John Tehan and John Keenan are marking the end of their run with Bronco Billy’s Ranch Grill and Saloon. Photo by Lynn Woodward
John Tehan and John Keenan are marking the end of their run with Bronco Billy’s Ranch Grill and Saloon. Photo by Lynn Woodward
After nearly 29 years of operating Bronco Billy's Ranch Grill and Saloon in the historic Hotel Sisters, John Keenan and John Tehan have sold the business and are now looking forward to a slower pace of living.

Effective April 1, the new owners of the business are Bill and Tammy Falconer, owners of Pilot Butte Drive In and Pilot Butte Drive In West Side, both in Bend. The Falconers live in the Sisters community. Ownership of the building remains in the Reed family.

Keenan and Tehan opened the restaurant in 1985 after the late Bill Reed encouraged them to relocate to Sisters to open a family steak and ribs restaurant and saloon in a building that the Reed family had purchased. Reed, Keenan, and Tehan were childhood friends in northwest Portland, starting in the third grade and lasting through high school.

"We played together every day in the summer," Keenan recalls.

The three kept in touch over the years as close friends after Reed began a real estate career in Sisters and Keenan entered the restaurant business in Colorado. Tehan also had a restaurant career in Portland.

"So our friendship is just kind of a short 38-year spurt," Tehan said.

Reed and his wife perished in a private plane crash in Washington in 2005.

Reed first contacted Tehan in 1984 as a potential business partner for a restaurant he wanted to open in Sisters, but Tehan had commitments that kept him from accepting Reed's offer at that time. However, Tehan suggested that Reed contact Keenan, who now was living in Bend. Reed and Keenan quickly formed a partnership that soon added Tehan after he became available to relocate.

"I was able to call and humbly say 'Hey guys, can I come too?,'" he recalled.

"We would not be here today without the support of the Reed family," Keenan said. "We were very fortunate that Bill and Jan asked us to come in as partners."

Keenan and Tehan were able to show their appreciation to Reed when the restaurant opened for business. The date they chose to open was May 20, 1985, Reed's birthday. With the help of Bill's wife, a stagecoach containing four local ladies dressed as frontier dance-hall entertainers picked up a surprised Bill Reed at his office at the west end of Cascade Avenue and transported him down the street to the restaurant where the opening celebration and birthday party was held.

Following the party, one of the contractors remodeling the building wanted to paint a mural on the back wall of the saloon. That led to the decision to have him paint four barroom dancers with the faces of four local ladies, Jan Reed, Barb Haines, Nancy Dyer, and Kathy Hoyt. Photos of the four were obtained to help the painter, and the dancing ladies remain on the wall today.

The new partners had decided to keep the historic Hotel Sisters name and feature Bronco Billy's Ranch Grill and Saloon. That name was chosen, not for the 1980 Clint Eastwood movie as many believe, but to recognize the name of Gilbert M. "Bronco Billy" Anderson, an American actor, writer, film-director, and film-producer, best known as the first star of Western films. Posters of both early and contemporary Western movies and stars are displayed in the restaurant and saloon. In addition, as a private joke, the name was selected to recognize the name of Bill Reed.

However, the most frequent phone-call that they kept getting was from people asking if they had vacancies and what their room rates were. That led them to soon "flip-flop" the order of the names to become Bronco Billy's Ranch Grill and Saloon in the Historic Hotel Sisters. Business increased right away, caused partly from this name reversal and partly because some people did not want to dine in a hotel restaurant.

The Hotel Sisters was built in 1912 and survived two major fires in downtown Sisters in 1923 and 1924, although it was scorched by both fires. From the time it was constructed until 1978, it operated as a hotel. In the early 1980s, the Reed family purchased the building and converted it into retail space. When converting the building to a restaurant was started in 1984, there was still an antique store upstairs and it remained there until 1986. During the initial building renovation, workers did find old newspapers of the 1930s and a sign that still hangs in the building showing the hotel room and shower rates. There was a reported sighting of a female ghost on the second floor, but neither Keenan nor Tehan have seen her.

Both Keenan and Tehan have no plans to take on new projects other than supporting their wives in their careers. Jean Wells Keenan owns Stichin' Post in Sisters and is the founder of the Sisters Outdoor Quilt Show. Peggy Tehan is a partner in the Campbell-Tehan CPA firm, also in Sisters, and is known for singing the national anthem at each performance of the Sisters Rodeo for many years.

"Be sure not tell our wives that we are looking for something to do," Tehan said. "We don't want them to think that we have all this time on our hands and need some projects."

"The one thing that I am looking forward to is being able to spend more time with my three grandchildren," Keenan said.

Both men are pleased that they have been fortunate to retain their employees for as long as 20 years. They are also look back with pleasure for the many friends they have made in supporting the Sisters Folk Festival, the High Mountains Dixieland Jazz Festival, the Sisters Rodeo, and many of the youth programs in the community.