Little Italy, Big Flavor

Baris ownerBaris, the Waco-famous, family-owned Italian restaurant, opened its doors in the 1980’s and still today maintains the same home-like atmosphere and rich taste that keeps its customers coming back time and time again.

With ingredients picked fresh daily, everything from the pizza dough to the savory sauce is made from scratch, using family recipes tracing back multiple generations through Italian lineage.

As a young adult born and raised in Italy, owner Mary Baris, who dreamt of exploring countries, came to America and soon-after opened a restaurant in New York.

“We started in New York, but then it got too crowded, too busy and I didn’t want to live in a big city,” she said.

Her nephew who lived in Waco at the time convinced her then to move the operation south.

“So I came, and Waco was a perfect place. Not too crowded, not too small- perfect.”

Though Baris experiences the inevitable stress and hardships that come with managing a demanding business, she says she can think of nothing she would rather do.

“Meeting the people, talking to the people, seeing people enjoying the food, liking the food, that’s the best,” she said. “I grew up in the food business. My grandparents, my parents, they were in the restaurant business. I like people, I like cooking, this is my dream.”

Baris said the restaurant serves people from all over the country.

“I see people from California, from New York, from Chicago, from everywhere due to Baylor,” she said. “A lot of parents come to visit their kids.”

Baris ownerConveniently located only five miles from Baylor’s campus, and with affordable meals including pizza by the slice for $1.25 and entrees as low as $4.50, Baris is especially popular among students and staff of the University.

Baylor journalism professor, Kevin Tankersley, first ate at Baris in 1980, but the close proximity to his job, while a perk, isn’t what has kept him going back for decades.

“When Baris first opened, I was the restaurant critic for the Waco Tribune-Herald,” he said. “My wife and I ate there the week it opened, and have been eating there ever since. The food is always good. We’ve never had a bad meal there.”

Tankersley said although the location is convenient, there is much more to what continues to attract customers.

“It’s absolutely the food. Quality food every single time. There are places closer to campus to get Italian food. It’s the quality of the food that keeps everybody coming back. And it’s inexpensive.”

For Tankersley and his family, another appealing attribute of the restaurant is the community atmosphere.

“Miss Mary, as our kids call her, is great,” he said. “She always has big gumballs for the kids. Miss Vanessa, one of the wait staff, is one of the nicest people ever. And Dee, Miss Mary’s daughter, is funny. We like her a lot. We’ve watched her kids grow up, just like she’s watched our kids grow up.”

Baris ownerRegular customers like Tankersley look forward to Baris almost inevitably waiting for them at the front desk as they finish their meal, with a sweet smile on her face.

“There’s only one Miss Mary. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we have eaten at Baris and she has not been running the cash register. She was out for a while a couple of years ago after hip or knee surgery. I can’t remember which one. But that’s about the only times we’ve been there and she hasn’t.”

Aside from her love for Baylor and its population, Baris said the reason for the restaurant’s permanence in Waco is the quality of people.

“I think Waco has the nicest people you could see anywhere,” she said. “ I mean it. The people don’t judge you. At least my customers, they are really, really nice people. I have all these people; I have middle class, I have students, I have high school kids, and all of them are really nice and respectful.”