Gerland’s Food Fair

The tale of Gerland’s is a long, complicated story that was quite poorly documented for how extensive the chain was. The story of Gerland’s begins with two siblings, M. K. and his younger brother, A. J. The two Houston natives started in the grocery business quite early in life. M.K.’s first jobs were in the late 30s and early 40s when he was still in school—he worked at the Lindale Park Food Center and later McCandle’s Thriftway before joining the Navy at the start of World War II. While M.K. was out fighting, A.J. followed in his brother’s footsteps, learning the ropes of running a supermarket. With the ongoing war, this would prove to be a valuable experience for A.J., who was able to move up quickly. By the end of the war, and with M.K.’s return to the United States, the two began formulating a plan to open their own store. The grocery scene in Houston was in flux at the time. We were largely moving from a system of small-format grocery stores to larger supermarkets. This was being carried out by chains in town and independents, which were part of larger co-ops in the suburbs. After working together for a short time at an unnamed store on Airline, the brothers decided to hedge their bets and try their luck at opening their own store. To avoid the competition issue, the brothers found a store for sale in Crockett, Texas, which they picked up and ran for at least a few months. It seems that whatever problems the previous owner had experienced popped right back up for the Gerlands, and by 1947, the brothers were back in town. While Crockett hadn’t worked out, the two were not giving up their plans to establish a store of their own. Quietly, in the Garden Oaks neighborhood, work would start that year on the first “Gerland’s Save-Way.” The brothers had opted to join the High-Low franchise system (unrelated to Hi-Lo), and with an excellent location choice in an underserved and growing area, the store was a hit from the start.

A Gerland’s Food Fair featuring the “circus tent sign” used to replace the Gerland’s name in the final years. Photo Source: Yelp

Less than a year after opening their first store, the Gerland brothers teamed up with other local grocers to form a co-op of their own. The new operation would be dubbed “Super-Valu.” The idea was this independent co-op would give grocers an advantage that Minimax and others could not. Super-Valu would not operate stores directly, leaving everything up to members, meaning the company would not compete with its own members. Something that others could not claim. The Super-Valu brand was powerful, and many independents joined within the first few years. This success helped the Gerland Brothers to fund new locations in the Spring Branch area, all under the name Gerland’s Super Valu. By 1955, the brothers had up to five locations across the area. With the original Garden Oaks location, two in Spring Branch, one in South Houston, and the fifth in Lake Jackson, Gerland’s was quickly morphing into a regional chain. Part of the success of Gerland’s was their trust in the managers who ran their stores. This allowed the stores to flourish by adapting to the communities that they served. While steering the growth of their chain, the Gerlands also helped support Super-Valu, which in 1955 had 61 locations across the Gulf Coast. As other independents folded, the Gerland Brothers became major partners in Super Valu. While they would not give up on their stores, the co-op pulled their focus. During the 1960s, Gerland’s did not add any new permanent stores, staying at five locations. However, the original five would also be replaced as needed. In 1963, Fleming, owner of Minimax and supplier of Super Valu, announced plans to combine operations in Houston. While the Super Valu name would remain on the stores for a bit longer, Gerlands was more than ready to stand on its own reputation. By this point in the business, it was clear that A.J. had become the more prominent figure. In 1971, A.J. Gerland was elected as President of the Retail Grocers Association of Houston. This year would also see the debut of a new name, “Gerland’s Food Fair.”

The Gerland’s in Bellaire, a former A&P. Photo Source: The Bellaire Texan

With recognition from the community and a small but immensely successful chain of stores under his belt, A.J. Gerland took the next logical step by expanding the chain; he just had to wait for an opportunity. Around this time, mentions of M.K. completely dropped off, and unfortunately, I have not been able to find out exactly why. Nevertheless, in 1973, Gerland’s opportunity would arise with the 1973 exit of Piggly Wiggly from the Houston area. These stores had once been a part of the Evan’s chain, which merged with the original incarnation of Randall’s, and were eventually rebranded as Piggly Wiggly after multiple buyouts. The Evan’s chain had come from Galveston, and the three stores Gerland purchased were all on the island. The purchase gave Gerland its first permanent number increase since the 1950s and in the midst of a difficult time economically in Houston. The move may have been a bit of a gamble for Gerland, but it paid off, and soon after, he would follow up by acquiring more ex-chain stores. As the chain grew, and without help from his brother, Gerland looked outside of his company for new help. The chain had a good supply system setup with Fleming and had centralized offices, but expanding as a chain would necessitate growing this clerical side of the business. Instead, Gerland would establish a franchise system. He would provide a license to the Gerland’s name and logo, along with a contract for stores to be supplied by Fleming, presumably for a discount, and in return, the franchisee would be responsible for their own stores and their own offices. It’s a concept we know quite well from fast food, but at the time, it was still a novel concept for a supermarket. Gerland figured that the time of the co-op was coming to a close, and he wasn’t along with a former Fleming exec jumping ship to Gerlands. Franchising would first begin in Houston and would initially involve Gerland and the franchisee “co-owning” the store. It would quickly graduate to full franchising, with stores open in Dallas by 1975.

