Local restaurateur Sammy Citrano is starting his 25th year as owner of the iconic George’s restaurant in South Waco, having acquired it from George Betros after a stint as managing partner of The Elite Cafe on Waco’s traffic circle.

As many readers know, Chip and Joanna Gaines of Magnolia Market and “Fixer Upper” fame bought The Elite and are transforming it into Magnolia Table, with an opening planned early next year.

Citrano said he felt a tad nostalgic as he watched a work crew remove the old Elite Cafe sign last week, but he was more in the mood to talk about George’s, where it has been and his plans for the future.

Despite the onslaught of competing restaurants, George’s, known for its expansive menu, chicken-fried steak and Big O goblets of beer, is holding its own and then some. A second George’s now operates in Westrock Centre on Hewitt Drive, run by Sammy Citrano’s son, Kyle, who doubles as president of the Waco Restaurant Association. Other managers include Chris Cady, Wade Canuteson, Kevin Lopez and Paula Owen.

“We made right at $13 million between the two this year, which is an all-time record, and we have 250 employees and a payroll of $4 million,” said Citrano, who is hosting a Christmas party Sunday for staffers.

“I’m so proud of Chip and Joanna and what they have done for Waco, bringing people here from all over the country,” Citrano said. “Visitors want to eat at the most ‘local’ place they can find, and I think that is George’s. It seems like the more restaurants open, the better our business gets.”

Citrano continues to put money back into the business, having acquired several pieces of property near his South Waco location to provide more parking options. He also invested in a party hall for large groups.

“I’ve always been embarrassed by our restrooms there, but that is going to change,” he said with a laugh. “We’re adding 1,100 square feet to enlarge the dining, waiting and to-go areas, and we’re getting first-class men’s and women’s restrooms. The best to be found in Waco.”

At the Hewitt Drive location, Citrano hopes to create more space for walk-in coolers and food preparation. He said George’s has outgrown the leased site, but his landlord has not approved adding additional seating.

He has contracted with the Waitr service to deliver entrees to call-in customers willing to pay an extra $5 to avoid a drive.

The fan favorite among menu items is the chicken-fried steak served with mashed potatoes, green beans and jalapeno cornbread. It runs $5.99 at lunchtime and $8.99 for dinner portions, Citrano said.

“Being Italian, I know that service is the key to any successful restaurant,” he said. “Don’t give people a reason to go anywhere else.”

On other fronts, Citrano said he has a solid prospect for the vacant former Buffalo Wild Wings building he owns on Franklin Avenue near New Road.

“A lot of people are looking at it, but I’m very picky,” he said.

Melody Ranch for sale

Melody Ranch has hit the market priced at $1.7 million, according to Bentwood Commercial, which is listing the legendary dance hall on Robinson Drive that has welcomed country stars including Garth Brooks, Hank Williams Jr., Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and the Bellamy Brothers over the years, some before they were stars.

The 15,000-square-foot building sits on 3-plus acres, agent Bryan Jenkins said. He is showing the “Ranch” with fellow agent Amber Boney. They held an open house last week, Jenkins said.

He said he thinks the space could prove attractive to an investor, considering its proximity to the old Elite Cafe that Chip and Joanna Gaines are converting to Magnolia Table.

“Great opportunity to own one of the most iconic locations in Waco, Texas,” Brentwood promotional material states.

Dwyer growth

The Dwyer Group, a franchising empire based in Waco, is celebrating what it is calling “record global growth” in 2017.

According to a company fact sheet, Dwyer Group has expanded to 2,800 franchise locations across nine countries. Its 19 brands enjoyed $1.5 billion in sales. It awarded 300 franchises in 2017. And it completed two acquisitions: Bright & Beautiful, a home-cleaning service, and Countrywide Grounds Maintenance, both based in the United Kingdom.

“The company also broke ground this year on a new building at its Waco campus, which will house the growing support staff for our expanding franchise network,” according to a Dwyer Group press release.

Other business news

  • Houston-based Mattress Firm has announced it will shutter a couple hundred of its underperforming locations, a move that has claimed the shop at 1115 N. Valley Mills Drive. Two other local stores remain open for now, including one in Central Texas Marketplace.
  • The Milo Biscuit Co. food truck is relocating to the home of Pinewood Roasters, 2223 Austin Ave., when the new year arrives, according to a press release. It will also be at the Waco Wine Shoppe, 1800 Austin Ave., in the evenings.
  • The REFIT Studio, a fitness center now operating on Richland Drive, is relocating to 1522 Washington Ave.
  • A self-described “food shack” called the Franklin Avenue Mac House will open early next year at 3428 Franklin Ave., according to a Facebook post.

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