Creating a community in East Waco

Dr. Nancy Grayson shows off one of her famous homemade bread recipes. Construction is underway on a bakery on Elm Street she hopes will serve as an East Waco hub of activity.

Story by Bonnie Holman
Photos by Kevin Cochran

 

“I didn’t know when I left Rapoport what I would be doing, but I knew it was time to go.”

Dr. Nancy Grayson, former director of Rapoport Academy, knew it was time for Rapoport to grow beyond her, but wasn’t quite ready for retirement since she was “cursed with an oversupply of energy.”

Grayson said her hatred of societal injustice is what led her to start Rapoport, and she plans to continue fighting for social justice by enhancing the community development in East Waco. “I think Elm Avenue is the perfect carter to bring in funky, fun, inviting centers… but nobody’s willing to take the risk,” Grayson said. So Grayson and her husband, Bob, decided to risk it. “And I don’t feel it’s a risk,” Grayson said.

Grayson wanted a venue for community. A strong gathering point in East Waco, something she believes the area lacks. A discussion point. A landing point.
Elm Avenue, a street with history and old architecture, has room to facilitate that type of atmosphere.

After purchasing about 95 feet of property off of Elm Avenue, Grayson spent nearly six months contemplating what it was going to take to draw people to her vision.

“Once we bought the land, the vision of what that looked like began to evolve,” Grayson said. “I don’t say ‘Oooh! This is what I’m going to do!’ – I have no idea what it looks like.”

Thinking about her love of the downtown farmers market and parks, seeing people have a good time, Grayson was able to come to a decision.

Grayson’s development will include a garden for growing vegetables and herbs, a public pocket park for gathering and a bakery with indoor and outdoor seating.
Lula Jane’s, the name of the future bakery, will be a place for people to come and gather from all parts of Waco.

“We were looking for a way to draw community more together,” Grayson said. “I tell people with all excitement that there will be no drive-through window. This is not about quick food. It’s about coming and gathering.”

The bakery will house a coffee corner that runs on the honor system, 50 cents a cup. In addition, fine coffees will be offered at the counter.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what pocket change you have, we have a place for you, and we’re glad you’re there,” Grayson said.

That is Grayson’s primary goal throughout the entire project, for people to realize that this is a place for everyone.

“We intentionally looked close enough to the river so that people can come down MLK, or down the river, or across the bridge. Being four blocks away from the actual river is perfect for saying, ‘Yes, we’re in East Waco and we want everyone here. Yes, we’re accessible for everyone,’” Grayson said.

Cecil P. McDowell recently celebrated the 3-year anniversary of his business, the McDowell Café Store, on Elm Avenue.

“It gets to be hard [running a business on Elm Avenue],” McDowell said. “Business is slow, and you have to stay with it.”

Which is exactly why Sam Brown, whose father left behind property on the river’s east side, chose Grayson to lead the breakthrough on Elm Avenue.

“One thing to learn about Grayson,” Brown said, “is don’t get in her way when she sets her mind to something.”

Brown and McDowell both serve on The City of Waco Plan Commission, where the approval vote for Lula Jane’s was unanimous.

Grayson stands proudly by the sign which tells passerby of the coming bakery she will call Lula Jane's.

“I envision [East Waco] turning into a destination point for eclectic culture,” Brown said. “Arts, music, unique foods, a nice nightlife – the kind of place you go when you want to get away from the normal retail and franchise environment.”

Grayson will certainly provide that through Lula Jane’s.

Grayson said she has always had an interest in baking.

“I probably haven’t bought 10 loaves of bread in 40 years of marriage because we’ve always had homemade bread,” Grayson said. “It’s a part of who we are and how we spend our time and spend our time together.”

Grayson said her grandmother was the impetus for her love of baking.

“It comes from the smells in the kitchen,” Grayson said. “She was from deep, Southern Mississippi, and it was the smell of yeast in her kitchen. You could smell the yeast in the breads – rolls, fresh churned butter – all the real things about cooking.”

Grayson recalls the good feelings she had from going into her grandmother’s kitchen. That is something she hopes resonates within all who visit Lula Jane’s.
As of now, Grayson plans on baking 18 different items in large quantities every day.

Two different kinds of sweet roles will be offered in the morning – one not heart-healthy and absolutely to die for, Grayson said, and one that is heart-healthy, but just as delicious. Other morning items will include muffins, sweet bread and blueberry bread.

“My neighbors are my samplers,” Grayson said. She has three tests: she wants to know how it tastes, whether or not the texture is good, and if after you have eaten it and gone away, whether or not you would walk a mile to come back for more.

“That’s the toughest one,” Grayson said, “because they don’t want to say ‘Well, not really.’ They always say ‘I think I would,’ and I know that means no, you wouldn’t really.”

And when that’s the case, Grayson revamps the recipe, or ditches it completely and does something different.

“I really want the very best of anything that’s available,” she said. “And I can tell you, my Big Momma’s Buttermilk Pie is better than any I’ve ever had. Everybody who eats it says they would walk more than a mile to come back for a piece of that.”

Of course, pies, cakes and cookies will be offered, as well as some seasonal items, such as homemade lemonade in the summer and hot chocolate in the winter.
Coffee will always be served, for there is nothing better than the good smell of brewing coffee, Grayson said.

In an effort to make the bakery suitable for all people, parts of the design of the bakery have been geared toward making children feel welcome.

Real chalkboards will cover the walls, starting down low – about a foot off of the ground – so small children can reach them. Grayson could hardly contain her excitement at the sound of super long blackboards rather than white boards and markers that we have grown so accustomed to today. She envisions the chalkboards being used for students studying too.

Grayson said she also wanted a bakery dog. One that could relate with children and be a part of the experience. Buddy, a large, friendly-faced dog, rescued from Blanco, Texas, is a kind, gentle soul perfect for the role. “When I got him,” Grayson said, “I said, ‘I think we’re going to have to name him Buddy so the little children know he’s their buddy.”

The pocket park will include a long bar with rings attached, low to the ground, so people can bring their dogs and attach their dog leashes. “Dog cookies,” or baked dog bones, will even be available for purchase at Lula Jane’s.

The whole development is reaching out to all types of people, aiming to be conducive to each and every one of them.

“Everything we could have hoped for in someone to be the first catalyst, to make a first investment, Grayson exemplified,” Brown said. “Putting this in the hands of someone like [her] makes the likelihood of succeeding really high.”

Lula Jane’s is expected to be completed by this September. Grayson is overflowing with excitement and ready to invest in the community yet again.
“It’s not my bakery,” Grayson said, “It’s a bakery for the people that are coming.”

While some may see the development as a risk, Grayson simply sees it as “a good next adventure.”

 

Find more info at: Dr. Nancy Grayson was named Wacoan of the Year in 2010. Learn more about her and her past work in education through this interview with the Wacoan magazine. http://wacosphere.com/2010/12/nancy-grayson-2010-wacoan-year/

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