Some might wonder what happened to Captain Billy, the namesake of Captain Billy Whizzbang’s, a popular burger destination in Waco.
“We’re kind of rebranding,” owner Trent Neumann said.
The long-winded name attached to the burger emporium since its founding in 1977 had become too much of a mouthful, Neumann said. Now the freshly painted home base at 901 Lake Air Drive simply uses the “Whizzbang’s” moniker.
The restaurant website says, “Welcome to Whizzbang’s.” Other signage, including that at the Union Hall food hall at Eighth Street and Franklin Avenue, has been abridged to exclude Captain Billy.
“We’ve been slowly making the transition, starting there at Union Hall,” said Neumann, the latest in a series of owners that included his father, Ronnie Neumann.
All the while the name remained the same.
“We thought growing into the future, we needed to simplify things, make the name a little easier for people, make it more recognizable,” Neumann said. “But it’s the same owner and the same burger, for sure.”
Captain Billy Whizzbang’s had its start on Waco Drive, where the Barton family named it after a character in a short story titled “The Intense, Emotional, and Exciting Saga of Captain Billy Whizzbang,” according to an account in the Tribune-Herald’s Waco Today magazine in 2015.
The yarn, which is accessible on the Whizzbang’s website, includes references to a giant balloon, “The Wicked Windbanger,” which crashes somewhere near Gatesville, felled by a thunderstorm. Embarrassed, Captain Billy cannot bring himself to return home, choosing instead to make Central Texas ground zero in his quest to perfect “the old fashion hamburger.”
The long and winding story includes fictitious tales of Captain Billy being robbed by Bonnie and Clyde, who return the money, along with a $20 tip, upon biting into the burgers they pilfered in the holdup.
It is quite a tale, much like that of Whizzbang’s, which has moved beyond Lake Air Drive to Union Hall and to food-truck venues at Magnolia Market at the Silos and the former Sonic Drive-In on South Valley Mills Drive.
Now idle, the Whizzbang’s food trailer will return to Magnolia Market once a $10.4 million expansion of the tourist attraction is complete.
The COVID-19 pandemic, with its fits and starts, has challenged restaurants and their customers. But Neumann said after suffering a gut-punch when the virus first assaulted Waco, the Whizzbang’s location on Lake Air Drive has seen a 15% to 20% increase compared with the same period last year.
Neumann said Whizzbang’s has enjoyed double-digit sales increases annually since he and his wife, Jennifer, bought controlling interest five years ago.
“But it’s surprising this year, with all that’s going on,” he said.
“The drive-thru definitely has helped us a lot. We pared the menu, took off items that would slow down the kitchen, allowing us to get food out more quickly,” Neumann said. “We can seat right around 80, but now, with the restrictions in place, we allow 35 to 40 in the dining room.”
Though the Lake Air Drive location is going gangbusters, other Whizzbang’s locales have suffered mightily, with Neumann estimating overall sales are down 30% compared to last year. He is optimistic the return of college students to Waco for fall classes will give Whizzbang’s a shot in the arm.
“Union Hall actually seems to be picking up the last couple of weeks,” he said. “Hopefully, when all the kids get back, improvement will continue. We’re not where we were before the pandemic, but we’re not bad.”
Whizzbang’s distinguishes itself in the burger crowd by offering the Whizz-Pig, which is a combination of bacon and beef compressed into a patty. The Neumanns reportedly crafted the specialty burger at the suggestion of former McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, a friend and customer, who thought the process would be like adding pork to processed venison.
In the Waco Today feature from five years ago, the Neumanns estimated 70% of their customers visit twice a week. They talked in that March issue about operating a food truck. Magnolia Market opened seven months later.
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