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Elite Circle Grille renovation pays homage to Elvis

Sept. 10, 2003

By Jacob Ford, reporter

After spending nearly eight months improving the building that has stood in Waco for more than 60 years, the Elite Circle Grille, formerly the Elite Cafe, is nearly finished with its renovation project.

Located on the Waco traffic circle at the intersection of Valley Mills Drive and LaSalle Avenue, the Elite has been closed since Aug. 15, 2001. Developers plan to reopen today.

According to Skylar Bell, the general manager of the Elite, renovations did not begin until January 2003.

Bell explained that the dormant period between 2001 and the beginning of 2003 was a result of all the planning needed to complete the renovation.

'We've done a complete, total renovation,' Bell said. Developers resurfaced, redesigned and installed new furniture fixtures and equipment.

Early Circle hangout

Baylor students consistently made the Elite a popular hangout in the 1950s and 1960s Tommye Lou Davis, who attended Baylor in the 1960s and now works in the office of the president, said. Davis has eaten at the Elite many times during the past 40 years.

'It was always a fun place to eat,' said Davis, who enjoys the atmosphere and food at the Elite. 'It was a hot date spot when I was in school.'

As the years passed, the Elite has strayed from being the same social gathering place, Bell said.

Constructed through the heart of Waco, Interstate 35 attracted many new restaurants that distracted local customers from the Elite, Bell said.

Elvis era resurfaces

Ground was laid for the first Elite in 1919. It was conveniently located in downtown Waco.

One year later, the Colias family bought the Elite and moved it to the Waco traffic circle in 1941.

This move put the restaurant in Waco's social hot spot. In the mid 1900s, the Elite Cafe was the main place to eat in Waco.

Elvis Presley visited the Elite multiple times while he lived in Fort Hood in Killeen.

As part of this year's renovations, Bell said they dedicated an entire room to Presley.

'It will have some photos and art that are reminiscent of the era when Elvis would have come to Waco,' Bell said.

The original architecture has not been altered in the renovation and still portrays a Spanish style unique to this region and the mid-1900s.

Cindy Grotefendt, a Longview senior, ate at the restaurant before it closed during her freshman year.

'I am looking forward to the renovations being done,' said Grotefendt, who plans on returning to the Elite again.

Restaurant altered

The Elite underwent similar renovations in the late 1980s. Under previous owners, the interior of the restaurant was completely altered.

Once again, the Waco landmark has been transformed during the last eight months into a new restaurant.

The food at the Elite will remain similar, but new menus are on the way.

Bell also said that he wanted the Elite to be the same social hub it once was in its illustrious past.

'What we are shooting for is to take it back to its classic era,' Bell said.