The new Whataburger restaurant at Lake Air and Valley Mills drives will host a grand opening celebration July 30, but it will quietly open to the public Wednesday to give employees a head start on serving the public.

It anchors the Lake Air Village shopping center, which will include a Sprint store and Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint.

“The Waco community has been incredibly loyal over the years and to thank our customers, it’s time to upgrade our restaurant to provide them with the best possible dining experience,” Whataburger director of operations Ken McKissick said. “We’re eager to show the community the new and improved restaurant and we’re looking forward to continuing to serve Waco for years to come.”

When the new facility opens, the location at 420 N. Valley Mills Drive will close.

Other Whataburgers are at West Loop 340 in Waco, North Loop 340 in Bellmead, Hewitt Drive and South Seventh Street at Interstate 35.

From 5 to 7 p.m. July 30, the eatery will have games and giveaways, including its “Whataburger for a Year” drawing, in which one customer’s name will be drawn to win a free Whataburger each week for a year. WACO 100 will broadcastng live and the restaurant’s mascot, Whataguy, will attend, along with a face painter and balloon twister.

The new restaurant is the largest Whataburger in Greater Waco. It will seat 88 people and employ about 50 people. Those working at 420 N. Valley Mills Drive will transfer, the company says.

The restaurant will have more parking and a larger dining area than the facility it replaces.

No opening dates have been announced for Sprint and Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint, a growing chain that has customers build their own pizzas from ingredients on display.

The site is owned by Austin-based SCC Development, which at one time said it was negotiating with In-N-Out Burger, a California-based chain that since has committed to a site at South Fifth Street and the I-35 frontage road.

It is being marketed by the Austin office of Jones Lang LaSalle, which is involved in real estate transactions worldwide.

JLL’s website says the center is in a “very strong retail trade area with national and regional, including Target and H-E-B, generating market-leading sales.”

It said the site is “located within the largest concentration of daytime population in Waco.”

JLL spokesman Tim Allen could not be reached for comment on whether additional tenants will occupy the site — the former home of Richard Karr Motors, which relocated to Waco’s “Motor Mile” on West Loop 340.

Whataburger, founded in 1950 in Corpus Christi, now has more than 780 restaurants in 10 states.

It recently made headlines when it announced it would not allow the open carry of firearms on its properties — a response to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s signing of a bill that made it legal to carry handguns openly in Texas.

The chain has received both praise and rebuke for its stance, with some gun enthusiasts suggesting a boycott.

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