Waco: Urban eatery ready for grand opening

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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Union Hall, which hopes to fill the gap between food truck and restaurant, is having its grand opening this weekend in downtown Waco.

The grand opening of Union Hall is scheduled for Saturday at Waco's new urban eatery located at 720 Franklin Ave. (Photo by Rissa Shaw)

"We feel like we're ahead of our time for Waco," said Jonathan Garza, Sales and Leasing for Turner Behringer Real Estate. "We've been pretty hush about the concept, really, because we wanted people to get the full effect once they came here."

The urban eatery, Garza says, is a cross between an indoor food truck park and a mall food court, and has something for everyone.

"Getting everybody to agree on one restaurant is pretty difficult, so by coming to the food hall, you've got over 20 different concepts once we're fully occupied," he said.

Right now the stalls, which vary in size between 110 to 450 square feet, are 80-percent occupied by businesses selling food items ranging from gyros to specialty shakes and waffles.

Several spaces are still available including stalls and two much larger storefronts.

The developers say they've been "holding off" on the staple businesses on purpose because they're waiting for the right ones to move in.

"We want to make sure they can hold the locations down for us because they're high visibility locations and we want them for at least five years," said Garza. "We want to find that perfect mix, we didn't want to end up with 20 of these same types of concepts, so we've been careful to make sure that we are adding some different items that you don't necessarily see in Waco."

San Antonio resident Carolyn Tatum was born and raised in Waco and can't believe how it's changed.

"This is just not the Waco I grew up in," said Tatum who used to work for the city. "I came down here, I worked, and you went home to wherever you lived, but you didn't stay downtown...and now it's just, it's amazing."

Tatum, who said she rarely came home for visits over the years, is now planning "Waco Weekend" with her friends

"We just did one of the distilleries and we're doing the food court now, and it's like, 'oh my gosh, this is awesome,'" said Tatum.

So awesome, the retiree is considering moving back to her hometown.

"I never in my wildest dreams thought Waco would be where I settled down, I didn't," said Tatum. "Now I'm thinking that Waco is where I want to be."

More commonly seen in larger cities like San Antonio, Dallas and San Francisco, the food hall concept stabilizes small businesses like food trucks and protects them from losing revenue to do bad weather, Garza said, and this way they can test the market before they open a full restaurant.

"We noticed when we started working on this concept that there's this gap from the food trucks to a brick-and-mortar, and then just concepts that people just want to create, so maybe something that you don't necessarily see in Waco but you see in these larger cities allows them to come in and really test their concept and allow them to modify that within the food hall itself," said Garza.

Construction on this part of the larger Franklin Square project by Turner Behringer Real Estate started about a-year-and-a-half ago.

It's been more of a "revolving" opening since the building has been available to vendors ready to start selling since September, however, the official grand opening is Saturday from 11-2pm.

"The focus is going to be on the food, on the tenants themselves," Garza said about the event.

The media got a preview of the venue ahead of the grand opening and ribbon cutting.

"We wanted to showcase Union Hall," said Garza.

The ribbon cutting is Friday at 11am.

"Waco's excited for these new concepts," he said.

The first business to sign a lease was Captain Billy Whizzbang's Burgers and the first to open in September was Waldy's Pizza World.

Along with the food court, inside they raised the roof to create a mezzanine upstairs for extra eating and entertainment space; outside, there's a patio.

Developers say it's a mix between urban and modern while keeping Waco's history in mind: some of walls and electric hardware is original, plus, there's a famous Waco photo of people dining on the street on two of the main interior walls.

Before this, the space was the home of Nite Court Saloon, and before that it was Fred & Wally's Sports Pub.