A few years ago, Peter and Summer Ellis responded to a dream God placed on their heart to be involved in the restoration of Waco’s historic downtown. This involved purchasing and developing the 112 year old Praetorian building. Read how God led them to start this journey, and how they’ve encountered God in the process.
How did the Praetorian restoration project come about? How has this project made you feel more connected to the city of Waco?
After a few years of ministry overseas, we felt God leading us back to Waco. In praying about what our next vocation would be, our attention was turned back to commercial real estate and new business development, as we felt the Lord’s leading to gain a greater “backbone” in business. This led us toward investing to restore and develop Waco’s historic core – downtown. This came after five years of prior real estate experiences, ranging from developing a new neighborhood in China Spring to restoring historic homes in Sanger Heights as improved rental properties. It was then that Peter sharpened his focus to historic restoration and cultural development. At the time we didn’t know anything about downtown revitalization efforts and had been overseas for several years, so we felt this new direction was initiated by the Lord, which has proven to sustain us for the long-haul. Now that there is a more concerted public and private effort by the city of Waco to enrich our historic downtown, it’s been a surprise and an honor to be amidst so much energy and activity.
Peter is currently serving as a member of the downtown Public Improvement District board as well as the City Plan Commission board. We can’t help from getting deeply connected and involved in whatever we do, so we also initiated and continue to oversee downtown’s First Friday Waco, as well as are a contributing member of the Waco Arts Alliance. Also from a long-percolated passion, recently we’ve launched BRÛ, artisan coffee works, to offer Waco it’s own flame-roasted coffee. It’s now being served at the downtown Farmer’s Market and will be moving into a storefront location at 1800 Austin Ave, which we chose to best intersect the Antioch community and neighborhood with our growing downtown. This corner property, we’re calling Uptown Point, will also house a DIY/maker’s space, Maker’s Edge, as well as a boutique wine shop. We also sponsor an artisan booth at the Farmer’s Market and offer an artisan market for local creatives through Anthem Studios.
What is Anthem Studios, and why is this space meaningful to you? What is your vision for what the space will become?
From early dreams of purchasing the Praetorian, we envisioned developing an artisan enclave to co-exist within this urban loft and commercial property. When seeking a name to communicate the broader vision of what this creative space and collective would become, the somewhat abstract manor of an “anthem” came to mind while in a church service one morning actually. An “anthem” is symbolic of a greater cause and a point of unity for a particular population. Having already spent years pioneering our own creative ventures, such as Summer Ellis Bijouterie, we saw the need to provide a greater home for emerging creatives to have a collaborative community of encouragement, within a professional space, thus offering an energized platform in Waco for artists to grow.
Why is supporting local artisans in Waco a passion of yours?
In open-handedly seeking first our King and His Kingdom, we’ve consistently felt lead to contribute and serve others artistically and creatively. Our passion is two-fold. We have a passion for artists to emerge, and a passion for our local Waco environment to be enriched, all to His glory. To be an authentic artist is to be vulnerable – you must show your core. This can be an intimidating journey, but with the support of other like-minded creatives we believe Anthem can make that easier. It’s a beautiful thing for artists to walk out in their creativity, in the authentic fullness of who God has created them to be. As for Waco, we are proud of our unique yet seemingly undervalued city, and by creating opportunities to showcase local artisans, the greater Waco population has a chance to take pride in their city. Artists have played a unique role throughout history, a sort of visual commentary and record of the value and perspectives of a people, and we believe Waco has a greater story to tell, and that artists will be in the center of this renaissance.
God equips each of us with gifts and talents to glorify Him. How do you see yourself using the gifts He has given you in your day-to-day work?
As a married couple for more than eight years now, we know we have a lot in common, but also many differences. We’re learning how to bring our unique gift mix together for the glory of God and to be a blessing to one another and our city. It’s been an adventure and a journey to say the least. God has called Summer to celebrate beauty and bring value to women, so whether it’s personally designing jewelry or other projects, curating Anthem’s art gallery, or mentoring the ladies who work with us, she flourishes through any opportunity for beautification. With much trust and selflessness, Summer has also has played a huge supportive role to me across the board.
For Peter, restoration and innovation is a huge motivator, and seeking God’s heart for the social-cultural needs of our city in creative ways underlies many of the projects and ventures to which we’re committed. Having a clear vision, strategy, effective marketing, and a gift of faith, perseverance and patience all play important roles in successful market-enhancing business. Renewing those commitments each week, each month, each year, while working off commission or being self-employed, has stretched us and increased our capacity to pioneer new initiatives. Constantly turning over that gift of faith back to God, throughout our daily and weekly grind, allows us to continue forward, wherever He leads, in confidence in new arenas and even mundane tasks despite circumstances or setbacks.
How do you see God moving in and restoring Waco? What are you hoping for here in Waco that you haven’t seen yet?
As we all know, God loves to inhabit His people and dwell with us, and we believe Waco is prime for God to light on and move powerfully through. Many cities seem to be stuck in their complex and somewhat off-beat ways, but Waco, we believe through the strengthening of the local body of Christ and our receptivity to the Holy Spirit as a whole, has a running chance to really be a city set on a hill, for the greater glory of God. We’re committed to play our part here to see Waco move from some rather legitimate historical ashes, toward a vibrant place of grace and beauty, to inspire other cities, and the world.
What has been the most surprising thing to you in the process of restoring the Praetorian and creating a space for artists? What has God revealed about Himself to you through these projects?
We have been most surprised in the process by how long it would take to see various milestones of the Praetorian’s development and success, toward its fulfilled vision. There were, it seemed, more than our share of obstacles to making progress, at every stage; and as we are fully vested in our ventures, this has brought us along a humbling journey of how we handle stress, anxiety and disappointment. When you follow through with dreams that the Lord has placed in your heart, there will be opposition. This can be especially hard to process, as it seems that when you “step out” you’re incurring trials needlessly, such as when the Hebrews bemoaned having ever left Egypt while in the desert. However, when God leads you away from what you’re used to and from what you know, it might just be that God wants to teach you more about His grandeur and holiness. This in turn provides a ready canvas for God to display His Glory through you, as His dependent child. And for this, we continue to say, “Yes Lord, and amen.”
Photo Credit: Sarah Chang and Rachel Whyte