Kroger Goes Upscale With The KTRKroger in West U

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest submission from HHR’s good friend Anonymous in Houston with the photos taken by Mike, who has recently published a new page covering the history of Henke & Pillot.

In Houston at least, Kroger has long had a reputation as being a ‘middle of the road’ type of grocer. This has helped Kroger in many ways as the combination of good prices and a traditional supermarket experience appeals to many shoppers and, thus, it has kept Kroger at or near the top of the Houston grocery market share list for decades. That said, as chronicled in February’s The Year of Kroger post about the Cypress Station Kroger, this opened the door for Randall’s to match Kroger’s market share back in the late 1980s and early 1990s by having nicer stores, better service, and only slightly higher prices than Kroger. Thus, Kroger launched their Kroger Signature stores in 1993 to improve their image while still maintaining their ‘Cost Cutter’ prices.

The Kroger Signature format ultimately proved to be a major success for Kroger. At least initially, the Kroger Signature format proved most successful in parts of town where Kroger was traditionally strong, working-class and middle-class areas, as it helped Kroger fight off Randall’s as Randall’s made their push into working-class and more traditional middle-class areas in the 1990s with their New Generation stores. Randall’s move to lower-income areas was ultimately mostly a failure as most remaining Houston Randall’s stores are in more wealthy areas of town.

That said, around the turn of the millennium, Randall’s was still a formidable competitor in wealthier parts of town where Kroger’s more ‘middle of the road’ image was perhaps a hindrance to Kroger. With that, Kroger continued to fine tune their Signature format to make it appealing to shoppers demanding a higher-end shopping experience. We got a look at one of these higher-end stores back in July’s The Year of Kroger post about the Galveston Kroger Signature store which opened in 2000. While Galveston isn’t necessarily a wealthy part of town, there are some wealthy shoppers who live on the Island and there are also tourists willing to spend money at a store with a convenient beach-front store like the Galveston Kroger.

Today, we’ll be looking at another turn-of-the-millennium Kroger Signature store, the West University Place Kroger, HO-314, located at 5150 Buffalo Speedway, Houston, TX 77005. Kroger HO-314 sits right outside the city limits of West University Place, a wealthy urban bedroom community located in the Southwest Houston area. West University Place name refers to nearby Rice University. Not far from West University Place, or West U as locals call it, are some other wealthy residential parts of Houston, such as River Oaks and Bellaire, and the Greenway Plaza business district. Sports fans will know of this area as the home of The Summit, the former home of the Houston Rockets basketball team and Houston Aeros ice hockey team. Highway 59/Interstate 69 separates Greenway Plaza from the West U area.

One close neighbor to Kroger HO-314 is KTRK-TV, Channel 13. KTRK, an ABC O&O station, is arguably Houston’s most prestigious local television channel thanks in large part to having legendary on-screen talent such as Marvin Zindler, Dave Ward, and the rest of the Eyewitness News team. The iconic original part of KTRK’s studios next to the Kroger is shaped like a dome in order to maximize studio space. The iconic Houston Astrodome’s shape was influenced by the KTRK studios. Thus, given the prominence of KTRK in the area, some Houston retail enthusiasts refer to Kroger HO-314 as being the ‘KTRKroger’.

Kroger’s history in the West U area is a bit spotty. Henke & Pillot, which was purchased by Kroger in 1955, had a presence in the famous Rice Village Shopping Center between 1939 and 1972. Henke & Pillot/Kroger had to share Rice Village with fellow grocers Weingarten’s and Rice Food Markets. After this, however, West U shoppers had to travel a little bit further out to go Krogering. A Kroger Superstore HP-227 operated between 1977 and 1989 at 3401 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098 in the Upper Kirby district. The main retailer in that spot today is Office Depot who has been there since 1990. Even today, the Office Depot still looks very much like a Kroger Superstore. HP-277 was essentially replaced by Kroger HO-386 located at 5610 Gulfton St, Houston, TX 77081. The Gulfton Kroger operated between 1987 and 2011. In the stores latter days, it operated as a Kroger Super Mercado Hispanic-format store. Those familiar with the Gulfton area today might be shocked to read that this store served the West U area, but when Kroger planned that location, Gulfton was still a trendy area most famous for the Colonial House Apartments. By 1987, that trendy reputation was falling apart fast just like the reputation of the Colonial House/Lantern Village Apartments, but nonetheless, the Gulfton Kroger was built as an upscale Greenhouse store with hints of the Signature stores to come as discussed in February’s The Year of Kroger post. Finally, shoppers on the south end of West U could shop at the Kroger Family Center store, HP-177, located at 2455 S Braeswood Blvd, Houston, TX 77030. This store opened in 1980 and operated until around 2000 when it was replaced by the KTRKroger and, later, it was also replaced by a Krogertsons located next door, HO-740 located at 7747 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77030, in 2002. Kroger Family Center HP-177 was discussed in June’s The Year of Kroger post about the Baytown Kroger Family Center store.