With the view that franchising was the future, Gerlands needed to improve its corporate stores’ image. While they had the nicer, newer acquisitions, many of the original smaller locations still operated mostly untouched from the Super Valu days. The smaller stores would be remodeled and updated as applicable, and work on newly built stores would also begin around this time. Gerland’s had never shied away from embracing new promotions and concepts to attract customers. For example, in the Super Valu days, they cycled through a few different stamp systems to find the best value for the customer. In the 70s when stamps began to shrink away, Gerland’s moved to a system in which 1% of your purchase was donated to a charity of your choice. This system would rely on early loyalty cards/accounts to total the amounts and track charities. This card also allowed for check cashing and other services that the major chains did not offer. Houstonians duly noted this focus on the customer, and Gerland’s was generally held in high opinions in terms of service. Some stores would open and even operate 24 hours daily for the ever-growing city. One important store was the Sugar Land location at the entrance to Sugar Creek. The space was initially slated to be a Handy Andy location, but as that company began to face problems in Houston, Gerland’s took over this store. This location had an improved product selection, including more produce, upscale products, and a wider selection of prepared goods. The intent was to provide a Flagship location and a model for future stores. Anecdotally, members of the Gerland family had moved to the area and were tired of hearing from neighbors who were skipping the existing Gerlands in the area for a new Randalls built directly across the street. Around this time, A.J. would also begin stepping back from his company role. His son Jody would begin to be the new face of the Gerland’s corporation. They would also close the Dallas stores around this time, citing tougher competition, causing higher prices, and making it not worth their while operating there. While Gerland’s would also face issues in Houston, like attracting minority groups, which had become necessary in some areas where it operated, Gerland’s would continue to build new locations. In 1983, A.J. Gerland sold his shares in the company to his two sons, Jim and Jody, and three other associates. Jody would retain his role, but for the first time, nonfamily members had top-level roles.

The Food Fair at W. Little York Photo Source: Foursquare

The departure of A.J. Gerland was not unexpected; he wanted to retire and had two sons who were interested in taking on the business. However, his exit did create some problems. One cited issue was a “lack of discipline” from franchise stores. The Gerlands brand was popular, and some operators had begun to slack, with the intent to coast on the name of Gerlands and the reputation of the company-owned stores. While Gerland’s was not the only chain to face this issue, it became especially pressing when the number of franchised stores outnumbered corporate locations. Gerland’s would work to reign in the franchisees, but it would admittedly become more difficult having five partners instead of just one Gerland. Corporate-owned stores would continue to operate, with Gerlands putting emphasis on expanding their base. They would net four Weingarten’s in 1984 and five Eagles in 1985. It seems that at this point, franchise issues were still ongoing, with some of the issues potentially caused by the partners. However, the company looked much better overall than it had in years. Jody Gerland wanted the company to invest in technology just as his father did. In 1989, Gerlands partnered with Prodigy to become the first grocer in Houston to accept online grocery orders. The service largely resembled a basic version of online grocery delivery, which we use in modern times. Around this time, Gerland’s would stop accepting new franchisees and even take over a problematic Woodlands store. With the number of company-owned stores now outnumbering franchisees, things looked good for the future of the company. Gerland’s was in growth mode, and its employees supported management so loyal that in 1992, they voted to revoke their union membership, which had been earned in 1972. The employees felt that they were able to deal directly with Gerlands and that the union gave no real benefit for the dues they paid. However, Gerland’s was also accused of actively attempting to union-bust when they learned of their employee’s plans.

