I don’t normally wax rhapsodic about a grocery store – except maybe when Trader Joe’s arrived in Saint Paul, but the San Antonio-based H-E-B has changed all of that for me.
I’m not a gourmand and I skew frugal (some of you might have other words for me), but even if I weren’t those things, H-E-B would deliver. They actually have paper coupons next to the items that are eligible for them! They do cooking demonstrations, serve ubiquitous samples, and make delicious in-house tortillas (of which Bon Appetit magazine recently raved!) Unlike MSP staples Kowalskis and Lunds & Byerlys, H-E-B doesn’t break the bank; and unlike Cub, each store isn’t a vast overpriced and uninspiring warehouse.
When I lived in DC, it was common for folks to refer to their nearest Safeway by its nickname: Soviet Safeway, Social Safeway, UnSafeway…which was cute and funny, but not done because people loved their grocery store. In SATX, people often describe their neighborhood by indicating which H-E-B is located there. Earlier this year, a consumer research study of large supermarkets found that H-E-B was the top-ranked grocery store in the United States, ousting Trader Joe’s for the top spot.
I feel uber lucky that I live equidistant to two H-E-Bs – the delightfully retro Oak Park H-E-B and the more modern Lincoln Heights H-E-B.
If I travel about another 1.5 miles, I will hit on H-E-B’s more upscale concept called Central Market. It is a cheese and prepared food wonderland. My husband works near their headquarters just south of downtown and they have a smaller scale market there that is beautifully designed and makes killer pizza slices that are great for a quick lunch.
Outside of the grocery store, H-E-B’s philanthropy is legendary in this part of Texas. If there is any kind of event or something that gathers people in San Antonio, H-E-B is likely a sponsor. H-E-B’s founders, the Butt family, operate two family foundations, the H.E. Butt Foundation – an operating foundation with camps, programs and work primarily in the Texas Hill Country and the Charles Butt Foundation which is deeply invested in K-12 education.
OK, enough waxing from me. But I’ll be sure to eat my H-E-B brand Escabeche Pasta Sauce on my H-E-B butternut squash spirals later this week and be happy that groceries are something for me to get excited about!