The not so great, Foodarama Shrinkorama!

Cox’s Foodarama is an independent grocery chain operating out of Houston, Texas, with 8 locations in operation as of this post. The chain simply goes by the name Foodarama in all local matters, but uses their founder’s (Carol Cox) last name to differentiate from the many other grocery stores in the U.S. using Foodarama. During the early days of the net, the confusion mostly came from New Jersey based Foodarama Supermarkets, which has since stopped trading under that name. The chain was founded in 1973, in a building with an already storied history. Having been built by Belden’s when they were still a part of Minimax, Randall’s (Original chain not Onsteads) and a Piggly Wiggly. Early on many of the buildings Cox had bought were older, and had hosted many chains such as Weingarten, A&P, and Kroger to name a few. Eventually they would find their niche in operating old Safeway locations, acquiring some from Safeway but most from AppleTree during their sell offs. Today we’re taking a look at a very interesting former Safeway that Foodarama is operating out of, for another few months at least.

1805 Ella was originally built as two separate structures, acquired in separate but similarly timed transactions by Eckerd and Safeway. The right portion of the building was constructed by Safeway and opened in 1971, with Eckerd following shortly after in 1972. Even though the structures were built separately, to the shopper they appeared as a single cohesive structure. With tilt wall concrete panels covered in smooth river rock, and floor the ceiling windows across the front of the building being used as part of Safeway’s general design aesthetic of the time. This was a smaller store for 1971, not featuring a bakery or deli like most other Houston area stores but was otherwise a functional supermarket for the area for many years. At some point, likely around 1980, Safeway began to upgrade their older locations, and while not turning them into “superstores” per se, they did try to cram in as many service departments as possible. With the 1805 Ella store, one of the main issues was space, a problem which was solved by somewhat awkwardly taking over Eckerd’s space. The store was given not only a deli, but a bakery, butcher shop, and expanded selection in general.

Foodarama got their hands on this store in 1994 towards the end of AppleTree’s long downfall. It had obviously been a producer for them, one of the nicest grocery stores in the area, and by far the widest selection, especially with the 1980s updates. The store was also presumably a performer for Foodarama too and at some point, was remodeled into a prototype store for a design scheme that as far as I can tell was never rolled out beyond this. While not anything revolutionary in terms of design, compared to standard Foodarama decor, which usually features house paint, and those big wooden letters from Hobby Lobby in addition to some poster printed images this is pretty wild. Based on Google Street view Imagery, it looks like the remodel took place around 2012-2013, and left the old letters on the roof! A temporary sign was added with the new logo, but was eventually swapped for a permeant one with the more recent “bouncing orange” logo. Unfortunately, it looks like this store is on a downward swing, when I visited it was barely staffed, all service departments were closed (including the butcher!). There was also an alarming amount of “dead space” in the store, it almost felt, dare I say, Kmart-y?

Foodarama is unfortunately in a situation where they are not looking great. The grocer has closed two locations in the past year, 4805 Galveston which was covered in a Demolition Report, along with 11021 Fuqua which opened in a shuttered Randall’s in 2008, and was the chain’s newest store. While closing two locations is not that huge of a threat, the fact that Foodarama has not opened a new store in nearly 15 years, does raise a bit of concern about the future of the company. Houston is a tough grocery market, with an odd split between a few national retailers, and independents filling in the gaps that nationals have given up on. Our city has long dealt with mobility issues of certain residents, especially in poorer neighborhoods, and our independents have been there to fill in the gaps. Unfortunately, with bargain bin prices, and underselling practices by certain competitors who shall remain nameless, our independents are in danger. For context, these photos were taken on a Sunday afternoon! With HEB relocating from across the street further into the Heights, you would assume Foodarama would see an increase in customers. While I don’t think it’s time to put Foodarama on “death watch”, barring opening a new store they are destined to fall behind.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for the great photos of this unique store! I find it interesting that the soft drink aisle marker lists specific brands like Coke, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Gatorade. I suppose those wanting RC Cola or Powerade will feel left out, lol.

    The odd design of this store certainly gives it some character. I think I would pick this store over the old HEB Pantry Foods that was nearby or the newer HEB that replaced it if I lived in the area. With that in mind, hopefully this store, and Foodarama as a whole, can hang in there. Between Foodarama, Sellers Bros., and Food Town, Foodarama does have the nicest looking stores (not counting the Food Towns with Albertsons Grocery Palace decor, of course). It would be nice for these Grocers Supply-supplied independents to hang in there.

    1. As a dedicated RC Cola drinker, you are darn right I feel left out.
      … and on that note, the COVID-related aluminum supply issues have been terrible for folks who drink sodas outside of the big three’s top tier brands – I want cans of my RC, Dr. Brown’s, and the occasional Pibb Xtra! It’s gotten so bad that you can’t even pay someone 10 states away $35 for a 12 pack of Hires Root Beer anymore!

      I couldn’t quote the actual numbers, but I would be surprised if the independents and other conventional grocers outside than Kroger and HEB have opened 10 stores between them in the Houston region in the last 15 years. They have certainly closed more stores than they have opened.

      It wasn’t that long ago that a significant percentage of the region’s market share belonged to a wide variety of independents and smaller players even in the face of Kroger’s once absurd lead in store count. Look at that Houston Chronicle article linked in the 3rd paragraph about the grocers picking at Apple Tree’s bones.
      Kroger of course and even Randalls and Fiesta are not surprising names to see on that table… but Gerlands and Rice taking a combined 8 locations? Santa Fe/Alta Loma institution Big Chief Foods? Bay City’s own Stanley Stores (better known by the brand they used in the Houston area, Price-Lo)? What a time to be alive.

What do you think?