Waco’s own reality TV stars, Chip and Joanna Gaines, will get another chance to turn something old into gold, as they have bought the historic Elite Cafe on Waco’s traffic circle and reportedly will create an attraction there by early 2017, possibly a restaurant.
Brock Murphy, spokesman for the Gaineses and their Magnolia-themed ventures, including Magnolia Market at the Silos in downtown Waco, confirmed Monday the couple has acquired the 8,356-square-foot structure that went vacant in early February because of chronically low sales.
The Elite can trace its founding back 97 years, to downtown Waco, and later became a popular stop for motorists traveling between Dallas and Austin before Interstate 35 became part of the scenery of South Waco.
A young soldier named Elvis Presley dined there while stationed at Fort Hood; generations of Baylor University students and their parents made it a traditional stop on football weekends; and local residents grew to enjoy the large country breakfasts, burgers, steaks and shrimp.
But it fell on hard times in recent years, as Waco’s dining options grew and The Elite name lost some of its luster. The Austin-based Ford Restaurant Group decided to shutter the place in February, and by March was receiving serious inquiries, said Creed Ford III, who did not return messages Monday seeking comment on the sale.
Murphy declined to comment further beyond confirming the Elite Cafe building now belongs to the Gaineses and their Magnolia brand.
He said people may speculate on the best use of the property, and even make suggestions, but at this point, the couple have nothing to announce and are formulating ideas.
He would not divulge what the Gaineses paid for the building, and said he was in no position to comment on whether the name would change.
Modifications to the building likely would push the opening of a restaurant or any other use into early 2017, Murphy said.
Stars of the home improvement show “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, the Gaineses have become a hit on television and in their hometown.
They took control of an aging cluster of rusting grain silos and a sagging warehouse at Sixth Street and Webster Avenue and transformed them into a marketplace for home décor, furniture and food trucks.
Waco’s Convention and Visitors Bureau reports Magnolia Market at the Silos attracts 25,000 visitors a week, and those traveling to the location near downtown will see lines of people extending along Webster Avenue, some paying $10 to park on the premises of nearby First Baptist Church of Waco.
Vehicles bearing out-of-state license plates swarm the neighborhood where Mama & Papa B’s Bar-B-Q recently reopened after a fire.
The Findery, a new gift and novelty shop on South Eighth Street, is attracting walk-in traffic from those just leaving Magnolia or busying themselves in cooler environs before joining the masses a block away.
Whitney Richter, business development and marketing manager at the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said she was excited by Monday’s news.
She wondered aloud if those who visit the Silos would afterward make a beeline for The Elite, or whatever it becomes, for a meal to tell the folks back home about.
Or would a Magnolia-themed eating place create its own following, with guests stopping at the Silos to complete their trip to Central Texas?
“It’s really an exciting time to be growing up in the Greater Waco area and seeing the positive limelight Waco is in right now,” Richter said. “I’ve talked to older people about what Waco was like before the tornado of ’53, and they mention how popular it was, especially downtown, for shopping and entertainment experiences.”
“We’re regaining that feel,” she said. “And it’s not only exciting, but positive for economic development and the future of Waco.”
Carla Pendergraft, who markets the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau, said, “I’m thrilled Chip and Joanna bought The Elite. It seems like everything they touch turns to gold, and in their hands, I can trust that The Elite will follow in that same vein, and maybe become something even better.”
She said the Silos attraction stands to draw 1.3 million visitors annually, “and The Elite would fit right into their pilgrimage to see all things Magnolia.”
Already a nightmare to navigate for some, Waco’s traffic circle receives a constant stream of vehicles from La Salle Avenue, South Valley Mills Drive, Circle Road and U.S. Highway 77. So city planners face traffic issues that opening a Magnolia-themed restaurant would create.
“That is something we will have to work through with TxDOT,” said Kristofer Norbert, Waco’s traffic engineering manager, referring to the Texas Department of Transportation. “That whole area is surrounded by TxDOT-controlled roads, including Valley Mills Drive, I-35 and La Salle Avenue.”
He added, “It’s a tough question to answer, and I’m going to say we really won’t know what’s going to happen until it opens, kind of like Magnolia Market.”
Kaytie Sisson, who manages the Texas Roadhouse Steakhouse at 2815 La Salle Ave., said she is pleased to hear Chip and Joanna Gaines are coming to the neighborhood.
“That’s really cool,” she said of news they have bought the Elite Cafe building. “They have really stepped up their game and are making Waco known. Besides that, they are really a polite couple. I believe whatever they come up with for that building will do well, and the design will be phenomenal.”
She said a Magnolia-named restaurant will generate more traffic for the area, “but will it lower our sales? Absolutely not.”