Elite Cafe

In the early twentieth century, George and Michael Colias immigrated to America from Sparta, Greece, in order to join their two brothers residing in Waco. Just teenagers at the time, the four young men worked together at Chris’ Café as busboys and cooks, picking up bits of English. In 1919, they purchased the Elite Café at 608 Austin Avenue.

The Elite Café soon became a local favorite for its good food, friendly atmosphere, and use of innovative ideas. In 1923, the Elite traded out its iceboxes for refrigerators, and in 1935 installed the city’s first air conditioner in the café. People lined the streets, waiting for an opportunity to sit at a table in the café and experience “refrigerated air.”

As business thrived, the Colias family decided to expand the restaurant out into the suburbs. In 1941, the brothers opened a restaurant on the Waco traffic circle. Although cotton fields surrounded the restaurant on all sides and IH-35 did not exist at this time, all traffic passed through the circle. The Elite soon became a favorite among motorists and tourists traveling between Austin and Dallas.

Downtown Waco struggled in the 1960s in the aftermath of the 1953 tornado and suburbanization. The downtown Elite Café closed, although the location on the traffic circle thrived. The Colias brothers continued to experiment with innovations to draw in more business. For instance, the circle location offered drive-in curbside service to customers for a time.

Faced with decreased business and enormous renovation costs, the brothers decided to sell the restaurant in 1986. David Tinsley, a well-known Texan restaurateur, purchased the Elite Café for approximately $1.3 million and refurbished the restaurant with help from his managing partner, Sammy Citrano. Though the pair recognized the risk in attempting to revive the Elite, they decided to purchase the café and the neighboring burger joint, Health Camp, out of a sentimental attachment to the history of Waco. In 1987, the restaurant reopened with a 1950s theme, including a 1956 baby-blue Chevorlet sitting in front of the restaurant.

In 1993, Citrano left the Elite in order to run his own restaurant, becoming the head of George’s, another Waco favorite. Before leaving the Elite, Citrano recommended that Tinsley trace the history of the café through its photographs and records. In 1996, a historical marker commemorating the restaurant’s contribution to the city was placed at its location on the circle. However, business declined following Citrano’s departure, and in 1999 Tinsley sold the rights to the Elite Café to the Ford Restaurant Group. The Elite Café closed for renovations yet again.

For the next several years, the Elite Café stood empty. In 2003, the Ford Group completed renovations restoring the restaurant to its original feel. The renovations preserved the Spanish-style exterior and honored the café’s history by lining the walls with photographs from its past. The restaurant reopened with a new name: the Elite Circle Grille. For a time, the new owners experimented with a more upscale menu but soon returned to the restaurant’s staples of chicken-fried steak, burgers, and sandwiches.

The restaurant on the circle remains a local favorite and a reminder of the city’s past. It continues to carry out the intentions of the restaurant’s slogan, “Where the elite meet to eat,” treating every customer with respect, and bringing together local businessmen and traveling motorists under one roof.

Images

The Elite Menu

The Elite Menu

For many years, the downtown Elite Cafe offered food and service twenty-four hours a day. The menu featured typical breakfast items such as waffles, ham, and eggs, while in the afternoon and evening the cafe served home-style dishes such as roast beef, stew, and corned beef and cabbage. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Growing Business

Growing Business

The original Elite Cafe possessed the capability to seat approximately 120 guests around a horseshoe-shaped counter, with a few dining tables on a balcony on the second floor. In the 1920s, the Colias brothers leased the building next door and expanded the cafe into a dining room, increasing the seating capability of the restaurant to around 300 guests. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Inferno

Inferno

A fire erupted in the kitchen of the downtown Elite Cafe on February 25, 1960, and spread to two clothing stores, an optical firm, and a number of offices above the restaurant. The Waco Fire Department got the fire under control after about three hours, but not before the cafe's roof collapsed. Damages to the 600 block of Austin Avenue were estimated at $1 million. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Ever Enterprising

Ever Enterprising

The Colias brothers constantly experimented with new ideas in order to promote business. For a time, the new location on the traffic circle offered curb service and a coffee shop in order to draw more business. | Source: Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Print Department View File Details Page

Where the Elite Meet to Eat

Where the Elite Meet to Eat

Many famous visitors have dined at the Elite Cafe on the traffic circle. In the late 1950s, Elvis Presley frequently visited the restaurant while he was stationed at Fort Hood. Today, one of the dining rooms at the restaurant is dedicated to his patronage. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Restaurant Renovation

Restaurant Renovation

After purchasing the Elite in 1986, David Tinsley and Sammy Citrano renovated the cafe for approximately $1.3 million. A baby-blue Chevrolet with the Elite logo painted on the side sat out front during renovations, reassuring customers that the popular restaurant would return soon. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Audio

Shopping For Elite Cafe in the 1920s

George Nicholas Colias explains where he bought the food to be served at Elite Cafe. | Source: Colias, George Nicholas, interviewed by Vicki Klaras, January 13, 1987, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

The Elite Cafe Menu During the 1920s

George Nicholas Colias explains what they served at Elite Cafe in the 1920s. | Source: Colias, George Nicholas, interviewed by Vicki Klaras, January 13, 1987, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Elite Cafe During the Great Depression

George Nicholas Colias talks about how the restaurant fed people during the Great Depression. | Source: Colias, George Nicholas, interviewed by Vicki Klaras, January 13, 1987, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “Elite Cafe,” Waco History, accessed May 23, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/56.

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