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Flying J gas prices on Interstate 35 near New Road on Dec. 31. Gas prices nationwide are on the rise.

Mazzio’s Italian Eatery is the latest pizza establishment to bite the dust on Hewitt Drive, reportedly closing on Christmas Eve, according to sources who have seen the quitting-business sign on the door.

Its closing follows the demise of Papa Murphy’s, a take-home-and-heat pizza place formerly operating at 208 Hewitt Drive.

Justin Duty, part of the Duty family that has operated the Poppa Rollo’s pizzeria at 703 N. Valley Mills Drive for decades, opened his own Poppa Rollo’s in Westrock Centre on Hewitt Drive in May 2015. Duty said by phone he has noticed the departure of Mazzio’s and Papa Murphy’s and does not know quite what to make of the situation.

“We started busy and have stayed busy,” said Duty, commenting on the neighborhood’s acceptance of his Poppa Rollo’s, which features the same menu as the original. “I knew we would cannibalize some of our existing customers, but we have not pulled away as many as I thought we would.”

Still, he said, “I think we’re doing a good job, and those people coming through the front door obviously are coming from somewhere.”

He said he has pondered the possibility that his restaurant pulled sufficient numbers away from Mazzio’s and Papa Murphy’s to affect their viability.

The explosion of new restaurants of every stripe the past two years “means everyone has to hustle a little harder,” Duty said.

Waco’s second Poppa Rollo’s is doing so well that Duty has secured an option on about 1,300 square feet of additional lease space adjacent to his restaurant, if it becomes vacant. He now does business in about 5,000 square feet and already needs more dining space to accommodate larger groups.

Duty also signed a lease on the former 3 Spoons Yogurt spot in Westrock, where he will open Sprinkles Frozen Yogurt and Smoothies near the end of January.

Cake store opening

A new sweet shop called Nothing Bundt Cakes held its grand opening Thursday at Central Texas Marketplace, where it occupies space next to Charming Charlie.

Local franchisees are John and Samantha Tran, from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, who plan to relocate to Waco, Samantha Tran said in an interview.

“My husband went to Baylor, so it was natural for us to come back here,” Tran said. “Wonderful things are happening in Waco right now.”

She said business has been good since the shop’s soft opening a few weeks ago, and customers have been warm and welcoming.

“We’ve been so busy, we have not had time to breathe,” Tran said. “It’s been fun getting to know the locals.”

Nothing Bundt Cakes was founded in 1997 and has grown to more than 250 franchised locations, Tran said, adding her shop employs about 20 and is still hiring.

A news release from Nothing Bundt Cakes said each shop offers a wide range of cake flavors and sizes, from bite-sized cakes to tiered cakes that serve up to 30 people.

Staples survey

Staples, the office supply giant, conducted a survey of small businesses to gauge their views with the arrival of 2017. It found that:

85 percent of American small-business owners surveyed are “optimistic” about the small-business climate in the new year.

67 percent plan to hire employees, and 72 percent plan to increase staff compensation in 2017.

97 percent plan to increase investment in their companies this year.

91 percent would be likely to encourage their children to start their own business.

93 percent think running their own business is the best kind of job satisfaction there is.

67 percent think business tax reform should be the Trump administration’s top policy priority this year.

Staples surveyed 502 U.S. small-business owners who employ up to 10 full-time staffers between Dec. 14 and Dec. 21.

“We’ve been a small-business champion for more than 30 years, and are pleased that small-business owners are hopeful and confident as we head into the new year,” Frank P. Bifulco Jr., executive vice president for global marketing at Staples, said in a prepared statement.

“We conducted the survey to better understand the pulse of small-business owners and to further identify those priority product and service areas in which we can help our customers achieve success in 2017.”

Gas prices rise

Relief from rising gas prices remains elusive, as the AAA Texas auto club reported Thursday that the statewide average for a gallon of regular unleaded increased another 5 cents during the previous week, to $2.16 a gallon. That is 41 cents more than Texas motorists were paying at this time last year.

Drivers across the nation paid the highest gas prices on New Year’s Day since 2014, according to AAA, which said, “Market watchers are focused on whether OPEC, along with partnering countries, will stick to their six-month promise to cut 1.8 million barrels of crude per day.”

Despite the increase, Texas remains one of the 10 least expensive states in which to buy gasoline, said Doug Shupe, AAA Texas’ director of public affairs.

Patrick DeHaan, an analyst with, said gas prices in 2017 may create “sticker shock” and could be the highest in three years.

He predicted motorists nationwide will shell out $52 billion more for gasoline during the course of the year than they did in 2016. Making that increase more aggravating, he said, is the fact that motorists saved $39 billion on fuel in 2016 versus 2015.

He said later this winter and in the spring, when refineries are converting from producing so-called winter blend gasoline to gasoline to be burned in warmer weather, motorists around the country could see prices increase 35 to 60 cents per gallon.

DeHaan even suggested that the nation’s 20 largest cities again will see gasoline prices surge past $3 a gallon.

New nursing facility

A new skilled nursing facility has opened at 2430 Marketplace Drive called The Brazos of Waco, which so far has filled 14 of its 123 available beds.

“We’d love for people to take a tour,” administrator Maureen Collins said.

The facility operates near the Arbor House assisted and independent living center at 2418 Marketplace Drive and the Men’s Wearhouse shop at Central Texas Marketplace, which is bounded by Interstate 35, West Loop 340 and Bagby Avenue.

Collins said The Brazos of Waco accepts Medicare, Medicaid and private pay, and offers both short-term and long-term rehabilitation services.

Maryland-based Fundamental Clinical and Operational Services built the facility. It reportedly operates 34 rehab centers in Texas and plans to open six others.

Also near Central Texas Marketplace, Dallas-based Emerald Waco Investments is developing 30 acres to create a “village” that includes units offering assisted living, independent living and skilled nursing care on 18 acres. The balance of 12 acres is being offered for retail development.

Magnolia Realty move

The Magnolia name made famous by Chip and Joanna Gaines continues to show up at different locations around Greater Waco.

Magnolia Realty, previously based in the Extraco Financial Group building at 7305 Bosque Blvd., relocated two weeks ago to 816 Lake Air Drive, said Lacey Shillito, office concierge. She said about 25 agents are affiliated with Magnolia Realty in Waco, with another 25 working in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio.

Meanwhile, the city of Waco has issued a building permit for remodeling of space at 7305 Bosque Blvd. for use by Magnolia Homes.

A newsletter by the local office of the Associated General Contractors of America places the estimated value of the work at $160,000.

Chip and Joanna Gaines probably are best known for their popular “Fixer Upper” show on HGTV and Magnolia Market at the Silos at South Sixth Street and Webster Avenue.

The couple last year acquired the former Elite Cafe building on Waco’s traffic circle and will remodel it this year into a breakfast-centric diner.

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