A Waco businessman known for coffee and ice cream and a chef known for biscuits are planning to bring a culinary destination to a sleepy stretch of Elm Avenue.
Blake Batson, owner of Common Grounds coffeehouse and Heritage Creamery, has a large building in the 300 block of Elm under contract for a restaurant and food market.
He and chef Corey McEntyre are planning to create a storefront version of their popular Milo Biscuit Co. food truck, which currently serves visitors at the Magnolia silos.
The restaurant would serve biscuit sandwiches and other breakfast and lunch favorites. It would also serve brunch with cocktails such as mimosas. The restaurant’s concept is “fast casual” with wait staff.
“The idea is to do a brick-and-mortar Milo Biscuit Co.,” Batson said. “What everyone is doing with tacos, like Torchy’s, we want to do with biscuits.”
Batson and McEntyre also envision the building as a market where people can buy scratch-made bread, cheeses and cured meats as well as produce from local farmers.
The restaurant also would be a place for McEntyre to stage his “farm-to-table” dinners, which feature several courses of food based on locally sourced ingredients.
Batson is in the process of buying an old four-bay garage building from Sam Brown and Cathy Turner, who inherited many Elm Avenue properties from their father, Douglas Brown.
Sam Brown said he and his sister have been selective about selling the properties, waiting for the right uses.
“This area has to have a mix of culture, food, art, entertainment and some eclectic residential,” Brown said during a visit to Elm Avenue on Tuesday.
Milo Biscuit Co. fit the bill for making Elm Avenue a destination, he said.
“There’s been a huge outcry for the service he’s going to provide,” Brown said. “He’s got a track record of making things work and he doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty doing things himself.”
Batson, a Waco native, bought Common Grounds near Baylor four years ago and has continued its success as a coffeehouse and concert venue. This spring he opened Heritage Creamery, an artisanal ice cream shop next to Common Grounds, and he has been involved both in Milo and the Common Grounds Container, a mobile coffee shop.
Batson said he is ready to take on the challenge of Elm Avenue, the faded historic backbone of East Waco.
“Something about Elm has always drawn my attention and made my heart beat fast. I had a passion and a vision for it,” Batson said. “The whole street from I-35 to Martin Luther King is mostly vacant buildings, but with the proximity to the highway, McLane Stadium and Baylor, I think it’s gold.”
The building Batson has under contract is 6,500 square feet in size and is in good condition despite being vacant for some 40 years, he said. The property also includes a smaller standalone building, a former domino hall, that could be used as a food truck commissary.
The building is a block from Lula Jane’s, the popular bakery that entrepreneur Nancy Grayson built.
Batson said the popularity of Lula Jane’s paved the way for his venture, but he doesn’t think he’ll take away from the bakery’s breakfast crowd, based on his own experience with Common Grounds.
“When Dichotomy (coffeehouse and bar) opened across town, our numbers only went up,” he said. “As the culture grows and new things happen, more people start spending their money in these ways.”
Batson said he hopes to renovate the building and open next summer if he can get financed.
“We’re building capital and reaching out to investors, preferably local,” he said. “The thing about Elm is, either you get the vision or you don’t. The main pushback we get is, ‘We love what you’re doing, but how do you do that on Elm? Who’s going to want to go over there?’ ”
But Batson said he hopes his venture will prove the potential of Elm Avenue.
”I really do believe we will be on the front end of future development,” he said.
“I think it’s an awesome opportunity for this district,” she said. “The top priority for Elm has always been culture, arts and music. I think they would bring a really cool vibe to the neighborhood. . . . I’m a big fan of Corey’s, and I wish them all the best.”