The Gerland’s in La Porte. Photo Source: Merchant Circle via Info USA

The dissolution of the union may seem like a footnote in the history of the chain, but it was likely a saving grace at the time. Gerland’s had weathered years of grocery wars in Houston. While they absolutely participated in the “wars,” Gerland’s felt little heat coming in below the majors. For years, they were considered a distant competitor of the majors and equal to an early Randalls, and this was a tenable spot for them. However, as competition increased in the 90s, a focus on rock-bottom prices quickly overtook the service that Gerland’s had been known for. With competitors being able to lower their prices and bring up levels of service, Gerland’s would have likely been doomed if they had been tied to a union, similar to AppleTree’s problems around this time. Jody Gerland was ready to expand the chain, even if it meant going outside of Houston again, but he needed to rethink how to go about this. With the help of his brother, Gerland’s would run two experiments in 1993. The first would be flipping a Gerland’s Food Fair on Veterans Memorial to “Top’s Discount Food Market.” The service departments were removed, items were kept in cartons, and a “wall of values” was added. It’s quite easy to make comparisons to Food Town, although this concept predates that name by about a year. A few months later, a Friendswood location would be flipped to “Jimmy G’s,” an upscale market. One final concept from the same era was “Simple Saver,” which was an Aldi-like store. Shrunk down from a regular Gerland’s on Huffmeister, the store carried a limited assortment of groceries, charged for bags, and provided a very basic grocery experience. At the final exit of AppleTree, Gerland’s would pick up one of their stores while also moving away from an incoming Albertsons. Only a few years after Jody Gerland announced he wanted to expand the chain, he would step down as CEO in 1997, being succeeded by Kevin Doris, the former Senior VP of Operations.

Photo of Gerland’s Grand Market in Sugar Land. Photo Source: Mapquest

One of Doris’ first actions was to sell the Sugar Land Gerland’s to fellow independent Belden’s. This decision came with plans to buy back the remaining franchise stores. Good fortune would also strike Gerland’s as Beldens approached the company about taking back their Sugar Land, which Belden’s had dumped lots of money into. The new concept would be named “Gerland’s Grand Market” and was said to compare to a Randall’s Flagship or Kroger Signature store. While it looked like Gerland’s had weathered the ’90s grocery wars, HEB was about to up the ante, moving away from Pantry Foods stores and into full-service territory. In early 2000, Gerland sold its in-store pharmacies to The Medicine Shoppe, which became a recurring trend of cost reduction. In 2001, it was revealed that Gerland’s had quietly been closing stores. Some were simply allowed to run out of their lease, while more profitable stores were sold off. Around this time, Gerland’s would once again experiment with flipping their stores; this time, though, it would be through competitor Food Town. The Gerland’s Food Town operations would license the Food Town name, design, and concept for stores to be run by Gerland’s. In 2002, A.J. Gerland sadly passed away, and at this point, there was little connection between the Gerlands stores and the family, save for some family members still working in the main offices. Gerland’s continued to shrink, being reported as the 8th largest grocer in Houston in 2005. More stores would flip to Food Town throughout the 2000s, although Food Fair would not go away. In 2013, Grocers Supply Co., the supplier of Gerland’s and many other stores, purchased the chain after one of the co-owners, Jeff Reeder, had passed the previous year. There are rumors that GSC quickly proposed the sale after they learned AWG, another supplier, had been talking to Gerland’s. Kevin Doris would stay on, opening one final store in a former Pricebuster in North Houston. In 2015, GSC sold Gerland’s to the Lewis family, which is the owner of Food Town. The sale was shortly followed by the Levits, owners of GSC, selling their company to competitor C&S Wholesale Grocery. Under the ownership of the Lewis Family, the remaining Gerland’s Food Fair stores were converted to Food Town locations, ending the Gerland’s name in Houston after nearly 70 years.

