The Baylor grads turned HGTV sensations have sparked a dramatic urban revival in their Central Texas hometown.

By Valerie Fraser Luesse
March 10, 2020
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Some of us Baylor University alums remember when the only way you could be entertained in downtown Waco was to leave there and go to Dallas or Austin. But then along came the Gaines train, rolling into town.

“Before, we might have had somewhere between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors a year,” says Carla Pendergraft, director of marketing for the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Now we’re at 2.6 million, with 1.6 million going to Magnolia Market at the Silos.” The market likely sees even more traffic than that because it doesn’t track all the visitors who come for pop-ups and events outside but don’t go in.

“Chip and Jo,” as they’re affectionately known, both grew up in Texas and graduated from Baylor before becoming HGTV sensations and sparking a dramatic urban renaissance in their Central Texas hometown. There’s so much going on now that Waco Transit has created a free trolley to ferry the downtown crowds from here to there and a shuttle to LaSalle Avenue/Waco Traffic Circle to take you to Magnolia Table, housed in the former Elite Cafe.

Jennifer Boomer

Located on Webster Avenue, Magnolia Market at the Silos has expanded into a full-blown Silos District with all kinds of shopping and dining nearby. In addition to the market, the Gaineses’ property includes a game lawn; a garden; a bakery; a battalion of food trucks; and most recently, the highly lauded Magnolia Press Coffee Co. According to Pendergraft, a $10.4 million expansion at the Silos is set to include a new furniture market for Joanna’s line, a Wiffle ball field (nodding to Katy Park, which used to be here), and pop-ups. A decommissioned historic church is being moved to the location, giving visitors a quiet sanctuary for reflection, meditation, and prayer.

Just a few blocks away, the long-abandoned Karem Shrine, an architectural gem, will be converted into a 40-room boutique hotel—Chip and Jo style—with a planned restoration of its gorgeous, chandelier-lit ballroom on the second floor.

WATCH: The South's Best Boutiques

Scads of new lodging options in Waco include Hyatt Place (which is already open), as well as a Tru by Hilton and Aloft (now under construction). Waco has additional proposed hotels by Marriott, Embassy Suites, and others in the works.

Back on the Baylor Bear stomping grounds, the opening of McLane Stadium on the Brazos River has given fans the option of arriving to football games by boat and “sailgating” before kickoff. While you’re on campus, snap photos of the striking Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center on the river; the Armstrong Browning Library, which is truly a work of art; and the Riverwalk, winding from campus (near McLane Stadium) to Cameron Park. It passes beneath Waco’s pedestrian Suspension Bridge, soon to be renovated. At the bridge, take lots of selfies next to Branding the Brazos, bronze sculptures created by artist Robert Summers’ depicting a cattle drive on the historic Chisholm Trail.

PLAN YOUR TRIP

CHECK IT OUT

Spice Village, a great collection of boutiques in the 1908 McLendon Hardware Co. building; the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum; the updated Hippodrome Theatre; Balcones Distilling; Waco Mammoth National Monument; and Texas Paddling Trails

EAT & DRINK

Lula Jane’s for fresh breakfasts; chef Corey McEntyre’s elevated Southern food at Milo All Day; D’s Mediterranean Grill; Thanh and Phong Le’s Clay Pot for Vietnamese cooking; old-school burgers at Cupps Drive Inn (open since 1947); milkshakes that no straw can handle at Health Camp, on the Circle since 1949; Kitok’s burgers and veggie fries; still more serious burgers and pizza at Bubba’s 33; Guess Family Barbecue; Vitek’s (since 1915) for the “Gut Pak,” a legendary Fritos pie incarnation; Hecho en Waco for Mexican fare; Koko Ramen at Union Hall; blue plates at Jake’s Texas Tea House; and George’s (since 1930), serving pub food and a fishbowl of beer that Baylor students back in the day dubbed “The Big Orange,” shortened to “The Big O”

Magnolia Market at the Silos

254-235-0603, 601 Webster, Waco, TX, 76706 

Magnolia Table

254-235-6111, 2132 South Valley Mills Drive, Waco, TX, 76706

Magnolia Press Coffee Co.

254-235-0603, 418 South 8th Street, Waco, TX, 76706

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