The International House of Pancakes location on Fourth Street near Baylor University will close after serving lunch Thursday, but it was business as usual Tuesday.
Gravelly voiced general manager Victor Melant, also the chief cook, bottle washer and grill sergeant, announced the aromatic arrival of more flapjacks, hash browns, bacon and other breakfast staples. Mugs of steaming coffee arrived. Students chatted. A brown-eyed 2-year-old smiled a mac-and-cheese smile.
Outside, Lauren Piercy, 22, and Kaui Taylor, 21, both kinesiology students at Baylor, recoiled upon reading the note announcing IHOP’s fate.
“Bummer,” said Taylor, from the Big Island of Hawaii. “It can’t be from lack of business. There are people in here all the time, even at 3 in the morning. This is our spot. Students hang out here during finals or on weekends after games. There was a time we were in here twice a week.”
The restaurant is hemmed in on two sides by plans for major construction projects: a $330 million widening of Interstate 35 set to start soon and a 50,000- to 60,000-square-foot welcome center Baylor is planning nearby. But neither is responsible for IHOP’s closure, said Karl “Rock” McNair Jr., Baylor’s assistant vice president of real estate services and campus operations.
“The IHOP lease was expiring and IHOP’s desire was a new building,” McNair said in an email response to questions, referring to IHOP’s decision to replace the campus-area location with one in the Bellmead-Lacy Lakeview area that opened recently.
TxDOT spokesman Ken Roberts confirmed “IHOP is outside our I-35 reconstruction project boundary.”
The Baylor-area restaurant opened in late 1973 or early 1974 and has leased the space from Baylor since the university bought it in 2002, McNair said.
“Baylor purchased the IHOP building and land only, not the IHOP business, in 2002, with the 8-plus-or-minus acres in front of campus formerly known as ‘Ivy Square,’ ” McNair wrote. “It includes the green space area between University Parks Drive, the Interstate 35 access road and Dutton Avenue. As part of the acquisition in 2002, Baylor assumed the leases, one of which was IHOP.”
The chain asks customers to visit either the new location on I-35 in Bellmead or the IHOP that opened in 2010 at New Road and I-35, near the Pilot Flying J Travel Center. All Waco locations, including the one closing soon, are owned by ACG Texas, which owns and operates 75 IHOP locations statewide, including others in Austin, Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, according to its website.
ACG Texas did not return calls Tuesday seeking comment.
Bellmead’s IHOP is so fresh, it has not yet been assigned a taxable value by the McLennan County Appraisal District.
But it already has made a dent in sales down the road.
“We were pretty much holding our own until Bellmead opened,” Melant said.
He moved from Panama to Texas to join family and was employed at Waco’s El Chico restaurant, then Olive Garden before joining IHOP eight years ago. Though he manages the place, his duties have grown to include more kitchen and food-preparation work as closing day has approached and employment has declined from 45 to about 25, he said.
Melant, 62, and his staff have been offered jobs at IHOP elsewhere in Waco.
“Will I miss this place? Sure,” Melant said. “But I’m not quite ready to retire. I have three or four more years. I had a son when I was 48.”
He said he does not know all the details about the closing but that he had heard talk the IHOP building would be a nerve center for the construction crew that will build Baylor’s new welcome center.
Whatever the case, McNair said the IHOP shop is a campus institution.
“BU students, alumni, faculty and staff, and the Waco community, have dined at this location for 40-plus years,” he said.
“It’s kind of sad,” said Lydia Rodriguez, 21, a Baylor biochemistry student, eating Tuesday with Jessy Watson, 20, a medical humanities student.
“It’s within walking distance of campus, and maybe we should have taken advantage of that more,” Rodriguez said. “We’re eating here one last time.”