Location List

13715 Puls Rd Houston, Tx1947-1957, First location, Gerland's Save-Way, Originlly part of High-Low
18330 Long Point Rd, Houston, TX 770551952-1984 Built for Gerland's, Joined Super Valu Co-Op, Subdivided
19494 Hammerly Blvd Houston, TX 770801984-1998 Originally a Weingartens, Sellers Bros as of 2023
26616 Long Point Rd, Houston, TX 770551947-1960 Gerland's Save-Way, Joined Super Valu, Still standing, Post Oak Club as of 2024
26616 Long Point Rd, Houston, TX 770551951-1959 Built by Super Valu and operated by Gerland's
22601 Cartwright Rd, Missouri City, TX 774591978-1983, Gerland's LLC, Later Quail Valley Minimax/Hoopers Minimax, then Foodarama
21420 FM 1960 W Houston, TX 770901984-1998 Gerland's Food Pantry Inc, Lewis Food Town
31220 Galveston Rd, South Houston, TX 775871955-1959 Previously Texas Supermarket, Later Vicker's Food Market
38908 Mesa Dr, Houston, TX 770281964-1984 Gerland's LLC, Originally 8908 East Houston Road, Unsure
43606 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 770051952 Super-Valu, Former Carter's, Store seems to have only lasted a few months, Site later Molina's, Now Cleburne Cafeteria
42555 Gessner Rd, Houston, TX 770801969-1983, Gerland's LLC, Originally Weingartens, King Dollar
5107 This Way, Lake Jackson, TX 775661952-?, Still open in 1960, Manager Bill Shaddock opened a competing store across the street
56452 Farm to Market 1960 W, Houston, TX 770691970-1983, Gerland's LLC, Party City?
61813 Center St, Deer Park, TX 775361975-1984, Gerland's LLC, Dollar General
74615 Mangum Rd, Houston, TX 770921957-1959 Gerland's Super Valu
78307 Spencer Hwy, Deer Park, TX 775361972-1983, Gerland's LLC, Unsure
82040 Richey St, Pasadena, TX 775021973-1976 Gerland's LLC, Lewis Food Town
91811 Gessner Rd, Houston, TX 770801973-1983, Gerland's LLC, Value Village
105152 Avenue H, Rosenberg, TX 774711975-1979, Gerland's LLC, Former Kroger/H&P, Now Dd's Discounts
111202 Uvalde Rd, Houston, TX 770151972-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Seller Bros?
124230 Highland Ave, Beaumont, TX 777051972-1980, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Vision Alive Church
146935 Bellfort Ave, Houston, TX 770871973-1980, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Demolished
1510505 Telephone Rd, Houston, TX 770751973-1980, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Reception Hall?
1613815 S Post Oak Rd, Houston, TX 770451976-1979, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Still standing
17850 Maxey Rd, Houston, TX 770131974-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Unsure
188011 Park Pl Blvd, Houston, TX 770871975-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Still standing
192255 N 11th St, Beaumont, TX 777031976-1985, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Market Basket?
212308 FM 517 E Dickinson, TX 775391974-1990 M&G Markets Inc, Later sold to manager renamed Ziegler's Foods
2216850 Stuebner Airline Rd Spring, TX 773791978-1983, Gerland's LLC
235130 Cedar St Bellaire, TX 774011974-1979, Demolished for HEB
252411 69th St, Galveston, TX 775511973-1998, C&G Markets Inc, Webster Markets Inc, Still Standing
26513 Market St, Galveston, TX 775501981-1998, C&G Markets Inc, Webster Markets Inc, Arlans
272414 45th St, Galveston, TX 775501973-1997, C&G Markets Inc, Webster Markets Inc, Burned down and demolished around 2017 Alt Address 4428 Ave S
28820 S Oak St, La Marque, TX 775681974-1974 C&G Markets Inc, No Clue
28902 N Brazosport Blvd, Freeport, TX 775411982-1990, M&G Markets Inc, Demolished 2014 for Stripes, Later Baywood Foods
29323 S Avenue D, Freeport, TX 775411982-1982, M&G Markets Inc,
312330 Farm to Market 1960 Rd W, Houston, TX 770681975-1982, C&G Markets Inc, Harbor Freight Tools, Open in 1971
3311661 Preston Rd #224, Dallas, TX 752301975-1978, C&G Markets Inc, Natural Grocers
348072 FM 1960, Humble, TX 773461979-1983, C&G Markets Inc, Tuesday Morning
353128 Forest Ln #222, Dallas, TX 752341975-1978, C&G Markets Inc
37900 Wynnewood Village Center, Dallas, TX 752241975-1978, C&G Markets Inc, Outparcel building?
391518 Northwest Hwy, Garland, TX 750411975-1979, C&G Markets Inc, Aarons/Subdivided
416158 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 770571976-1977, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Unsure
5010 Uvalde Rd, Houston, TX 770151985-1992, Gerland's LLC, Fallas Parades
511420 Farm to Market 1960 Rd W, Houston, TX 770901998-2001, Gerland's LLC, Became a Food Town shortly before closing, Not operated by Lewis
5212001 Beamer Rd, Houston, TX 770891985-1997, Gerlands LLC, The Gardens Venue
