When you have a reputation built on decades of passion and hard work like Robert Thornton and his company, Great Homes, sometimes it can be easy to rest on your laurels and lose some of your “spark”. For Thornton, he admits to losing the spark at one point, but now with the help of his new business partner, Travis Roberson, is re-invigorated, re-inspired, and they are carving new paths for Great Homes that neither of them expected.
For some history, Robert Thornton founded Great Homes in 1991. Since then, he has built some of the area’s most luxurious custom homes and developed a reputation that was unmatched, both for his construction standards and expertise, but simply for his connection that he cultivated with every client he had.
That said, the “grind” of custom home building took its toll on Robert and he found himself in what he described as a “funk”. Enter Travis Roberson.
Thornton begins, “Travis stumbled into my office one day many years ago, and we had actually met at a Baylor fraternity family function and we had crossed paths at an alum event. Well, he moves to Boerne and is looking for work and I told him that I didn’t have anything. Then I was at ChickFilA and he comes running out and he tells me that he’s doing some work at the coast. Then I see him at Geneva and he’s interviewing to get his kids into school so we visited for a little while longer. This is over the course of a few years and we stop at Geneva for a big family event thing and we were
chatting and I left there thinking “I need to hire that guy. I had gotten in a funk in a big way and then lo and behold he calls me again and says that he’s looking for some property. I said “Maybe I’ll sell it, but come talk to me.” So he comes over and we’re talking some more, and I stopped our conversation and said “This is weird, but I gotta tell you that I like you a lot and I need to give you some advice: you either need to quit your job and start your company or you need to come run mine.” We agreed to a courtship of a year to see if we still felt the same way and we did and now he’s a 40% partner and 6 months from now he’ll be a 50% partner.”
Thornton continues, “I was burned out and yet was super busy with the homebuilding stuff, but the commercial stuff was fun. I went from my midlife career crisis to all of a sudden having a blast, and to have someone to commiserate with, and to have someone to bounce that stuff off of has been hugely valuable. Not every partnership works, but this one has been great and I couldn’t ask for more. We want to continue our custom homes, but then also focus on these custom commercial projects.
Travis jumps in, “We’ve been asking ourselves, ‘How do we maintain our uniqueness as a custom builder and ring some organization and skills to that?’ We would look at stuff and say ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we got the Schwarz place and did some amazing?’ and we’d go over here and look at it.”
With this new direction, the two have set out to ask themselves real questions about the preservation of these buildings in town and how to not only preserve them, but enhance them. It started with the Schwartz property across from the Post Office and the two haven’t looked back. Travis continues, “This town is blowing up, but when we look at the central part of Boerne, we have asked ourselves, ‘Where are the key buildings and properties that we can preserve the history, the look, the culture, and the people?’. With that, we can make these decisions about these properties that we are so passionate about.”
As for properties, there are more in the pipeline, one being the site of Boerne’s original San Antonio & Aransas Pass train station on Ebner, one on the Cibolo Creek at the corner of San Antonio & Yoalana, and one being the highly coveted former Boerne Motor Company on Oak Park – the abandoned red brick gas station that’s been boarded up for 70 years and has arguably been the most sought after property in all of Boerne. While much curiosity abounds with the gas station on Oak Park, the team has no definitive plans for it at this point, but have pledged to simple preserve it and utilize it for something that not only adds value to the community, but is done in such a way that the original family owners would be pleased.
Not only the restorations they are performing, such as the Zoeller building behind Frost Bank, but the commercial projects they are researching are also passions for the two. Thornton explains, “We encourage the restoring of Boerne’s special properties, but also encourage ground-up projects that tell a story and are rich in character. Our former office at 507 E. Blanco (now owned and occupied by Lovorn & Ogle Attorneys) and current office (the Machine Shop at Schwarz Homestead) are both examples of new, ground-up projects that enhance and retain the small town feel of Boerne. But in the meantime we want to make sure we don’t negate or diminish our custom home operation, as it remains a passion of ours. We absolutely continue to build custom homes in Cordillera Ranch and around Boerne, have recently completed a beautiful home on Becker St., and currently have another on Becker, both of which are beautiful additions to town.”
While the duo is out finding the next great opportunity both Travis and Robert understand that they rely on the rest of their team. “Travis and I are steering the ship, but Danny Kreifels (lead foreman), Melissa Haberstroh (interior design) and Erasmo Arreola (superintendent) are absolutely crucial to what we do. Those people touch everything as much as we do and we could never do any of this stuff without them.”
Both Travis and Robert are active in their local churches, Bible Study Fellowship, and the Geneva School where both serve on multiple committees.
Thornton finishes, “I grew up in a family of my mom’s side of a lot of builders and developers and for the most part was people that I didn’t really know. I vividly recall as a kid driving around in Dallas and my mom would point at buildings that my great great grandfather built or owned the lumber yard there, and fast forward that to now, I’m not doing it with family, but I still have the connections cause Mr. Schwarz comes by and tells us a story about his house that we rehabilitated and it is so fulfilling. We had some descendants of the Zoellers come to our remodel of the old house and they asked us ‘Why would you do this?’ and Travis and I both laughed and said ‘Because of that look on your face right now’.”