By DAVID KAPLAN | HOUSTON CHRONICLE
When grocers come to the Montrose area, they bring their A game.
The new Whole Foods on Waugh Drive, for example, features the chain’s first Houston location to have a beer and wine bar and its first electric car charging stations in town.
Kroger stores on Montrose Boulevard and West Gray, meanwhile, recently completed major remodels, as did the Shepherd-Westheimer Randalls a few years ago.
It will be the first H-E-B to have both an outdoor market area and a patio for movies and live music. Inside the store, customers can buy wine and beer by the glass and take their drinks to the patio.
Along with offering many H-E-B “firsts,” the San Antonio-based grocer strived to engage the neighborhood with its input on architecture, landscaping, noise, traffic flow and lighting, McClelland said.
“The store sits in the heart of the arts community, and the expectations are high,” he said.
Montrose provides the “perfect storm” to spur high levels of execution among grocers, said David Livingston, a grocery analyst at Waukesha, Wis.-based DJL Research. Houston is one of the most competitive grocery cities in the U.S., he said, and Montrose is a diverse, affluent, educated, culturally sophisticated area with shoppers eager for the latest trends.
Designed by Lake/Flato Architects, the H-E-B store’s exterior is wrapped in Italian wood veneer. The 75,000-square-foot H-E-B Montrose Market at 1701 W. Alabama is “an inspired design,” said David Robinson, an architect and the president of the Neartown/Montrose Super Neighborhood, a collection of civic associations.
“The Menil Collection is the jewel in our neighborhood,” and H-E-B paid tribute to the museum in its design, Robinson said, and the grocer was also sensitive to the concerns of neighbors.
Lake/Flato took cues from the Menil in the way the museum creates a quiet presence in the neighborhood and makes use of trees, open space, porches and daylight inside, said David Lake, principal at San Antonio-based Lake/Flato Architects.
“H-E-B was driven by the desire to save as many trees as possible and to fit in to the community,” said Lake, who noted with a laugh: “I’ve never had a client ask the neighborhood to vote on which design concept to use.”
Montrose residents voted on one of three of his firm’s designs for the store roof and front-door area.
Along with the patio and stage for live music and movies on weekends, the store will have an outdoor space along Dunlavy to be used for arts and crafts exhibits and farmers markets, McClelland said.
H-E-B’s first food truck, called Fork in the Road, will be in the parking lot Fridays through Sundays, serving gourmet items such as andouille sausage po’ boys. The truck will also appear at events around town.
Other Montrose grocery stores have unique amenities. The Waugh Whole Foods has the chain’s first barbecue bar in Houston, with up to 12 in-house smoked meats daily, company spokeswoman Mary Langdon said.
The remodeled 33-year-old Kroger at 3300 Montrose, nicknamed “Disco Kroger,” has added more organic meats, wines, specialty cheeses and more, said Bill Breetz, president of Kroger’s southwest division. The remodeled West Gray Kroger also added a cheese/specialty food store-within-a-store, Murray’s Cheese, he said.
“Kroger has deep roots in the Montrose community,” Breetz said.
Across the street from H-E-B Montrose Market is the 28,000-square-foot Fiesta Mart, and David Crossley, president of the quality of life group Houston Tomorrow, explained his fondness for the store: “It’s the music,” he said, referring to the piped-in classic rock. “It’s the only place where I see people dancing in the aisles.”
“Fiesta is a neighborhood store,” he said, “and they’ll get you whatever you ask for.”
The Randalls at Shepherd and Westheimer got a remodel in 2007, adding a sushi bar, brick hearth oven, nut bar and more “to better serve the ever-changing lifestyles of our customers,” spokeswoman Connie Yates said.
And the Montrose area may yet get another grocery store: Trader Joe’s is interested in the former Bookstop location at Alabama and Shepherd, spokeswoman Alison Mochiziki told the Chronicle in September.