Food Town

Food Town, sometimes referred to as Lewis Food Town, is an independent grocery chain operating in Houston, Texas. With 30 locations, they are the largest local chain in Houston as of 2022. While Food Town has always been known for its spartan services and targeted selection, the growth of the chain is rather recent. The first Food Town locations opened in 1994 as the brainchild of Ross Lewis. Mr. Lewis, a native of Bryan, Texas, was an early player in Houston’s grocery scene for many years. He was hired by Kroger after graduating from college and entered their manager training program finding a position with Henke & Pilot in Houston. In 1962, Lewis would help foil a robbery by using a codeword to a manager on the phone. This quick-wittedness would aid Ross throughout his grocery career, staying with H&P through the Kroger years, Mr. Lewis would also work for Lewis & Coker before settling on Al Davis Food City. Where he would work his way up to President of the company. By the early 90s, Lewis would ‘retire’ from Food City. However, he had retired with a plan in mind, he wanted to build his own chain. After watching years of grocery wars between local chains, and national competitors, embarrass themselves with foolish mistakes, Lewis felt ready to take on the Houston market. However, this was not a feat he could accomplish alone. Instead, Lewis would recruit six other Houston grocery alum to create a robust local chain.

The plan would be to open as a force in the local grocery market. The stores would be pared down to essentially the bare minimum, featuring no service departments and limited non-grocery items. In May of 1994, three Gerland’s Food Fair locations would be taken over by the newly founded Lewis Food Town. The transition from Gerland’s to Food Town would involve a remodel of the store to facilitate a new layout and blocking off the bakery, deli, and butcher. During this time, the store would also get its now famous Maroon & White color scheme, a reference to Lewis’ Alma Mater, Texas A&M. One location would take nearly a month to convert, but the new stores were all received positively by customers. The six other members of the “founding 7” have not been directly identified but include at least some other employees from Lewis’ tenure at Food City, each bringing in expertise in areas Lewis lacked. Some people I have been able to identify are Jimmy Ross, a produce buyer, Billy Drews, Food Town’s meat supervisor; and Mitchell Hills, Joe Valdez, and Chuck Conners, all store managers. With their spartan operations, Food Town wanted potential customers to see that the store did offer some services, such as custom cuts from a butcher and grocery carryout. However, the company still had not held any sort of grand opening celebration for itself, nearly three months into operation. In late August 1994, Food Town would hold grand opening celebrations by bringing radio stations to broadcast live from their stores, along with a prize wheel that gave away groceries.

The grand openings only helped to cement the success of these stores. The locations which were sought out were low performers for Gerland’s, who even tried converting one store into a similar format for less than a year before selling to Food Town. By 1995, Food Town would be up to four locations, and by 1996 five. The quick growth of the store was focused in areas where Davis Food City did not operate, helping to reduce confusion between the two similarly named and themed grocery chains. Food Town’s quick growth would sometimes catch the ire of other local retailers like Food Lion, who ran an ‘attack ad’ against Food Town. While Food Town’s public response was nill, they would end up with the last laugh opening in two spots vacated by Food Lion in 1998. By the end of the year, Food Town was up to nine locations. While they had independently scouted some sites, Food Town largely depended on Grocers Supply Co. for real estate assistance. GSC is one of the reasons Food Town was able to pick up locations from other operators with such ease. In 2001, just seven years after founding the company, it had grown from three to ten locations, with the newest spot opening in a former Safeway in Pasadena.