In order to make room for the KTRKroger, an apartment complex had to be torn down that was on the land that eventually became the Plaza in the Park shopping center that the KTRKroger is located in. Mature oak trees on the property were retained and became part of the new shopping center. The KTRKroger opened on January 20, 1999 as a 64,000 sq. ft. Signature store with a Spanish-themed exterior like the S. Voss & San Felipe Kroger Signature store. The KTRKroger was the first Kroger in Texas with a Boar’s Head shop and the store featured Kroger’s U-Scan self-checkout system. In addition to those features, it had all the expected Kroger Signature features such as a power alley, a Bank United branch, and a video rental center. Not surprisingly, KTRK personalities, most notably Don Nelson, were on-hand at the grand opening festivities. In 2004, the KTRKroger was expanded to around 84,000 sq. ft. in size.

The KTRKroger opened with Kroger’s Millennium décor package. In the 2009, in response to new competition from the HEB Buffalo Market, which will be discussed later in this post, the KTRKroger was heavily renovated for a second time since the store had opened a decade earlier. The renovation refreshed the service departments, added a mezzanine seating area called ‘The Patio’ which expanded the store size to around 90,000 sq. ft., and the KTRKroger was one of the first Houston Krogers to receive the Bountiful décor package (also referred to as the 2012 décor package). Excellent photos of this upscale 2009 Bountiful renovation are available at a website run by one of Kroger’s contractors. Like the Galveston Kroger, the KTRKroger did not wear Bountiful for long as the store was renovated to the décor package it uses currently, Banner (also referred to as ‘Marketplace’). As always, I recommend reading Retail Retell’s guides at his Mid-South Retail Blog to the Millennium décor package and also to the Bountiful and Banner décor packages. One interesting aspect of the KTRKroger is that it sports local flair. Most interestingly, the store has a historic photo of the Henke & Pillot supermarket on Congress St., the location which now houses a bar called Henke & Pillot. Not surprisingly, the KTRKroger, being a higher-end Kroger, has vinyl flooring cover. The floor has a fake wood pattern in parts and also a Script/Fresh Fare décor package era checkerboard floor pattern.

Like other turn of the millennium-era Kroger Signature stores, including Galveston, the KTRKroger has store offices in an open mezzanine at the front of the store in addition to ‘The Patio’ customer seating area that was added in 2009 and remains open today. The KTRKroger has had various coffee vendors over the years including Jitters Coffee Bar, Starbucks, and Seattle’s Best Coffee. Starbucks entered the KTRKroger via the 2004 expansion, but the KTRKroger also briefly had a Seattle’s Best Coffee stand on ‘The Patio’. Today, like at other Houston Kroger stores, Starbucks is the only coffee provider.

Of course, the KTRKroger needs to look upscale to compete with a strong lineup of competing supermarkets. North of Highway 59, in the River Oaks area, are a number of upscale niche grocers such as Central Market, Whole Foods Market, and Trader Joe’s. Closer to the KTRKroger are two full-line supermarkets which also sit on the West U boundaries, HEB and Randall’s. The Buffalo Market HEB sits directly across Buffalo Speedway from the KTRKroger and is the newer of the competitors with the Buffalo Market HEB opening in 2009. The HEB, which sits on land which once housed a Luby’s Cafeteria and Buffalo Pharmacy, is a smaller than normal HEB, but HEB does try a little harder here to appeal to the higher-end demographics of the area by being somewhat of a combination regular HEB store and a Central Market store. Still, it is very much a warehouse-like store even if it is smaller than the KTRKroger. As mentioned previously, when the Buffalo Market HEB opened, Kroger made a pretty strong effort to make the KTRKroger even more upscale than it was initially, but in more modern times, some of the expanded service department offerings built in 2009 have been scaled back. The store still feels upscale for a Kroger though.

