The Biggest Grocery Store Openings of 2011

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Frequent commenter and fellow food blogger Misha Govstehyn once asked, on Twitter, why Eating Our Words covers so many grocery store openings. There couldn't possibly be that many people who cared, he reasoned. Except that there are.

I'm one of them, actually. Going to a grocery store -- especially a really good one, like Phoenicia -- is on par with going to a museum for me, except that if you see something really remarkable, you can purchase it and take it home with you. (This tactic does not go over well with, say, the Twomblys at the Menil.)

I'll spend hours happily browsing in a grocery store, losing myself looking at labels and comparing prices and carefully inspecting slabs of meat and staring at pieces of produce while coming up with ideas for their use. (Not like that. Gross.) And I'm not alone. Earlier this year, Financial Edge pointed to the fact that grocery stores are made for this kind of slow, leisurely browsing as one of the chief reasons that online grocery stores failed, another casualty of the fickle Internet.

Add to that the fact that every time a big grocery store opens in Houston, it's a news event on par with a hotly anticipated restaurant opening. EOW readers browse through grocery store slideshows with the same frequency and intensity that other Houston Press readers delve into slideshows of swimsuit competitions and fetish balls at Rich's.

The five grocery store openings listed below are the ones that have generated the most interest for our readers over the past year, and the ones which have had the greatest impact on Houston's changing grocery store scene as a whole.

5. Disco Kroger

Even though the run-down but beloved Kroger at 3300 Montrose got a much-needed facelift and expansion in September, the longtime nickname "Disco Kroger" will likely never fade. Said store manager Michael Marino, "I don't think it's something that will go away. You still see customers refer to it affectionately as Disco Kroger. For as long as we've been here in the neighborhood, I just don't think that aura or mystique is going to go away any time soon."

4. Mi Tienda

The second of H-E-B's pioneering Latin-centered concept stores opened earlier this month, and on a much larger scale than its predecessor in Pasadena that opened in 2008: At 90,000 square feet, the new Mi Tienda at 3800 East Little York Road is more than twice the size of the original. It also offers a far larger selection of Hispanic foods -- both groceries and ready-to-eat food in the cocina area of the store -- as well as an in-house panadería, aguas frescas bar, tortillería and a full-service carnicería.

3. H-E-B Montrose

From its novel community-decided design to its innovative aisles, shelving systems and even dairy case doors, everything about the new H-E-B in Montrose at 1701 W. Alabama was a collaborative and fresh means of creating a grocery store. Team leader Shannon Simpson said of the new store that H-E-B leadership learned from their mistakes and successes at stores like the Buffalo Market on Buffalo Speedway to design a more efficient store than they ever have, and it's by far the prettiest new grocery store in town to boot. Now if only they could just get their liquor license...

2. Phoenicia Downtown

Downtown has needed a full-service grocery store for as long as it's been downtown. The core of the city's Central Business District has long tried to attract more residential activity, which is nearly impossible without basic amenities -- like a grocery store. Byrd's Market fizzled, and nearby stores like Randall's and Fiesta aren't within walking distance for downtown denizens, but the second location of Phoenicia has finally filled that niche. The nearly 30,000-square-foot store has two levels of fresh meat, seafood, produce and baked goods as well as wine, beer, dry goods, ready-to-eat meals and even a cigar humidor and two vast salad bars. The attached MKT Bar provides a place for the Tcholakian family's freshly made food to shine in a casual bar/restaurant environment, making Phoenicia equally useful for downtown workers as it is for downtown dwellers.

1. Revival Market

Prior to Revival Market's stunning success, pessimists may have argued that the local foods movement would never gain a real foothold in a traditional market like Houston -- especially in our competitive grocery store scene, which is mostly dominated by big box retailers like Walmart that are the complete antithesis of everything Revival owners Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera stand for. The store specializes in and sells exclusively local products, from meat to dry goods and everything in between. There is nothing in the store that isn't grown, raised or made in Texas. And the the little market that could did succeed, in even greater ways than its owners could have anticipated: "It's about triple what we expected from when we first laid out our plans and ideas," said Pera earlier this year. "At the same time, everything else has tripled behind it. We've tripled the volume, but we've also tripled our food and our employees. It's just been great."

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