Howdy Folks, in preparation for Thanksgiving we’re taking a look at somewhere you’ve probably stopped this week, a grocery store! Specifically we’re talking about 1455 Wilcrest Dr, Houston, TX 77042 which as of 2021 is a Food Town. However, it has been at least 3 other grocers over the past 47 years. The location originally opened in 1974 as a new build Safeway for Houston’s rapidly developing Briar Forest neighborhood. At the time, the Westchase area was still being built out, but would quickly prove to be one of the hottest new markets in town. By the late 70s, Weingartens saw opportunity to expand on retail in the area, and sprung into action building Westchase Mall, a small indoor shopping facility anchored by Target, and a J. Weingartens store, similar to North Oaks Mall. However, unlike North Oaks when Weingarten’s decided to shutdown grocery operations this store was sold to Safeway! Safeway likely chose this store, as Westchase Mall received much more traffic sitting on Westheimer than their Wilcrest store. It would also put them across the street from quickly rising competitor, Randall’s. This did create an issue, as the old Safeway was just a block off Westheimer. Rather than lease the Wilcrest location to another grocer, Safeway chose to let the space sit vacant. While the new store may have looked good on paper, something possibly high rent prices, caused Safeway to quietly drop the location during the AppleTree formation. Since 1984, Safeway had held onto the Wilcrest property, and would require AppleTree to buy it as part of their spin-off. By 1988, the spin off was complete and the property had been leased to a new grocer named “David’s Foods”. While information available on David’s is quite sparse, it seems that they were a single location, high-end store.
David’s would have a short but respectable run of 2 years. While this is purely conjecture on my part, I have to wonder if this store was cheaply leased by AppleTree to a grocery wholesaler in exchange for discounts. The store was very involved with national donation programs like Jerry’s Kids, which is unusual for an upstart independent. By 1990, David’s was taken over by local chain Gerland’s who was doing quite well in the mayhem that was the early 90s/late 80s Houston grocery scene. With many banners to place the store under, it seems that 1415 Wilcrest, landed as a Gerland’s Food Fair. These stores were average size supermarkets, and generally featured service departments, along with a small amount of general merchandise. Despite the success the company had during this time, they would be no match for the increase of full service discount grocers that would pop-up in Houston. By the late 2000s, Gerland’s was consistently losing market share from increased competition, and made the decision to been franchising some of their stores as Food Town operations. By purchasing the rights to the name, branding, and operational style, this store was converted from a full-line Supermarket into a Food Town “grocery store”. The deli and bakery would close, and most remaining non-food items were removed.
In 2013, Gerland’s announced they were to be acquired by the Levitt family, the owners of Grocers Supply Corp. It seems this move was intended by Grocers Supply to consolidate Gerland’s along with Fiesta better under the Grocers Supply umbrella, as the two chains were by far their largest retail customers. Shortly after in 2014 the Grocer Supply Corp distribution operations, were sold off to C&S Wholesale grocers. The Levitt Family held onto Fiesta, and Gerland’s, for a few more months, before dumping Fiesta to an investment firm named ACON. During this time, the Lewis Family, who owns Food Town, began preparations to buy Gerland’s from the Levitt family. At the time, about half of the total operating Food Town locations were directly owned by the Lewis family, with the majority being franchised. Losing the Gerland’s chain, would drop the store count drastically. So the decision was made to sell Gerland’s as a whole to the Lewis Family and allow them to rebrand any remaining stores as Food Town.
All in all, this is a nice little store! The Lewis family has obviously been investing in their stores over the past few years, and this location shows it. Despite feeling a bit dated on the exterior, the store is clean, bright, and well stocked. As far as I know, this location never had a butcher shop, only a bakery and deli, from the Safeway days up to Gerland’s. Despite not having a butcher counter, the store does employ a butcher who brings out precut meats to a cold case which is par the course for most Food Town locations. The “new look” for this store is around 3 years old at this point, but it still looks fresh. Little bits of Gerland’s and Safeway remnant do manage to peek through. I would say this store is a nice spot to shop if you live in the area, but I wouldn’t drive out of my way for anything more than a curious look around.
Seeing a Food Town with modern decor is certainly a bit of a strange sight! I do like what they’ve done with this store though. It looks modern without it resorting to problematic modern supermarket design trends like concrete floors, excessive use of grey paint, and so forth. This looks like a pleasant place to shop and it certainly fits the description of a neighborhood supermarket.
The David’s situation is a bit strange. They certainly appear to have been supplied by Grocers Supply, but maybe they did have some kind of deal with AppleTree. It’s hard to say now and it’s really hard to say anything about what David’s was like unless someone who shopped there has some memories of it they are willing to share.
My local Gerland’s store also still lives on as a Food Town. Although the Gerland family is no longer involved, I certainly consider them to be part of the story of Food Town even if the Lewis family really represents the bulk of the history of the chain.
Great recap of the final days of Gerland’s, the Gerland’s/Food Town relationship, and this solid little store… an island in a sea of Krogers and specialty grocers lining the western Buffalo Bayou corridor.