The KTRKroger’s long-time competitor is the Weslayan Plaza Randall’s Flagship, formerly Weingarten’s until 1984, located at 5586 Weslayan St, Houston, TX 77005. In fact, this part of town is one of Randall’s strongest areas and they even have a second Flagship store serving West U at the Vanderbilt Square shopping center at 3131 W Holcombe Blvd, Houston, TX 77025. It’s fair to say that the two Randall’s and the HEB offer very different shopping experiences with the Randall’s being the calmer, more traditional upscale supermarkets and the HEB offering lower prices in a bustling and austere-looking warehouse-type store. The KTRKroger exists somewhere in the middle with a store design that more closely resembles the two Randall’s stores, but with prices closer to the HEB. The Kroger is also the largest store of the bunch. With that, it is not hard to see why the KTRKroger is a very busy store itself, but all four of these stores do well.

In a bit of a rarity for the Houston area, the West U area is a part of town where supermarkets compete not just on price, but on the quality of the appearance of their stores and services. That makes the KTRKroger an interesting store to analyze. If you have any questions, memories, or other thoughts about the KTRKroger or the other grocers in the West U area, feel free to leave a comment below. We love to hear from our readers!


  1. I’ve been to this store a few times about 15 years ago. The only thing that stood out as being a little different was that this was the only location I have ever been to that had Kroger Signature-branded paper bags with handles. But it’s interesting to see that that Kroger kept the Bistro here, but got rid of it in the Marketplace stores in Katy.

    As for Channel 13, it’s quite sad how far that station has fallen. Today’s Eyewitness News rarely, if ever, helps anyone, can’t be bothered to investigate public corruption, and makes way too many mistakes on air. The new Eyewitness News font and new graphics look like something designed for a small market station, not an O&O station, while the new weather graphics harder to read and too much like a basic weather app. The old graphics were better, and so was the old Eyewitness News!


    1. I do remember the Kroger Signature paper bags being used at times. I’m sure they were intended to match Randall’s who was famous for their double lined paper bags and, at Flagship stores, they had handles as well if I remember correctly. Those were the days of shopping luxury if you had those stores nearby.

      I agree, the current state of KTRK and the other local TV news operations is not very good. The Houston Chronicle is, in many ways, even worse than the TV stations. I know that the declining state of local media is nothing unique to Houston, but still, it is a shame that such a large city does not have better coverage.

      1. The facade of the store looks very upscale. At the time I visited around 15 years ago, the store seemed a lot fancier than it does now, because it had things other Kroger stores in Katy didn’t. But after the Marketplace and 100,000 sq ft Kroger Signature stores were built, the store now seems normal on the inside, but still unique on the outside.

        Randalls still has paper bags with handles, but no Kroger I’ve been to recently does. By the way, do you know the reason Kroger got rid of the “Signature” store branding?

        When you are in a major market, and owned by the network, the viewer expects, and should get, a product that’s better than what you’ll find elsewhere. That was once the hallmark of Eyewitness News, but the station now seems relegated to a run-of-the-mill operation.


        1. I don’t know why Kroger got rid of the Signature branding. I can take a few guesses at it though. For one, I think the brand became devalued in the early 2000s when Kroger started using the Signature name on some older stores which probably didn’t deserve upscale branding. Second, some of the features typically associated with Signature, like in-store banks, are becoming more rare. I think the biggest factor might well be that with Marketplace being the fanciest format pushed by Kroger corporate, perhaps Signature created confusion and Kroger didn’t want their customers near Marketplace stores to think they were getting inferior stores just because they aren’t called Signature. Ultimately, I’m sure Kroger would prefer their customers to choose a Marketplace store over a Signature store if they live near both due to the Marketplace stores having more higher profit margin general merchandise items.

          I was in Oregon this summer and Kroger (Fred Meyer and QFC) and Albertsons (Safeway and Albertsons) are the two major grocers there. The laws there require retailers to charge for bags. Interestingly enough, Fred Meyer only offered paper bags for 10 cents each and they do have handles. Safeway, OTOH, defaults to thick reusable plastic bags for 5 cents each. Obviously, the bag situation is quite different here.

          1. I figured that might have been the case.

            I don’t like laws that quite literally nickle and dime people for something as simple as bags. Most people want plastic bags for thing that like meat and reuse bags for meat trays and the meat pad, small trash bags, cat litter, etc. Besides, thicker plastic bags are worse for the environment because they take even longer to degrade than regular plastic bags.


  2. Wow, if I drove by this building, I would think I had come across a European mission and not a Kroger!

    That Office Depot Superstore is interesting because I recently came across a similar scenario in Macon, GA. The Macon Office Depot relocated in 2013 (and the relocated location has since closed), but you can still see the original Superstore arches and facade from the Google Street View. That part of town has certainly suffered over the last few decades.

