Two restaurants in Waco have pulled the plug on operations, including the much anticipated Manny’s on the River that opened in December 2014 to serve upscale Tex-Mex food on a new deck along the Brazos River.
Jimmy John’s, a sandwich shop at South Fourth Street and Franklin Avenue, also has closed its doors for good. Local Jimmy John’s franchisee Larry Wright said the shop on Speight Avenue can handle the traffic generated by downtown customers, many of whom wanted food delivered at lunchtime.
“We remain committed to downtown Waco,” Wright said.
The closure should not be interpreted as a knock on business volume in Waco’s inner city, he said.
Real estate agent Raynor Campbell said he already has potential tenants in mind for the 1,5000 square-foot space Jimmy John’s used.
“We have several prospects we will hit hard after the first of the year,” Campbell said.
Meanwhile, Manny’s on the River closed with little notice, leaving a message on the front door dated Sunday, saying the establishment was “closed permanently” as of 7 p.m. that day.
Brazos River Partners, co-owned by local developer Rick Sheldon, acquired the former Lake Brazos Bar & Grill steakhouse at that location in 2013 and made the building available to the group that operates some of the Manny’s Tex-Mex restaurants in the Dallas area. Renovations and construction of a 4,000-square-foot deck and boat dock followed.
Several restaurateurs and tourism promoters expressed dismay that Manny’s had pulled up anchor after only two years.
Darlene Robert, who manages Ninfa’s Mexican Restaurant downtown, said it appeared that Manny’s attracted good crowds during the warm months but suffered during cold periods.
“I went over there a few times when they first opened just to sit on the deck,” Robert said. “They had a beautiful outside seating area.”
Robert said she is saddened by the closing and wonders if the restaurant’s isolated location away from much of downtown’s bustle and growth had a negative impact.
The closing of Manny’s is “quite shocking,” said Diane Nowlain, who manages Buzzard Billy’s, another restaurant with a presence on the river.
“I have been there several times, and that deck is the biggest attraction. The drinks were good, but the food was inconsistent, sometimes great and sometimes not,” Nowlain said. “It’s sad because with a little work here and there that could have been an awesome spot. It already is in many ways.”
Nowlain said business at Buzzard Billy’s remains good, and she plans to have a deck installed on the side of her building.
The Manny’s site may prove more attractive in the near future, after planned development materializes along Lake Brazos near downtown, creating a corridor of restaurants and retailers, said Sammy Citrano, longtime owner of George’s Restaurant & Catering and observer of the Waco restaurant scene.
“This town is getting so many restaurants that you must do well to survive,” Citrano said. “If you don’t live up to expectations, there are 500 places in town to eat now. . . . Manny’s had a neat deck and was attractive to those going up and down the river, but evidently the whole package was not what customers wanted.”
No one with Brazos River Partners could be reached Tuesday about the closing of the restaurant or prospects for a replacement.
“That is a disappointment,” said Susan Morton, tourism director for the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I hope something similar will go in there.”
Morton said a key to successful development of the waterfront through downtown is the presence of popular restaurants.
Waco businessman Trent Weaver owns a building at Franklin Avenue and University Parks Drive, where Fuzzy’s Taco Shop recently opened a location served by a large newly built patio. Weaver said the feature allows diners to relax and take in the sights of downtown, and he thought customers at Manny’s could do the same.
“Fuzzy’s has really done well its first two months, without a lot of advertising,” he said. “It’s a great spot to just hang out.”
Waco City Council approved a $100 million agreement Tuesday for a riverfront development known as the Brazos Promenade. Catalyst Urban Development plans to build a full-service hotel, retail space, restaurants and multifamily residences on the city’s 16-acre site around the Waco Downtown Farmers Market on University Parks Drive.