The announcement that a few new supermarkets will be opening isn’t exactly headline news in a megalopolis with 7.5 million residents. It’s just the way of things. Stores come and go, and in cities with a massive array of options, any newcomer can do only so much to alter the grocery landscape. A supermarket is just a supermarket; you can get milk and meat and tortillas anywhere. Maybe in a no-stoplight town where the best way to get eggs is to knock on a neighbor’s door and see if their chickens have been productive, it’d be a big deal. But a region like, say, the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex is no provincial small town where a new grocery store is the most exciting thing that can happen all month, maybe all year.
Actually, just kidding, H-E-B announced Friday that it’s opening two Dallas–Fort Worth stores, and people are losing their ever-loving minds. The Dallas Morning News story on the company’s construction plans included a disclaimer that the news was “breaking and will be updated,” as though the paper were reporting that Jack Ruby had just shot Lee Harvey Oswald.
If you’re a Texan who lives in the H-E-B side of the state—mostly South Texas, Central Texas, or the Houston area, where the stores are everywhere—then maybe you get it. H-E-B is one of those beloved brands that Texans just love, up there with Dr Pepper and Whataburger in the holy Texas trinity. Why? A bunch of reasons. The stores are thoughtfully designed, with each location micro-targeted to the neighborhood its shoppers live in. Famously, the company’s commitment to community led it to show much-needed leadership amid such disasters as Hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 pandemic. The array of house brands on offer is also extremely good, and the chain often partners with iconic local characters or restaurants to create something customers can connect with emotionally. In San Antonio, stores sold “Slam Duncan-O’s” cereal, honoring Spurs legend Tim Duncan, while in Austin, H-E-B licenses Franklin barbecue sauce. Whataburger Spicy Ketchup started as an H-E-B exclusive, and need we mention the Texas-shaped tortilla chips? H-E-B sells Selena grocery bags! Kids love the place; musicians love the place; Texas Monthly’s barbecue editor even loves the brisket.
And yet: Despite H-E-B’s near-ubiquity in Central and South Texas, its growing foothold in Houston—in 2015, H-E-B overtook Walmart and Kroger to become the city’s largest retailer—and its presence in parts of West Texas (the chain operates a handful of stores in Lubbock, Midland-Odessa, and Big Spring), the stores haven’t had much of a presence in North Texas. There are a few exceptions to that, including locations in Waxahachie, Ennis, and Burleson; Cleburne, Corsicana, and Granbury also have stores. In 2019, when the store opened its first location in Hudson Oaks, near Weatherford, ecstatic customers celebrated on horseback, with two competing cheer squads paying tribute to the brand. (The county judge called it “the most gratifying win ever in twenty years in Hudson Oaks.”) But if you were in Dallas, Fort Worth, or any of the booming suburbs north of Interstate 20, you were shopping elsewhere. (Among the options for “elsewhere” were six locations of Central Market, a boutique grocery brand H-E-B operates that competes with Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.)
With all of that in mind, you can see why H-E-B’s first real foray into the heart of the DFW Metroplex is headline news. The reactions from fans on social media were exuberant.
On some level, though, H-E-B’s entrance into the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex was, like Thanos, inevitable. The chain has been acquiring property in the region for years, including the 2016 purchase of a number of Sun Fresh Market stores, at least one of which was later developed into a Central Market location. That acquisition led to speculation that H-E-B was finally going to break ground inside Collin, Dallas, or Tarrant County—but the company quickly quashed the rumors, calling the enthusiasm “the ultimate honor,” even as discussion centered on something that wasn’t happening “right now.” As recently as February—when my colleague José Ralat asked H-E-B vice president of corporate communications Jorge Elizondo where the company’s plans on the Metroplex stood—that was more or less the company line.
“We have been studying it for over twenty-five years, and every three years we kind of go, like, ‘Is this it? Should we go now?'” Elizondo said. “But we still have a lot of work to do in a lot of the markets that we’re in today. Many times, when we’re considering it, we’re like, ‘Wait a second, we need to go do something else in this other town. Money is always the reason you can’t do more than you want to. Hopefully [we’ll be in Dallas] in my lifetime—I just don’t know exactly when.”
The “when,” apparently, is the fall of 2022, when the first two stores—one in Frisco, a mile from the Kroger on Main Street, and one in Plano, at Preston and Spring Creek—are expected to be open for business, according to the Dallas Morning News. When will the third store open—or the fourth, fifth, sixth, twentieth? The company’s playing those cards close to its chest, but we know that it’s been playing the long game in North Texas up until this point. If the traffic for the Plano and Frisco stores matches the enthusiasm we’re seeing today—and there’s no real reason to doubt that it will—we’d expect that North Texas will prove that it’s ready to be an H-E-B market sooner rather than later.