While the chain had grown quickly on its own, it was about to get an outside boost as Gerland’s agreed to begin franchising the Food Town brand. Gerland’s would choose certain locations to convert into Food Town stores. In a move that was likely to help fend off pressure from the increasingly dominant HEB, taking on the Food Town name and look would help these stores to gain customers with the promise of low prices. Although interestingly, Gerland’s would choose to continue to operate their locations 24 hours, and some even including their service departments. Gerlan’ds would flip four Food Fair locations to Food Town in 2001-2. The response would be tremendous, with Food Town and Gerland’s working together with GSC to purchase the leases for three Albertsons stores prior to the company’s exit and converting them to Food Towns. Two locations would go to Lewis and the third to Gerland’s. This partnership would only help to build success. Lewis would also work with GSC to purchase half of the recently vacated French Hypermart, Auchan, on the west side of Houston. This new store, would be larger than any other Food Town in operation and would even include a full-service seafood department.

Throughout 2003, Gerland’s, seeing the continued success of the Food Town banner, would convert even more of their locations from Food Fair. In 2003 alone, five more stores were switched over, bringing the total number of locations from 3 to 24 in less than ten years. In 2006, Food Town would make moves into two former Albertsons locations. One, at Kirwood and Bissonnet, was meant to replace one of the three original 1994 locations. The spot had initially been picked up by Kroger, who would only operate it for around 2-3 years. Food Town was seen as somewhat of a savior for the area. While they wouldn’t have everything that Kroger/Albertsons did, they would keep the much newer and nicer building open. The other Albertsons was a different story, this location had sat vacant since Albertson’s left town. Located in the middle of Meyerland, this store didn’t have much competition but rather a very mobile customer base, meaning people would gladly leave the area to find better deals. Taking on this store would take a great level of commitment on Food Town’s part to fit into the community, but it was something the community was happy about.

While Food Town’s success was beginning to come apparent, few outside of the grocery world knew that Food Town’s operations were actually built on the backs of two different companies. Despite the oddities Gerland’s locations contained, the company did its best to maintain the Food Town levels of cleanliness to help pull off the ruse. Unfortunately, though, in the late 2000s, the U.S. economy began to feel major troubles in the form of a recession. Houston was somewhat lucky in that our economic distress was more limited by our strong energy economy. However, the effects would be seen at a corporate level. With essentially all but the most robust grocers calling off new stores for many years. In 2013 in a somewhat unexpected move, Grocers Supply Co, the supplier to Food Town, and many other locals purchased Gerland’s from the Gerland family. The supplier had also purchased their largest customer, Fiesta, about ten years prior, after rumors surfaced that the company would be sold to a competitor, cutting out GSC. While initially, it seemed that GSC might be trying to build a grocery empire, this couldn’t be further from the truth. About a year after purchasing Gerland’s, the Levit Family, who owned GSC, announced plans to sell their Wholesale operations to a national competitor. Only a few months later, plans were leaked that an investment firm would be purchasing Fiesta & Gerland’s, freeing up the Levits to focus on property management.

However, before Gerland’s could be sold, the chain had to be offered to the Lewis family, and with six Food Fairs, and ten Food Towns, they bought it! Overnight the chain would jump from 26 to 33 locations with the conversion of the remaining Food Fair banners into Food Town. The former Gerland stores would also start to see changes around this time, like reducing operating hours from 24 hours to about 6 AM-12 AM. The remaining rouge Gerland’s service departments were also finally shuttered, and around this time, locations also began to receive decor updates for the first time in the chain’s existence. Around 2015, Ross Lewis would retire, handing the reigns over to his son Mike Lewis, who still runs Food Town. As of 2019, the company had signed an option for one more Houston location, although these plans seem to be on hold at the moment. In late 2020, Ross Lewis sadly passed away, leaving behind a good legacy. Food Town stores aimed to do what other retailers wouldn’t. Operating in areas that traditional grocers and major chains passed over. The Lewis Family’s stores carry on great traditions started by Rice, Gerland’s, and Weingarten’s. They may not be the prettiest or fanciest grocery options in town, but they’re a vital link in preventing Houston from becoming a food desert and turning us into a ‘Food Town’.

