The new Buffalo Heights H-E-B, which opened on October 9, marks a series of firsts for the grocery company that first got its start outside San Antonio more than 100 years ago.
It will be the first of the Texas chain's stores to be in a mixed-use development that includes residential and office space — the new spot is adjacent to an apartment complex and an office suite. It's made a commitment to environmental sustainability, installing technology that allows it to reduce its waste from refrigeration and help save the planet.
When it debuted to media on October 8, the 96,000-square-foot store was an oasis of everything H-E-B loves to embody: Texas products, friendly team members who were happy to show off the new space, and a host of amenities made with the members of the Washington Avenue corridor in mind.
A part of the community
Store general manager Donna Theriot has been with H-E-B for 13 years, and this is her second store opening.
"I'm so excited to be here and looking forward to being part of the neighborhood," she tells CultureMap. "This community is such a huge part of Houston, and the way it's grown has been amazing. The arts district is over here, we're looking forward to working with parks and recreation on projects. This is really one of the best places in Houston and it's incredible to be here."
Incorporating community into the store was vital to the planning process. Like its Bellaire and Heights counterparts, Buffalo Heights has the work of local artists throughout the space, anchored by "Sluice." and installation by Flying Carpet Creative.
The wall sculpture is inspired by the fresh produce found in abundance at H-E-B and takes its name from an interesting hybrid citrus variety. A ﬂock of juicy disks ﬂies through the foyer, gushing from the origin on the wall. The artwork is made with upcycled and repurposed materials.
And the foyer's hanging color drops are disks of once-molten plastic, discarded from a Houston industrial casting facility, and now have a second life in this art application. The sculpture’s bright skin and pulp is constructed from wood that was saved from going to the landfill and painted by H-E-B Partners (the term the company uses for its employees) earlier this year.
A "hipster store" for the new Houston
As H-E-B continues its march inside the Loop, the company's president, Scott McClelland, tells CultureMap the move has forced it to think differently about its spaces.
"You're seeing us go vertical," he says, moving away from the idea of a large store with a large parking lot. "This is the first store we've had with both retail and residential space attached to it. We wondered, when we began building inner loop stores how people would respond to our ingress and egress issues, and we worked to make our parking garage lighting inviting, and give thought to the sizes of parking spaces. The result has been tremendous."
McClelland is excited to see how Buffalo Heights' personality reflects that of its neighborhood.
"This is the hipster store," he quips. "We have a lot of younger people living in the neighborhood, younger families who haven't started to have children yet. What are their needs? And how can we meet those? I think they'll see immediately that we've worked to cater to their lifestyle."
Salad bar sensation, simple meals, and more
Among those amenities designed with busy young professionals in mind is a massive salad bar, boasting something in the area of 60 items. It will be open for breakfast from 6 am to 8 am, and become a hub for lunch and DIY dinners after that.
Adjacent to the space is a huge section of H-E-B's popular Meal Simple offerings, allowing shoppers to pick up a kit to cook themselves or a series of proteins and pastas and veggies to design their own easy-to-make lunch or dinner. And McClelland promised something else that should resonate with the urban professionals who should make the new store their shopping destination.
"We've got a serious coffee bar," he says. "And craft beer and wine were incredibly important to us as we put this concept together. I really think the community will see its needs and wants reflected here."
He also said he loves the idea of having his office on the third floor of the development's office space.
As if all that weren't enough, H-E-B made a commitment to sustainability in the new store. The Buffalo Heights location received a gold-level award from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) GreenChill Partnership for green refrigeration technology. As part of the GreenChill Partnership, H-E-B continues its path to adopt more environmentally friendly refrigeration technologies, strategies and practices that will reduce refrigerant emissions and their impact on the environment.
And earlier this year, store partners joined forces with local residents to help clean up debris along Buffalo Bayou. And at the store's media opening event, H-E-B presented a check for $10,000 to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, in praise of their efforts to continue turning the lazy brown waterway that gives Houston life into a showplace for walking, biking, paddling, and other recreation.
A neighborhood gathering spot
The new H-E-B should bring to Washington Avenue the kind of experience-based shopping so popular among Millennials and young professionals. Between the healthy offerings in the salad bar, the curated selections of Texas-made products, the focus on well-selected beers and wines, and the ease of Meals Simple, the store is likely to hit a lot of sweet spots.
Beyond that, there's an inviting patio that's the perfect place for lunching or sipping wine, and the store is an easy walk to area apartments. But for all that, it's still a large H-E-B, with virtually everything shoppers could ask for. In a city that's getting ever more living density, having a store like this in a place like Buffalo Heights is sure to be another win for the community.