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Renovations continue on the former Chinese Kitchen Buffet building at 416. N. Valley Mills Drive (aka Mazzio's Pizza, if you're old-school), the future home of Saffron Indian and Pakistani restaurant.

Local restaurants certainly have been through trying times of late, adjusting to COVID-19 regulations that limited seating options. Some for the first time were forced by circumstances to offer drive-up, drive-thru or curbside service. Not doing so meant risking having their lunch handed to them.

Most now have invited diners inside. Wait staffers, usually wearing masks, take orders for food and drink from scaled-down menus. Fans of the baked sweet potatoes at Saltgrass Steak House, for example, must do without for the time being. The chicken-fried steak remains heavenly.

A sit-down Tex-Mex chain replaced silverware with disposable plastic cutlery. A sign informs guests the restaurant will honor only one of several discount options previously publicized. The others fell victim to economics.

Personal visits revealed keen attention to social distancing at El Conquistador on Waco Drive, at La Fiesta and El Paso Mexican Grill on Franklin Avenue, at Saltgrass Steak House in Legends Crossing and at Bubba’s 33 on the Interstate 35 frontage road near South Valley Mills Drive. Bubba’s on a Friday night was standing-room-only in the parking lot. But even there diners politely kept their distance, huddling up remotely with friends and family.

To-go service is more easily achieved by some concepts than others. A sizzling steak served with a baked potato and crisp salad for the road does not sound appealing. Still, a correspondent said she has been impressed by the quality of both food and service delivered by Waco’s Outback Steakhouse.

Others are invited to share their experiences at:

Elsewhere on Waco’s dining scene, a previous report in this column that Zoe’s Kitchen at Bagby Avenue and South Valley Mills Drive had closed for good was in error. A note there announces a Monday reopening and thanks patrons for their patience.

Luby’s cafeteria on North Loop 340 in Bellmead also has returned to life.

“We are so excited to serve you in our dining room again. Please know our entire team is fully committed to going above and beyond with all social distancing and sanitization processes to keep our Luby’s guests and employees safe,” Luby’s wrote in an online message.

Luby’s long-term future as a company remains a subject of debate.

The Houston-based company has announced it will try to sell its operations and asset, including real estate, to pay off $35 million in debt “and distribute the the rest of the proceeds to stockholders long disappointed by the chain’s financial performance,” the Houston Chronicle reported. Luby’s said it will keep some locations open as it pursues a buyer.

The Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse under construction near South Valley Mills Drive and I-35 is pursuing a permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to serve mixed drinks, according to an on-site posting.

Also, renovations continue on the future home of Saffron Indian and Pakistani restaurant on Valley Mills Drive, near Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen.

It also has posted a sign saying it has filed for a permit to sell alcohol.

Donald Citrano has temporarily closed his Coffee Shop Cafe in McGregor, where a kitchen staffer was confirmed to have COVID-19. Citrano said online he chose to shutter the popular restaurant for now “out of an abundance of caution,” as he consults with the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District.

In a recent interview, Citrano said he spent weeks thoroughly cleaning and remodeling the restaurant as he and other dining establishments endured a COVID-19-related pause. His restaurant has created a devoted following with its all-day breakfast service, daily buffet and homemade pies prepared by Citrano’s wife, Valerie. Diners of note include former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, and Elon Musk, billionaire founder of SpaceX.

Backyard building permitAn intriguing building permit was issued for remodeling the second floor of a building at 6500 Woodway Drive, which is near State Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 84. According to the Associated General Contractors of America newsletter, the $250,000 permit was secured by The Backyard.

As many know, The Backyard on South Eighth Street downtown offers live entertainment, food, drink and games. A call there Saturday shed no light on the possibility The Backyard plans another location. The Tribune-Herald hopes to have more on that later.

Wolf masks

Wolf Manufacturing, a local manufacturer of neck pillows and blankets, has started producing face masks that can be embroidered and customized.

“I’m proud that Wolf has been able to leverage our knowledge and experience to retool our Waco-based manufacturing operations to include cloth face masks. Now we can produce face coverings to protect people and utilize our embroidery machines to customize them with logos and designs,” Wolf President Abbye Silver said in a press release.

The masks include three layers of fabric, with outer and inner layers of 100% cotton and the lining from nonwoven fabric.

“Unlike disposable mask options sourced from other parts of the world, these masks are washable and reusable and cost-effective for businesses,” the press release states.

TAS Environmental Services, based in Forth Worth, placed one of the first orders Wolf received for its new product.

Wolf is a 70-year-old company employing about 50 people locally.

Church in the shade

Church Under the Bridge pastor Jimmy Dorrell said the congregation will return to a covered courtyard in the Magnolia Market at the Silos complex now that the summer sun is regularly making its presence known.

The church had met for years under the Interstate 35 overpass at Fourth and Fifth streets and accepted an invitation from Chip and Joanna Gaines to meet Sundays at Magnolia Market while the Texas Department of Transportation proceeded with its $341 million overhaul of Interstate 35 through Waco.

Church Under the Bridge, whose membership includes professionals and the poor, the homeless, the disenfranchised, college students and those recovering from substance abuse, has been welcome at the Silos even as Magnolia launched a $10.4 million expansion.

Magnolia management made the move to the covered spot happen after recent sun-baked Sunday gatherings behind the Magnolia Press coffee shop on Eighth Street, Dorrell said.

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