Rice Epicurean Markets Closing Four Locations; The Fresh Market Moving In

A long-running joke with many Houstonians is that no one quite knew how Rice Epicurean Markets stayed in business. Despite a history in our city spanning 75 years, the family-run grocery stores -- which were the biggest thing going for grocery shopping when I was a kid, 20 years ago -- were almost always quiet, with few cars in the parking lot or shoppers in the aisles.

While all kinds of wild rumors flew about how Rice Epicurean stores stayed open despite a lack of traffic, the truth is that most of its customers -- which tend to be both older and wealthier -- opted for grocery delivery service at home. And while this sustained Rice Epicurean for many years, it appears that this model wasn't quite enough to keep its stores in business.

In a press release this morning, Rice Epicurean announced that it would be closing four of its stores and leasing the space to North Carolina-based grocer The Fresh Market:

Today we are announcing that Rice Epicurean Markets has entered into agreements to lease our locations at Holcombe, Weslayan, Tanglewood, and Memorial to The Fresh Market, Inc., a high-growth specialty food retailer from North Carolina. All Rice Epicurean Market stores will continue to operate through the end of the year.

The family -- which includes current owners Gary Friedlander, Tommy Friedlander, Scott Silverman, Bruce Levy and Phil Cohen -- have long dabbled in real estate aside from running grocery stores, starting with the original Rice Epicurean built by their great-grandfather in Rice Village a quarter-century ago. Closing the underperforming stores and leasing the space to a young turk grocery chain certainly makes financial sense.

Rice Epicurean fans will be happy to know, however, that the stores won't be gone for good. Reads the press release:

The Rice Epicurean Markets location on Fountain View at Inwood is not part of this transaction, and we will continue to operate this store and offer customers our home delivery service, curbside pickup, Epicurean Catering & The Epicurean Cooking School from that store as well.

The four locations at Holcombe, Weslayan, Tanglewood, and Memorial will close during the first part of 2013, with The Fresh Market planning to open in the vacated spaces by summer or fall of next year.

You can follow the stores' progress on a Houston-specific Tumblr page that The Fresh Market has set up. How modern of them.

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