"There's a science to making corn tortillas," Juan Alonso says, walking into the massive tortillería at H-E-B's new Mi Tienda market at Highway 59 and Little York.
"We make them with only water, lime, and corn — no preservatives, no lard, nothing else. So, the quality of the tortillas is all in the freshness of our ingredients."
An H-E-B regional vice president and key creator of the company's Latino grocery store, Alonso notes that it comes as no great surprise that fresh corn tortillas are the biggest seller at the original Mi Tienda, which opened in South Houston during the fall of 2006.
"The secret is that our customers can watch the tortillas being made right in front of them," he says, pointing out the tortillería crew cooking, grinding and mixing the corn that enters the kitchen from an outdoor corn silo H-E-B installed at the new location in order to keep up with the never-ending demand for this staple of Mexican cuisine.
"We expect this to be a destination store for our customers," Mi Tienda unit director Sam Archiniega says.
At 97,000 square feet, Mi Tienda No. 2 is a bold step forward for H-E-B and its foray into the Latino food market. At a preview event Tuesday, H-E-B invited nearly 100 leaders and associates from the local community to help dedicate the new store.
The luncheon event included several songs from a mariachi band from nearby Patrick Henry Middle School (the school received a $4,000 check from H-E-B executives). A local priest blessed the store, keeping in step with neighborhood traditions.
Almost twice as large as its predecessor, the Little York location features an extensive in-store cocina and dining area that serves full hot plates starting at $5. The panadería offers a wall of homemade pan dulce, as well as cases of tres leches and flan. An aquas frescas bar makes and serves favorites like horchata and mangonada.
The full-service carnicería presents an array of specially-marinated cuts of chicken, beef and pork, as well as a refrigerated area for pre-cut meats that stretches the length of a football field across the back of the store, which formerly housed a large flea market until Mi Tienda took over the space in June.
"We expect this to be a destination store for our customers, rather than a place for a quick shop," Sam Arciniega, unit director for the new Mi Tienda, says. "Families can come here, grab a bite at the cocina and wander the aisles for an hour or so."