Not even the banging sound of progress in the background could drown out Jimmy Dorrell’s shout of celebration Wednesday when he heard an auction of the old Elite Cafe’s contents Saturday raised $51,000 for Mission Waco’s effort to create a nonprofit grocery store at North 15th Street and Colcord Avenue.
Magnolia spokesman Brock Murphy announced the $51,000 donation from the Elite’s new owners, Chip and Joanna Gaines, on Wednesday.
“That is great news. That puts us over the top,” Dorrell said, his voice rising as he spoke from inside the 6,500-square-foot former Safeway building undergoing renovations to become Jubilee Food Market.
Dorrell, executive director of Mission Waco, was within $28,000 of reaching his goal of $488,000 to create an oasis in a North Waco food desert.
Proceeds from the auction will give him breathing room as renovations wind down toward an opening in November. Any extra funds will supplement his budget for stocking the store, he said.
“We’ll hold onto that money to make sure construction is covered, because that $488,000 was just our guess,” Dorrell said. “Man, that’s great to hear.”
The Gaineses, of Magnolia Market at the Silos and “Fixer Upper” fame, bought the historic Elite Cafe on Waco’s traffic circle when it closed for business earlier this year. They plan to open a restaurant there but have yet to announce definite plans.
The auction Saturday included the sale of furniture, appliances, old photos, signs and even the baby-blue Cadillac parked out front.
The vintage Caddy fetched $12,500 from the winning bidder, identified on the Magnolia website as Greg Dunn, of Granbury.
Clark Auction Co., which carried out the sale, pledged 5 percent of its take to Mission Waco, and that totaled $1,304.
“In their 21 years in business, this was one of their most successful auctions,” Murphy said. “Waco has a strong community bond, and it came together for this great cause.”
Dorrell said exciting news about the gift from the Gaineses highlights a busy week at Jubilee Market he described as “crazy fun.”
“Donated freezers came in Tuesday morning, and then huge air-conditioning units arrived from Austin. They had to put a crane on the roof to install those,” Dorrell said. “The welders were here. The sheetrockers were here. The refrigeration people were here, and so were the plumbers. We probably had 10 or 12 subcontractors on top of each other.”
Dorrell said a crew installing foam insulation would arrive soon, and that “electricians have been here every day for three weeks.”
He said donations of every description are helping make the project possible, mentioning Carrier’s gift of the 10-ton air conditioners.
Mission Waco once said the store would open Oct. 15 under a best-case scenario, but Dorrell said an unveiling before November now seems unlikely.
‘A lot of work going on’
“My guess is we’ll start doing some painting in a week or so, and the floor needs quite a bit of work. And then there are the windows and canopies,” he said. “There is just a lot of work going on, so we’re saying November. We still have to install a point-of-sale system and get approval to accept food stamps.”
Jubilee Market, he said, will strive to offer grocery items as inexpensively as possible and also will place a premium on the availability of healthy food.
“We are working on deals with food suppliers, including larger ones out of Houston and Brenham and several smaller ones who provide limited items,” Dorrell said. “We’re getting inquiries from people who want to make livestock available to us, including a woman who raises grass-fed beef and likes to keep it hanging in coolers for 30 days, which she said improves the finished product. We won’t be able to sell that a whole lot cheaper than others might because it represents higher quality.”
The store is open to anyone wanting to shop there, though it primarily will serve the needs of the neighborhood near Mission Waco.
It will focus on the sale of edible merchandise, but shoppers also will find paper goods, diapers, batteries and about a dozen other nonfood products.
Dorrell said he will spend about $75,000 initially stocking the store, and part of the monetary gift from the Gaineses may go toward that purchase.
Next on Mission Waco’s wish list is a solar-powered aquaponics greenhouse that would supply fresh produce and fish for the store.
It is priced at $275,000, and Dorrell has applied for a grant from Austin-based Green Mountain Energy Co.’s Sun Club. Dorrell said getting the money may require a match from Mission Waco. He is prepared to put up $90,000 from memorials made when his son, Seth Dorrell, 32, died of a heart attack in 2014 on a mission trip to Mexico.
“Seth received a master’s degree in environmental studies, and this project would involve renewable energy and agricultural production,” he said.
Murphy, meanwhile, said the Gaineses still have not a chosen a name for the restaurant they will operate in the former Elite Cafe after renovations.
“We have submitted interior and exterior plans to the Texas Historical Commission and are waiting for approval,” Murphy said.
The Elite can trace its founding back 97 years in downtown Waco, and it became a popular dining destination for travelers, Baylor University students and even a young Elvis Presley, who was stationed at Fort Hood. It fell on hard times in recent years, and Ford Restaurant Group closed it in February and sold it to the Gaineses in March.