HEB’s Failed Concept store in Northwest Houston

Houston has been a stable market for H-E-B for many years now. While the early years were a bit touch and go at certain times overall HEB could be considered one of the more stable grocers in the Houston area. Even towards the end of the Pantry Foods era HEB’s success in Houston was measurable. It came to the point where the company felt brave enough to open a “concept store” here in town. Located at 6960 Barker Cypress Rd, Houston, TX 77084, this Pantry Foods was a “late bloomer” not opening until 1998. However it seems HEB hoped that the special features of this concept store would make up for this location’s tardiness to the area.

As of 2021 Planet Fitness has been the only tenant to use space in the former HEB. I believe this store was branded “HEB Barker Cypress”, but can’t tell as the PF logo covers the labelscar.

The store was meant to be high-class and unlike other Pantry Foods. Out of the norm, the new store featured deli, and bakery, service departments which any former Pantry Food customer knows were not a common feature. In addition to a larger than normal product selection, the concept store also included a wine department, and a “fresh meal station” which seems like it was an early version of the “Cooking Connection” found in current stores. In addition to grocery upgrades the HEB also had an in-store coffee bar, and drive-through fried chicken restaurant, The Roost both operated by HEB. The store also originally featured a maze like setup, not dissimilar from Central Market. It’s likely this store drew at least some influence from HEB’s higher tier locations, and based on the fact they openly referred to this as a “concept store” it seems it was somewhat a trial run for Central Market in Houston. The Barker Cypress HEB was reconfigured into a standard sized location late 2002. Dropping the Pantry Foods banner, and replacing The Roost fast food concept with a pharmacy, including repurposing their original drive-thru.

I believe the round facade was ad addon or at least expanded during the 2002 conversion process. The slant arm awnings along with metal frame windows are all classic “new build” Pantry Foods design cues. According to Anonymous in Houston, the round traffic balls were originally designed to look like various pieces of produce.

While the timing of this store’s conversion could have been coincidental, it’s likely that Central Market’s Houston grand opening had an effect on the upgrade to a regular HEB. With the realization that a full scale Central Market could be made to work in Houston, the store really served no further purpose. Many of the aspects implemented in this store were likely meant to appeal to higher end clientele which was really beginning to thin out in the area during the 2000s. The Roost, seems to have been mostly unsuccessful although HEB has not given up on including their own Drive-Thru restaurants to stores, with their Texas BBQ concept being the current incarnation. When opening Central Market the drive-thru concept would again be utilized for restaurant pickup.

This secondary entrance was dubbed the “Drugstore” entrance, and was likely originally for The Roost. The walled off spaces under the awning to the right are the only real expansion this store received during its upgrade. At ~40,000 Sq Feet this was not a huge store.

What seems to have been the real downfall for this former Pantry Foods was poor timing more than anything else. The upgrade to a full line store was a good move. It allowed the location to carry more mainline, and therefore cheaper selections according to advertising. Going into Barker Cypress with a store contrary to your concept’s core mission of rock bottom prices, at the same time other grocers in the area focused on price was a fatal flaw. Possibly opening this store even 10 years prior would have been a smarter move. The Pantry Foods brand was not yet baked into customers brand as bargain basement. A single high end store could provide a good test bed for the mainline expansion which eventually came.

Evidence for this being the original drive-thru exists in the fact that a speaker box from The Roost still stands. Also aerial imagery points to this being here early on. Unfortunately the window was covered by plywood.

Towards the end of the stores life the parking lot was fitted with HEB gas pumps, which seem to only have lasted around a year. They sat where a now vacant CVS stands although it was being used for COVID testing when I drove by. Oddly the CVS came in after HEB had already vacated the property, proving this store wasn’t simply a failure of the hubris of HEB, rather data and metrics on shoppers in that area in the area is likely skewed. While it is of course the duty of the tenant to make sure where they locate stores matches their own criteria it is interesting to see these failures. Impacts like the massive Berry Center, and Langham Creek High School, make this area seem much busier than it is on a daily basis. While HEB could adapt to a declining upmarket clientele, nobody can fix a foot traffic problem.

3 comments

  1. It’s hard to say if this short-lived HEB was ultimately a success or failure for HEB in the long-term, but I will say this store was a complete failure by my standards as a shopper. I visited this store right after it opened when there was much fanfare about it in the local media. While the store had some interesting fixtures, I found the layout of the store to be completely terrible from my perspective as a shopper. It may have been the worst layout I’ve ever seen for a supermarket. Even though I had family who lived/lives in that area and so I did occasionally do (and still do) grocery shopping in that area, I never visited that HEB again after the grand opening!

  2. Well, clearly this was different than the other H-E-B Pantry stores, which were either inexpensive new-builds at 23k square feet or slightly larger other stores fit into defunct grocers (Rice, Safeway, etc.).

    I don’t think the store was necessarily a “failure” as most of the Pantry Foods stores served their purpose; to introduce Houston to H-E-B (which has worked VERY well). In 2007 (I believe that was the year) the store moved to a much more visible spot at Barker Cypress and Northwest Freeway, and that store, while nothing special, is packed out. (Similarly, Central Market is usually packed as well).

    The only rub was using the H-E-B Pantry Foods, which had fought on price for years, but it seems that in the end, customers didn’t really care, as it did not affect H-E-B Pantry’s reputation.

    1. I completely agree with the idea that this location served its purpose as a concept store. I do assume had it been more successful, HEB would have kept the store running under the same premise (although without the Pantry Foods name). However, my main reason for calling this store a failure is not the loss of the concept status, but rather HEB closing this location so early on. Many former Pantry Foods throughout Houston made it well into the 2010s before being rebuilt. These were of course stores which could spare the space to add at minimum the basic service departments and a pharmacy. All of which this store had already been given. It strikes me as odd that what was considered a “replacement store” was nearly 6 miles away.

Comments