Take three friends with a love for Jesus, a love for Waco, and a love for “Fixer Upper,” and you’ve got a winning combination.
Young married couple Luke and Rachel Whyte and the “slightly older” David Ridley — though the former model certainly doesn’t look it — have launched Waco Tours, a company that is seizing upon the growing interest in the city thanks to Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “Fixer Upper” home renovation show on HGTV.
The Whytes and Ridley can’t deny the “Fixer Upper” influence. They were featured on the show themselves.
They were on consecutive episodes in Season 3, the most recent. The Whytes’ new home was in Episode 7, while Ridley, who was referred to on the show as Waco’s “Most Eligible Bachelor,” was in Episode 8.
All are members of Antioch Community Church, where Chip and Joanna Gaines also attend.
They were already friends through church and often hung out together.
But earlier this year after their “Fixer Upper” episodes aired, they started talking about the idea of sharing their love of Waco the way the Gaineses do, David said.
“Luke’s trying to get everybody to come to Waco,” David said with a laugh in the Whytes’ Woodway home. “But there are a lot of cool things about our city. I said, ‘What if we did a tour company?’ ”
Luke, who has a business degree from Baylor and had worked in real estate in Waco, was intrigued and admits he’s one to go “full in” on things. That’s even though he already has a full-time job on the Antioch staff as the young adult pastor and two small kids with Rachel.
Both are 27 years old and met while attending Baylor. They were married in 2012. Daughter Haven is 2 years old and son James is 6 months.
“We prayed about (starting Waco Tours),” said David, 38, who has worked at Bluebonnet Health Services for the last seven years. “We pray about all our big decisions. But we knew the Lord was in this.”
Rachel, who is often the voice of reason once Luke and David get excitedly planning things, said she also could tell it was something they all were passionate about.
“When (Luke and I) started our life together, I didn’t necessarily see us putting roots down in Waco,’ she said. “But now we have a house. We have kids. We’re here.”
Each brings a crucial skill set to the collaboration. Rachel, with a communications degree from Baylor and experience as a wedding photographer (she also has done product photos for Magnolia and HGTV), is the creative director and handles the waco-tours.com website as well as its social media components. Waco Tours does Facebook and Instagram only at this point; no Twitter or Snapchat.
“That’s plenty,” she said.
Plus, a lot of clients learned of Waco Tours because they follow Joanna Gaines Twitter and Instagram accounts.
David, who works in the marketing department at Bluebonnet, serves as Waco Tours’ director of marketing. Luke is ready with a tease about David’s good looks, but Ridley did live in New York City for six years, making a living as a model and traveling the world on shoots for Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein, among others. He earned his real estate license to supplement his income between modeling jobs, but the Plano native eventually decided to return to Texas.
He said he wanted to get away from the New York City lifestyle with its temptations and addictions. He moved to Dallas in 2005, gave his life to Jesus in 2006 decided to move closer to family. His parents are now in Waco.
He also has connections in the bass fishing world, having fished in competitive tournaments and forming a friendship with Waco angler Alton Jones Jr. David is president of Legacy Outfitters Bass Club.
Luke did not grow up in Texas, like his wife, who is from Nacogdoches. He grew up in Denver, Colorado, and worked in the corporate world after graduation from Baylor. But he returned to Waco and to Rachel, first working in real estate, then joining the staff at Antioch.
Luke says he is the company’s director of operations, using his business skills to handle the financing, insurance and procuring the equipment needed for the company. Waco Tours has a 12-passenger Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van that takes visitors on the 2½-hour tours.
They are in the process of working out plans to add helicopter tours. They have flown with a pilot over Waco on test flights and hope to add helicopter tours in September, David said.
Going on a tour led by Luke and David is both informative and fun. The pair have a natural and fun-loving chemistry about them, at times bordering on silly, like when David showed his dance moves to a Justin Timberlake song while Luke drove. But the four single women on the tour were dancing with him.
Every tour begins with a prayer. Though they have had customers from New York, Philadelphia and California, both say no one has asked them not to pray beforehand.
“We’ve had friends and longtime Waco residents tell us that they learned something about Waco they didn’t know,” Luke said.
Luke speaks quickly, and delivers a wealth of information about Waco’s history as tour guide. But he also shares tales about the poverty in Waco and the good work nonprofits such as Mission Waco do in the city.
Patrice Patrick, a California TV producer on vacation, said Luke and David made the tour a lot of fun. She also felt she learned a lot about Waco.
And that’s the hope of Waco Tours, David said.
We just want to welcome people to Waco and see what we’ve fallen in love with there,” he said.
Packages and pricing can be found on the website
wacotours on Instagram
Also on Facebook