The Half-Time Restaurant & Bar has quietly opened at 520 Austin Ave. to offer live music on one floor and video games and televised sporting events on another. It now is serving munchies and quick-serve meals during the evening and hopes to feature a lunch menu before the end of March.
Co-owner Shawn Seay said Half-Time represents another attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of a nightspot that had problems under a different name and ownership.
For years, the Half-Time site attracted students and young professionals as Treff’s Bar & Grill. It most recently was occupied by Kuma, a sushi restaurant on the ground floor and a nightclub upstairs. The owner closed Kuma in March last year after missing a lease payment.
Now Seay and Adem Imeri, who is involved in operating the Baris Italian restaurant on Valley Mills Drive, have joined forces to open Half-Time, which Seay said should attract those ages 25 and older who enjoy live music, free Wi-Fi, vintage video games such as Pac-Man and personalized access to TV sets at most dining tables.
The Half-Time marquee went up months ago, but dealings with the city of Waco and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission delayed the club’s opening until about two weeks ago, Seay said. Half-Time now opens at 4 p.m. daily and closes about midnight or at 2 a.m., depending on the day of the week, he said.
Lunch service will begin whenever staffing is complete and Imeri can teach new hires how to prepare pizza.
“We’re not open at full-force. It was kind of a last-minute decision made after we secured all the licenses we needed,” Seay said. “We’ve been trying to hire people as quickly as possible, but we’ve been keeping things hush-hush until we worked out the kinks. We’ve been giving customers a chance to check us out before doing much advertising.”
Someone walking past the establishment, or stepping inside the door, would see an ever-changing, lighted schedule of coming attractions and food choices. For example, Johnny Joe and Damn Band is scheduled to perform Friday evening. Drink specials will continue throughout the night, and the kitchen will be open until 1:45 a.m. Saturday.
“We’re getting more and more local bands from here in Waco, and possibly some from Austin, to perform on Fridays and Saturdays. It all depends on availability,” Seay said. “When we do not have a band, we will provide a DJ or something of that nature to keep the momentum going.”
The building’s second floor has a full bar, a stage, floor space for dancing and ample seating for relaxing, Seay said.
“Our intent is to make customers feel like this is their second home,” he said. “Everybody will have control of their own TVs, and the food prices will be reasonable, lower than a lot of places around town. We’ll also have Nintendo and Super Nintendo games and pinball, the kind of stuff a lot of people grew up on.”
Food choices include hamburgers, hot wings, appetizers, salads and hot dogs, with pizza coming soon to the lineup.
Eventually, Seay said, he would like to install a pick-up window.
Robert Johnson, a local businessman who owns the building at 520 Austin Ave., said he is optimistic that Half-Time will become a popular hangout on Austin Avenue, which is teeming with restaurant and retail development that includes Dichotomy Coffee & Spirits, Portofino’s Italian Restaurant and a remodeled Waco Hippodrome Theatre.
“I think Shawn has a good track record and the right idea for that space,” said Johnson, who signed a four-year lease with the partners.
Elsewhere on the street, Seay and Imeri own Austin’s on the Avenue, 719 Austin Ave., which Seay said attracts capacity crowds inside and outside on the patio most Friday and Saturday nights. He plans to remodel the building, which is showing signs of wear, when he gets Half-Time up and running.
The Austin’s on the Avenue site had a troubled past as Metro Restaurant and Bar before Seay arrived to turn around its fortunes.
“We probably have three or four times more traffic than Metro did, and a lot less drama,” Seay said in a recent interview.
Metro’s blasting music and sometimes rowdy customers frequently captured the attention of the Waco Police Department, including after a stabbing there.
“I had to kill the business to build it back up,” Seay said, adding he hired off-duty police officers to beef up security and make troublemakers feel unwelcome.
Seay said he personally owns Junction 84, an amalgam of clubs that includes Lava Lounge and Club Evolution and caters to a predominately Hispanic clientele. That site at state Highway 6 and U.S. Highway 84 once served as home to the notorious Club Alazan, which closed in 2013 after a series of violent incidents that including a fatal knifing.
“Everybody knows about that place, all the legal problems and fights back in the day,” Seay said. “I’ve had no issues in three years.”
Seay said his goal for each of these establishments “is getting past the stigma of what happened just before they closed.”
Waco real estate agent Mike Meadows, who is listing several properties on Austin Avenue, said Half-Time “is going to be a great use of that space.”
“It’s nice to see activity on Austin Avenue, and I think it’s going to continue to get better,” he said.
Meadows is listing the three-story Bank of America building at 514 Austin Ave., next door to Half-Time, that carries a price of $2.9 million and is owned by custom homebuilder Steve Sorrells.
Sorrells, who maintains an office in the Bank of America building, said he welcomes Half-Time to the neighborhood, but joked, “They need to start advertising and slinging pizza.”