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Location List

Store No
Address
Notes
12040 Richey St, Pasadena, TX 775021994-Present Former Gerland's Food Fair
212655 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 770991994-2006 Former Gerland's Food Fair, Originally Eagle, Replaced by #17
312182 Veterans Memorial Dr, Houston, TX 770671994-Present Former Gerland's Food Fair, Experimented as Top's Discount Food for 1 year prior to sale
41700 Decker Dr, Baytown, TX 775201995-Present, Originally Globe Dept Store, Later Sak n Save Grocery
53316 Shaver St, South Houston, TX 775871996-Present, Originally Builder's Square
69520 Jones Rd, Houston, TX 770651998-Present, Former Food Lion
7442 W Little York Rd, Houston, TX 770761998-Present, Former Bowling Alley
83002 W Baker Rd, Baytown, TX 775211998-Present, Former Food Lion
916844 Stuebner Airline Rd, Spring, TX 773791998-2018, Originally a Gerland's purchased by Lewis
10901 Richey St, Pasadena, TX 775062001-Present Former Safeway sold to Super Warehouse Foods prior to AppleTree
2015 Uvalde Rd, Houston, TX 770152001-Present, Gerland's first franchise store, Previously Food Fair
2027426 Airline Dr, Houston, TX 770762001-Present, Gerland's franchise store, Previously Food Fair
20313811 Cypress North Houston Rd, Cypress, TX 774292002-Present, Gerland's franchise store, Previously Food Fair, Originally Safeway then AppleTree
20415875 Farm to Market Rd 529, Houston, TX 770952002-Present, Gerland's franchise store, Previously Albertsons
115367 Antoine Dr, Houston, TX 770912002-Present Former Safeway
127121 Broadway St, Pearland, TX 775812002-Present, Former Albertson's
143517 N Main St, Baytown, TX 775212002-Present, Former Albertson's
152770 North Sam Houston Pkwy W, Houston, TX 770382002-Present, Former Albertson's
168800 W Sam Houston Pkwy S, Houston, TX 770992003-Present, Former Auchan
2051130 Eldridge Rd, Sugar Land, TX 774782003-Present, Gerland's franchise store, Previously Food Fair, Originally Food Lion
2061455 Wilcrest Dr, Houston, TX 770422003-Present, Gerland's franchise store, Previously Food Fair, Originally Safeway, Then David's
20710902 Scarsdale Blvd, Houston, TX 770892003-Present, Gerland's franchise store, Previously Food Fair, Originally Safeway, Then AppleTree
2083322 Center St, Deer Park, TX 775362003-Present, Gerland's franchise store, Previously Food Fair, Originally Weingartens
209302 N Main St, Highlands, TX 775622003-Present, Gerland's franchise store, Previously Food Fair, Originally Ronnie's
179525 S Kirkwood Rd, Houston, TX 770992006-Present, Former Albertson's, Replaced store #2, Initially purchased by Kroger but closed in 2005
189725 Fondren Rd. Houston, TX 770962006-Present, Former Albertson's Kosher Location
210570 El Dorado Blvd, Webster, TX 775982009-Present Gerland's final franchise store, Previously Randall's (Soviet visited store)
21120851 FM 1485, New Caney, TX 773572015-Present Gerland's buyout, Previously Food Fair, Originally Albertson's
2129701 Spencer Hwy, Shoreacres, TX 775712015-2019 Gerland's buyout, Previously Food Fair
214435 Sheldon Rd, Channelview, TX 775302015-Present, Gerland's buyout, Previously Food Fair, Originally Weingarten's
21523221 Aldine Westfield Rd, Spring, TX 773732015-Present, Gerland's buyout, Food Fair opened in 2012, Had previously been Brookshire Bros.
2166470 W Little York Rd, Houston, TX 770912015-Present, Gerland's buyout, Previously Food Fair, Originally Weingarten's
2171420 Farm to Market 1960 Rd W, Houston, TX 770902015-Present, Gerland's buyout, Previously Food Fair, Originally Eagle

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