When Chili’s Grill & Bar opened its Waco restaurant in 1992 on North Valley Mills Drive at Bosque Boulevard, it created waiting lists and long lines that made it one of the most successful unveilings in the history of the chain now owned by Brinker International.
But times change, so the Chili’s in Parkdale shopping center will close March 28, giving way to the new Chili’s in South Waco that will open April 4.
Corporate officials reportedly debated whether to leave both locations open, at least long enough to determine whether the new one would “cannibalize” its 23-year-old counterpart. But a manager of the Chili’s in Parkdale confirmed Thursday that the 5,000-square-foot restaurant there would end its run as the new one begins to welcome guests.
Manager Aaron Lincoln said the 40 employees already employed by Chili’s will relocate, and hiring soon will begin to fill another 15 to 20 positions.
“I have mixed reactions to the decision, but it was made pretty clear this one would not stay open,” Lincoln said. “Some of my customers are saying they now will have to travel farther to eat at Chili’s, while others are saying the new one is more convenient. This one is more than 20 years old and is a little dated.”
Lincoln said he expects the new 6,000-square-foot restaurant to attract more traffic from Interstate 35 and Baylor University.
“Before and after big football games, we get a lot of customers from the university, but not necessarily during the week,” Lincoln said.
He added that the Chili’s that shares a shopping center with Hobby Lobby, Drug Emporium and Dickey’s Barbecue Pit has seen a slight decline in overall traffic.
Don Shows, who works in Chili’s construction department, said Waco’s new eatery will seat 247 people, including those who want a place at the bar.
“The seating will have spring cushions, and should be more comfortable than the flat hard pads of the old place. We also will have nice lighting schemes, new finishes inside and outside, and an exterior that features stone, tile and brick,” Shows said. “But the menu everybody is familiar with remains the same.”
The chain offers an array of soups and sandwiches, burgers, steaks, seafood, appertizers and desserts — which can be ordered from tablets placed on customers’ tables.
Waco real estate agent Pat Farrar, who is pursuing a new lessee for the Chili’s in Parkdale, said he began receiving inquiries almost as soon as Chili’s announced it was building another location. He said the Chili’s lease with Parkdale does not expire until July 2017.
“I sure hope we find a new tenant before then; it would get Chili’s off the hook,” said Farrar, who acknowledged he was somewhat surprised Brinker International decided to pull the plug on its North Waco site with more than a year on the lease. He said he thought Chili’s would have time to test the viability of both markets.
Shows, with Brinker International, said he does not know all the details of the decision to close the existing Chili’s before its lease expired.
“I believe the thinking was that the part of town nearest the interstate was hustling and bustling a little more than the other,” he said by phone.
But he said he also had the impression that the location at Bosque Boulevard and Valley Mills Drive does satisfactory business.
Zoe’s Kitchen represents the latest addition, having opened about four months ago, assistant manager Amy Collins said.
“We’ve been extremely busy, and I’m not anticipating any loss of business when Chili’s arrives. We’re totally different concepts,” said Collins, who helps oversee a restaurant specializing in Mediterranean-style cuisine that includes Greek salads, flatbread sandwiches and kabobs.
Collins said she had heard that the Chili’s across town was closing, adding she really was not surprised by that decision.
“It’s been there a long time,” said Collins, 34. “I remember going there when I was in high school, and the last time I was there was about a week ago.”
Brad Davis, a commercial real estate agent not involved in the Chili’s transaction, said he thinks the chain is making a mistake by closing its Parkdale site.
“I think it would be better for them to leave both of them open, see how the new one affected the old one,” he said. “I do think Parkdale is a good site. The shopping center changed hands last year, and the new people have put some money into it.
“Far North Valley Mills Drive, between Lake Air Drive and Bosque Boulevard, has seen a lot of redevelopment in recent years. If you’re talking about the other side of Bosque, you lose some momentum, but inside Bosque, I would test the waters if I were Chili’s.”
At North Valley Mills and Lake Air drives, a development has emerged that includes a new Whataburger restaurant and a Sprint store. At Valley Mills and Wooded Acres drives, meanwhile, a retail strip called Lakewood Center has seen the arrival of an Aldi’s grocery store, Smashburger, Mama Fu’s Asian House and Fantastic Sams.
Mike Meadows, another commercial agent not involved in the Chili’s maneuvering, said he would not second-guess the chain’s moves.
“They have been in business a long time, and I’m sure they know exactly what their goals are, and have made the moves to accomplish those goals,” he said. “I do like the market they are moving out of; it remains strong and viable. But I-35 obviously is also healthy and viable.”
California-based Rexco Development now owns the Chili’s building at Parkdale, while Georgia-based Core Property Capital owns the balance of the center.