Top 5 Grocery Store Openings of the Decade

Yesterday, we recounted the top five grocery store closings that had a significant impact on the Houston supermarket scene during the past 10 years. But for as much as we may (or may not) miss AppleTree or Albertson's, we've had some much better grocery stores head our way since then.

In the April-May 2009 edition of My Table magazine, our friend Matthew Dresden spoke to the dramatic changes that Houston has seen since the opening of the very first Kroger in 1955: Fiesta Mart to Super H Mart, Mi Tienda to 99 Ranch -- Houston is now not only a multi-cultural city in terms of population, but in terms of supermarkets to serve that population. More than that, we've also seen the market share shift forcefully from the domination of Kroger and Randall's to the omnipresent H-E-B, which didn't exist in Houston until the early '90s. It's a testament, in fact, to the Texas-based chain's strong presence that three of the five spots on this list are devoted to various H-E-B ventures. With that in mind, here are the five biggest grocery store openings of the last ten years.

H-E-B: Yes, the San Antonio stores first opened locations in Houston in 1992. However, those locations were H-E-B Pantry stores, few of which are still left in the city. The move into the Houston market was considered a difficult one, and investors felt that the company was taking a huge risk. However, opening smaller stores at first -- the Pantry stores are so named for their compact design and basic offerings -- allowed the Houston community to familiarize themselves with the new grocery stores. By the time the first real, full-sized H-E-Bs opened in Houston in 2001, the chain had become a huge hit. With the opening of the vast 125,000-square-foot store on Bunker Hill in 2008 and the Buffalo Market this year, H-E-B cemented its market presence even further. The chain still has a long way to go, however -- Wal-Mart continues to dominate the Houston market with a 29 percent market share, with Kroger a close second at 25 percent.

Broccoflower at Central Market
Broccoflower at Central Market
Photo by Mr. Wright

Central Market: The same year that H-E-B shed its pantries, it opened the first Central Market in Houston to great fanfare. The high-end epicurean concept was so popular in Austin -- where the first Central Market opened in order to compete directly with Whole Foods -- that it became a veritable tourist attraction, second only in popularity to the Capitol. This popularity carried over to Houston and to this day, nearly eight years later, there is never a time when the busy grocery store isn't filled with people and its parking lot filled with traffic. The store offers more than just food -- gourmet cooking classes, the Cafe On The Run dining area where people can buy ready-made food to take home or simply eat at the store, and a huge organic goods section are some of the biggest attractions at Central Market.

Mi Tienda: Another H-E-B concept store, this time with its first venture in Houston. In 2006, the largest Hispanic-targeted store (and the first in the H-E-B chain), called Mi Tienda -- Spanish for "my store" -- opened in Pasadena, with a mindset of competing directly with the local Fiesta Mart chain and its 30 stores in Houston. The 63,000-square-foot store was immense and featured a tortilleria (something which has now been incorporated into many other H-E-Bs), strolling mariachis, restaurants featuring Mexican and Cuban cuisine, and bi-lingual employees wearing guayaberas and nametags with the location of their birth (usually in Mexico or Central America).

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