539634 Mesa Dr, Houston, TX 770781984-1985, Gerland's LLC, Kip Academy
546470 W Little York Rd Houston, TX 770401984-Present, Gerland's LLC, Originally a Weingarten's, Sold to Lewis Food Town
5521961 Katy Fwy Katy, TX 774501978-2001, Gerland's LLC, Fiesta
563322 Center St Deer Park, TX 775361984-Present, Gerland's LLC, Originally a Weingarten's, Sold to Lewis Food Town
574330 Hwy 6 N, Houston, TX 770841978-2001, Gerland's LLC, Fiesta Closed since Harvey
5818730 Tomball Pkwy Houston, TX 770701979-1990, Gerland's LLC, Later used by Compaq to manufacture laptops, Subdivided
5911133 Huffmeister Rd, Houston, TX 770651979-1994, Gerland's LLC, Subdivided (Moved to former Safeway/AppleTree at 13811 Cypress North Houston Rd, Cypress, TX 77429 and later became Food Town. After the move, the old location became a short-lived deep discount grocery concept from Gerland's named Simple Saver)
605 Uvalde Rd Houston, TX 770152001-Present, Originally Safeway, Later AppleTree and HEB Pantry, Sold to Lewis Food Town,
6112655 Bissonnet St, Houston, TX 770991985-1994, Gerland's LLC, Subdivided
627426 Airline Dr Houston, TX 770761985-Present, Gerland's LLC, Originally an Eagle, Sold to Lewis Food Town
63450 Sheldon Rd, Channelview, TX 775301987-1987, Gerland's LLC, Lewis Food Town
64302 N Main St, Highlands, TX 775621987-1987, Gerland's LLC, Lewis Food Town
6520025 Katy Fwy, Katy, TX 774501987-1998, Gerland's LLC, Subdivided
662230 Buckthorne Pl, Spring, TX 773801990-1992, Gerland's LLC, Unsure somewhere in Grogan's Mill
6715540 Farm to Market Rd 529, Houston, TX 770951987-2000, Gerland's LLC, Subdivided, Originally a Safeway that only operated for a few months
682040 Richey St, Pasadena, TX 775021990-1994, Gerland's LLC, (Renumber originally #8) Lewis Food Town
691455 Wilcrest Dr Houston, TX 77042Lewis Food Town
7017164 Blackhawk Blvd, Friendswood, TX 775461978-1981, A&G Markets Inc, Demolished
7013811 Cypress North Houston Rd, Cypress, TX 774291994-Present, Former Safeway/AppleTree, Replaced #59, Currently Food Town
711109 Eldridge Rd, Sugar Land, TX 774781993-1998, Gerland's LLC, Former AppleTree/Safeway, Church
7210902 Scarsdale Blvd Houston, TX 770891994-Present Originally Safeway/AppleTree sold to Lewis Food Town
739701 Spencer Hwy La Porte, TX 77571Lewis Food Town
747601 Westheimer Rd Houston, TX 770631994-1996, Former Weingarten, Safeway/AppleTree, Subdivided
759529 Southwest Fwy, Houston, TX 770741978-1981, A&G Markets Inc, Giant $
759371 Richmond Ave Houston, TX 770631996-1997, Gerland's LLC, Reused Numbering
76412 N Timberland Dr, Lufkin, TX 759011979-1980, A&G Markets Inc, Planet Fitness?
773211 FM 1960, Humble, TX 773381979-1987, Gerland's LLC, Subdivided
7813833 US-59 Sugar Land, TX 774781981-1997, Gerland's LLC, Gerland's Food Fair, Later Grand Market and Fiesta Marketplace
7813833 US-59 Sugar Land, TX 774781997-2011, Gerland's LLC, Gerland's Grand Market, Later Fiesta Marketplace
79130 W Parkwood Ave, Friendswood, TX 775461983-1993, Gerland's LLC,
8012182 Stuebner Airline Rd, Houston, TX 770691983-1993, Gerland's LLC, Lewis Food Town
8012182 Veterans Memorial Dr, Houston, TX 770671993-1994, Gerland's LLC, as Top's Food Stores, Lewis Food Town
911130 Eldridge Rd, Sugar Land, TX 774781998-Present, Former Food Lion, Lewis Food Town
9220851 FM 1485, New Caney, TX 773572002-2010, Gerland's LLC, Lewis Food Town, Former Albertsons
1113295 College St, Beaumont, TX 777011977-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Still standing
1124900 Twin City Hwy, Groves, TX 776191977-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Kmart subdivided?
1142410 Bay Area Blvd, Houston, TX 770581977-1980, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Petco
1151728 W Mt Houston Rd, Houston, TX 770381978-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Fiesta
1172270 MacArthur Dr, Orange, TX 776301978-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Planet Fitness?
11818830 Eastex Fwy Rd, Humble, TX 773381978-1980, Neighborhood Markets Inc, No Clue
1198350 Calder Ave, Beaumont, TX 777061979-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Fitness Connection
12012040 East Fwy, Houston, TX 770291979-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, No Clue
12115915 S Post Oak Rd, Houston, TX 770531979-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Foodarama
122665 E Lavaca St, Beaumont, TX 777051980-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, No Clue
1236620 Antoine Dr, Houston, TX 770911980-1981, Neighborhood Markets Inc, Sold to Rice, Was also Price Buster (Thanks Michael D.), American Freight Furniture