    While most of this store’s Banner interior looks run-of-the-mill (other than the much nicer flooring), the meat and seafood counter is quite lacking. Those signs look so small on the wall in comparison to everything else! Otherwise, I can’t say that Banner is all that interesting, likely because that and Bountiful seem like all I ever come across in Georgia Krogers.

    Now that you’ve pointed it out so much, I can’t unsee the cavernous feeling of the extremely tall shelves Kroger has started installing—I almost feel a bit claustrophobic when I walk into a Kroger! Compare that to Winn-Dixie doing the polar opposite and installing lower shelves in many stores (which I prefer), it’s interesting to see how retailers are doing things differently. Publix, meanwhile, seems to be happy with the ‘regular’ height shelves it has used for years.

    I like the old H&P photo up front too!

    – The Sing Oil Blogger
    (the comment field didn’t seem to be cooperating for me)

    1. First, let me apologize for this post not getting approved sooner. For some reason, it ended up in the Spam bin and Mike luckily caught it before it was deleted. Sorry about that! WordPress’s JetPack made some unfortunate changes which were very buggy for a while, which might explain how this got flagged as Spam, and which have created confusion about how to add a user name to a post (you have to start typing a post and then click on the mail envelope to get the option to type in a name…yeah, I don’t like the changes either!).

      If you think this Kroger might confuse someone into thinking it is Europe, you should see the Portofino Shopping Center in the Houston suburb of The Woodlands! Mike has done a post about this:

      Interestingly enough, the Office Depot Superstore in Upper Kirby is in a wealthy part of Houston and so maybe that explains why Office Depot is sticking it out there. I think that Kroger Superstore suffered from some bad publicity when there was a murder there in the early 1980s and the victim’s family blamed Kroger for not patrolling the parking lot enough. Perhaps the reputation of that Kroger never recovered.

      I’ve seen Banner in stores like this with a proper ceiling and a proper floor and it actually looks pretty nice. It is not as distinctive as Bountiful, but I think it is one of Kroger’s better recent/relatively recent decor packages. It starts to look less good, IMO, in more industrial looking stores like the Kroger Marketplaces and that is what is most associated with Banner.

      I know you’re talking specifically about the meat & seafood decor, but if you think this meat & seafood area looks bad, just wait until you see November’s The Year of Kroger post!

  3. I worked at this store when it was brand new. Gary Bloom, the original unit director, ran a tight ship. And yes, I saw a lot of people from channel 13: Dave Ward, Ed Brandon, Deborah Wrigley, Tom Koch, Don Nelson, Bob Slovak, Debra Duncan, Art Rascon, Wayne Dolcefino, et al. I don’t live in that part of town anymore, so I don’t shop there regularly, but whenever I do have occasion to drop in, it never seems anywhere near as busy as it used to. Of course, when I worked there, Luby’s and Buffalo Pharmacy occupied the space where HEB is now.

    1. I don’t live or work near the KTRKroger so I really have not had a lot of reasons to stop there, but I did shop there in 2005 and it was a very nice Kroger even by 2005 standards when Kroger stores were generally better run than they are now.

      I’m sure anyone reading that list of KTRK personalities who is not from Houston will not know any of those names, but for us Houstonians, that is a list of Houston royalty. Well, maybe not Wayne Dolcefino, but otherwise, lol.

  4. I’m concerned about the survival of the W Holcombe and Weslayan Randalls in case of a Kroger buyout. Also about the Whole Foods Bellaire store, where traffic has seemed to have dropped.

    1. If the Kroger-Albertsons merger happens, it is possible that one of the two Randall’s in this area could close. I would guess Weslayan would be more endangered, but then again, I don’t think they would be forced to sell one of the stores by the FTC given the amount of competition in the area so it is possible that all three may remain. By all accounts, both Randall’s locations do pretty well, especially the Vanderbilt Square location, and certainly the KTRKroger does well.

      On the merger front, I don’t know if you saw the report in Supermarket News this week, but there are reports that the FTC is not impressed with the C&S divestment plan and, given current circumstances, the FTC is likely to sue to block the merger. That might be a good thing, but as I’ve stated before, Albertsons’ current private equity ownership wants to sell Albertsons and they may well do it one way or another and any kind of sale may lead to Randall’s being closed. At least if Kroger buys Albertsons, Kroger has strong distribution in this area and so they could run the stores, but who knows if another buyer will want to keep a small number of stores around. I don’t think it is a given that the merger being blocked is a good thing for Randall’s specifically, but it might be if Albertsons is kept intact and remains at least as well-funded as it is now. Link: