Location, location, location runs the real estate mantra, and the owners of The Backyard, a new restaurant and entertainment venue that opened quietly on the edge of downtown Waco two weeks ago, are quick to agree.

Across the street, a quick walk away during a lunch break, is the Veterans Administration Regional Office. A block or two over is the new retail space Magnolia Market at 600 Webster Ave., expected to pull thousands of shoppers to downtown.

In the general area between downtown and Interstate 35 are some 530 apartment or town-house units recently finished or under construction and expected to draw a healthy number of Baylor University students as residents.

And a building abutting The Backyard property has provided a wall that, with the owners’ permission, has been painted white for a video projector that turns the space into a 40-foot-wide TV screen,

The Backyard is the latest venture for the foursome of Brian Brown, Chris Cox, Russell Clay and Chris Braziel, who were behind the Waco nightclub Cinema, located in west central Waco at 921 Lake Air Drive. Cox and Clay also own and operate Red C Television, a Waco-based video/online production company.

Cinema, pitched as an evening alternative for an older, noncollege crowd, didn’t draw the regular traffic they had hoped, although attendance was strong on nights when bands or comedians performed.

When they found the former Waco City Limits Club property at 511 S. Eighth St. was for sale, they realized its location and size offered more potential. “Downtown is where it’s happening. The opportunity (there) tripled for us,” Cox said.

With a kitchen, smokehouse and patio area, it also addressed what Brown said were the most common complaints about Cinema: no food service or outdoor seating.

Rather than set up a restaurant from scratch, Brown reached out to Temple restaurateur Calvin Gossett, owner of The Patio on Main in downtown Temple. Gossett, it turned out, had contemplated expanding into the Waco market, and The Backyard’s kitchen and smokehouse provided that chance.

The Patio on 8th, the restaurant part of The Backyard, offers a similar menu of burgers, barbecue, sandwiches, appetizers and salads, but The Backyard will run the full-service indoor bar, Gossett said. He expects the downtown Waco dining crowd to be similar to Temple’s, with the addition of Baylor students.

The Backyard’s new owners partially renovated the facility during the past three months, installing glass-paneled garage doors to allow access from the restaurant to the patio and to lighten the restaurant’s interior; building a 15-foot-by-30-foot stage for performers; pouring and polishing concrete for an outside dance floor; and setting up outdoor games like washers, horseshoes and a covered pool table. In addition to a smokehouse, there is also a small outbuilding where margaritas, pina coladas and snow cones will be served.

1,000-plus on patio

The Backyard’s patio and grounds can handle a crowd of more than 1,000, while the inside space has room for some 250 people, Brown said.

The stage was built with the idea of bringing in regional and a few national bands, but Brown, a Waco promoter and musician, said that will develop over time and match customers’ tastes.

“We’re not going to put a band in here just to put a band in here,” he said.

The Backyard is open from 11 a.m. to midnight Sundays through Tuesdays and 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays.

Cox said interest in The Backyard and what it offered was high enough that the venue’s soft opening two weeks ago really wasn’t.

“We opened up during (Heart O’ Texas Fair & Rodeo) week. We wanted it to be slow. It wasn’t slow,” Cox said.

The restaurant and nightspot represents development that is filling in and connecting parts of greater downtown, according to Downtown Waco development director Megan Henderson.

“It certainly changes the character of what was there before,” she said.

Downtown development, in terms of retail and entertainment venues, has been in nodes or clusters, but completed and planned development between Franklin Avenue and Interstate 35 is filling the spaces between those nodes.

The opening of the Magnolia Market this month will accelerate commercial development near and along the Webster Avenue area as shoppers eat at nearby restaurants or visit other shops.

The Backyard will be followed in upcoming months by the Altura Lofts in the former Gradel Printing building, Apex Roasters, Brotherwell Brewery and The Findery.

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