. It runs though Palo Duro Canyon, whose washed-out hiking trails were closed at the time. The other distinct landscape features you typically see coming into Amarillo by air are circles of green: crop fields fed by radial irrigation systems because the area gets so little rain. “We needed the moisture, so everybody was praying for rain,” Frazer said of the local attitude in May. But that changed quickly as Amarillo, which usually receives 19.66 inches of annual rainfall, accumulated over fifteen inches in a six-week span.

Despite its recent troubles, Tyler’s spare ribs are as good as they’ve always been. I missed the weekly mac and cheese special by a day, but had the good fortune of being there on cherry cobbler Friday. Frazer grew up with a cherry tree in his yard and remembers eating them by the bucketful. He wanted to bring that memory to Tyler’s. Rather than using cherry pie filling, he uses whole frozen cherries for the cobbler. “It costs about the same to make it as I can sell it for,” Frazer said, so he only does it once a week. The everyday peach cobbler is a worthy stand-in, but don’t miss the cherry version on Fridays—or just double up like I did.

Frazer said he couldn’t remember this much rain in Amarillo since the flood of 1978. He’ll remember the flood of 2023 for all the people who pulled together to help him secure his restaurant against the flood waters. There was plenty of lost time, food, and revenue, but all Frazer could focus on last week was that he was doing what he loves. “I’m so happy to be back serving people and making barbecue,” he said.