Turning the former Grand Karem Shrine building downtown into a boutique hotel reached another milestone recently, the city of Waco issuing a building permit valued at $25 million to move along the nearly $43 million project.

Chip and Joanna Gaines bought the massive structure in 2019, confirming plans to transform the site into a special place in the Magnolia family, in partnership with Adventurous Journeys Capital Partners. They said it would be named Hotel 1928 to recognize the year the building opened. McLennan County bought the structure in 1995 for office space, then sold it to the Gaineses in 2019. Shriners years ago moved elsewhere.

“Renovation of three-story building, conversion from county offices and Shriners lodge to hotel … consists of 33 keys, restaurant, retail, ballroom, back of house spaces, addition to create fourth floor,” the recently secured permit says.

Translated, according to Tribune-Herald reporting, the hotel will have 33 rooms, an 8,000-square-foot restaurant, a 6,200-square-foot meeting area and a 3,550-square-foot rooftop terrace.

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The Gaineses’ interest in the building at Seventh Street and Washington Avenue has been kicked around since at least 2018. The project has previously secured a permit to create “model rooms” as templates for the hotel’s accommodations.

Magnolia received a $5.5 million pledge from the Waco Tax Increment Financing Zone, the money earmarked for historical consultants, facade improvements, public parking, burying of utility lines, and water, stormwater and sewer work, the Tribune-Herald reported in October.

Magnolia has said it hopes to complete the renovation by next year.

Dave’s Hot Chicken

To find Waco’s new Dave’s Hot Chicken restaurant, just travel Interstate 35 near New Road and watch for the explosion in a paint factory, or a reasonable facsimile thereof. The exterior is a sight to behold, the interior more functional. Dave’s hosted family and invited guests Thursday before a grand opening Friday. The food was good, but most impressive was the poise and courtesy employees displayed at Thursday’s free-for-all.

Dave’s occupies the former Carl’s Jr. burger joint near Hooters and IHOP, not far from Cinemark, Topgolf and Main Event. The concept traces its founding to a parking lot in East Hollywood, California, where three friends pooled their resources, $900 between them, and opened a chicken stand. The product’s taste, texture and spiciness proved a hit. Dave’s Hot Chicken took wing nationally, with concentrations on the West Coast and in Texas.

Dave’s serves Nashville-style tenders and sliders made to order, with customers choosing mildly seasoned cuts or those so spicy they are dubbed “The Reaper.” Honey is available, which is a good sign, personally speaking. Sides include mac-and-cheese, kale slaw, fries and cheese fries. Soft drinks dominate beverage options, and milkshakes appear on the menu.

Restaurant roundup

Dave’s arrival highlights a busy time on Waco’s dining scene.

Construction has begun on Fish City Grill in Legends Crossing, the upscale development near Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center. And sources say ground will break soon on Willie’s Grill & Icehouse at New Road and I-35. Willie’s offers Cajun and Tex-Mex dishes, burgers and beer.

A building permit has been issued to place a new McDonald’s restaurant at 500 N. Robinson Drive. Bids are being accepted for work to put a Crumbl Cookies shop at 922 S. 10th St., according to the local Associated General Contractors of America newsletter. The task would include installing kitchen equipment and electrical and plumbing systems, the newsletter states. Crumbl Cookies, a growing chain, touts its freshly baked cookies and home deliveries. It also has a location at Central Texas Marketplace.

Neighborly looking north

Waco-based Neighborly, the franchising giant specializing in household repair and service brands, announced it will make a big play for business in Canada. Target markets include Toronto, Kitchener/Waterloo, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver, where it hopes to establish more than 100 franchise units.

Interesting that the press release announcing the move spells Neighborly as Neighbourly, which is more common outside the United States. Neighborly has become a member of the Canadian Franchise Association.

Concepts heading north include Aire Serv, Five Star Painting, The Grounds Guys, Glass Doctor, Mr. Appliance and Mr. Electric, among others. Initial investments range from $62,100 to $267,000, depending upon brand.

Gas prices

Gas prices dropped 9 cents per gallon statewide during the week ending Thursday, and by 15 cents in Waco during that period, AAA Texas reports. That put Waco’s average at $4.48 per gallon for regular unleaded.

AAA warned that falling prices may not last. It is predicting that a record 3.1 million Texans will travel more than 50 miles over the July Fourth holiday, and increased demand typically translates to higher prices.

Texas has the ninth-lowest gasoline prices in the United States, with its $4.60-per-gallon average, while California has the highest at $6.36 per gallon.