Texans love H-E-B.
When Hurricane Harvey swept through the state last year and the San Antonio-based grocer jumped into action to provide water and meals to evacuees, people posted countless tweets and Facebook posts celebrating the store for its dedication to the state.
Behind the scenes, H-E-B supports more than hurricane victims. The company gives away hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to schools, charities and hometown projects from McAllen to Waco, and in many small Texas towns, it serves as the only grocery store around.
This year, H-E-B is celebrating 80 years of selling food in the Texas capital. With two dozen stores in the area, H-E-B has about 60 percent of the grocery market in Austin, a rarity in U.S. cities, where Walmart usually dominates sales. To mark the anniversary of H-E-B entering the Austin area, we've gathered dozens of facts, historical photos and did-ya-knows about one of Texas' iconic brands.
• The first store was in Kerrville, where Florence Butt opened the store in 1905 so she could make enough money to raise her three boys while her husband was ill. He died in 1915.
• In 1938, H-E-B Foods purchased four Piggly Wiggly stores in Austin, prompting jests that the merged firm would be called “Wiggly Butt.”
• In 1938, a loaf of bread went for 9 cents, and hamburger sold for 13 cents a pound.
• H-E-B did not change the names of the Piggly Wiggly stores until the mid-1940s, at which time there were six H-E-B stores in Austin and two new H-E-B supermarkets, which had larger inventory and included a butcher shop and a bakery.
• H-E-B Store No. 1, located at 117 W. Sixth St., closed in 1950. Four years later, the handsome, modernist Starr Building — still there — rose in its place.
• The TarryTown Shopping Center, which opened in 1939 at Windsor Road and Exposition Boulevard, later became the second site for one of the shiny, streamlined H-E-B supermarkets, which were larger than the "stores." The first supermarket was on South Congress Avenue.
• South Congress Avenue has always attracted H-E-B stores; the current store at Oltorf Street and South Congress Avenue opened in 1957 and was the third H-E-B on that street.
• The old H-E-B on the southeast corner of Red River and East Sixth streets was positioned in the 1940s and '50s to serve the most integrated commercial intersection in Austin; nearby were Lebanese, Chinese, Latino, African-American and Anglo businesses.
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• Early on, H-E-B was firmly established in East Austin at East First and Waller streets; later, big stores would come to East Seventh Street and, south of the river, to East Riverside Drive.
• Back when he was a store manager in the 1980s, Jeff Thomas, who now oversees H-E-B in Central Texas, once dropped 1,000 pingpong balls with prize numbers on them from a helicopter at the old Westgate store; the balls scattered everywhere, causing chaos.
• In 1986, H-E-B devised a special orange-and-white cake to honor the victorious University of Texas Longhorns football team; at an 80th anniversary event in August to celebrate the store's milestone in Austin, Howard Butt III joked, “Maybe we need to bring that cake back.”
• Today, H-E-B is the biggest retailer in Texas and No. 20 in the nation, according to the National Retail Foundation. The company is also the largest privately held employer in Texas.
• H-E-B operates 24 stores in the Austin area and more than 50 in the wider Central Texas region.
• H-E-B employs more than 14,000 partners in the Austin area. The Central Texas store with the most employees is the Kyle H-E-B Plus, which employs 600 people.
• In 2005, H-E-B opened the first of its Plus stores, stocked with many more nonfood goods, such as electronics. One of those was Round Rock No. 4.
• At about 130,000 square feet each, there are now 38 Plus stores around Texas.
• H-E-B opened its first store in Mexico in 1997. It now has 51 stores south of the border.
• Although it is 2 miles from the UT Tower, the H-E-B at the renovated Hancock Center can at certain hours seem like a bustling colony of campus life.
• Construction on the newest Austin-area store is underway at the intersection of Slaughter Lane and Interstate 35. That store is scheduled to open in winter 2019.
• In 2016, the company bought more than 17 acres of land in Del Valle near the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, but it hasn't announced when a store might open there.
• In coming years, H-E-B will close the current South Congress location, which opened in 1957, to move across the street to where the Twin Oaks Center is now. Although all eyes are on this future store, the company says it doesn’t have a timeline for when it might break ground.
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• Central Market, founded in 1994 at the North Lamar Boulevard location that still exists today, now has 10 stores in Texas, from San Antonio and Houston to Plano, Southlake, Dallas and Fort Worth.
• The late Gov. Ann Richards officiated at the opening of the first Central Market store.
• You’ll find both store brands in both stores, but Central Market is a higher-end grocery store and has many products you can’t find at a regular H-E-B.
• The original Central Market was inspired by extensive research into vintage markets in Europe and the Americas, and the stores now host a Passport series to bring in specialty ingredients from around the world.
• H-E-B doesn’t have any locations in Dallas or Fort Worth, but some have opened in the far suburbs, and the company has been buying up land there with increasing frequency in the past few years.
• Earlier this year, H-E-B purchased Favor, the Austin-based delivery service operated by Jag Bath, who continues to work for the company as its chief digital officer.
• In 2019, the company will open an 81,000-square-foot digital headquarters in East Austin, where the Favor team will also work.
• As delivery has become more mainstream in the past few years, H-E-B has developed both delivery and curbside grocery pickup programs.
• Curbside customers order groceries online and schedule a time to pick them up at one of 17 Austin-area stores that offer the service for a $5 fee.
• Curbside operations at the Elgin H-E-B began last month. About 400 Austin-area employees are now dedicated to shopping for curbside services at H-E-B.
• Austin isn’t the only city with curbside pickup. The program is now statewide and available at 150 H-E-B stores.
• In Kerrville, where curbside pickup only recently began, Florence Butt offered delivery services in a red wagon and then a Model T when she first opened the H-E-B there.
• The company has a replica of that vehicle at its San Antonio headquarters, which is called the Arsenal because it is located in former military barracks that date back to the mid-1800s.
• Located just a few blocks from the Alamo, the offices house several hundred employees.
• Although the company headquarters are not open to the public, H-E-B’s smallest store is a 12,500-square-foot store next to the historic Arsenal property and is open to the public.
• H-E-B has a supersize, 11-foot-tall grocery cart on wheels, hand-built by partner Carroll Wesch in San Antonio in 2011.
• The cart, powered by a custom engine, now travels to about 60 events, parades and store openings a year. It’s large enough to carry half a dozen people and must be driven by one of H-E-B’s fleet drivers.
• Wesch, who has worked for H-E-B for 42 years, estimates that it weighs about 4,400 pounds and has 4,500 welds.
• In the past five years, with the financial help from the H-E-B Tournament of Champions golf fundraiser, H-E-B has given away 25 mortgage-free, fully furnished homes to severely wounded veterans across Texas, including in Elgin and Lakeway.
• Austin’s Mueller store, which opened in 2013 and uses half the power and water of a typical grocery store, is certified LEED Gold and has a 4-Star Austin Energy Green Building Rating of Distinction. It’s the kind of store that architects visit and put on their top 10 lists and where the company tests other green initiatives.
• Forbes reports that H-E-B CEO Charles Butt, who has owned at least one Austin residence, and his family are worth $10.7 billion; the company donates 5 percent of pre-tax profits to charity.
• H-E-B receives thousands of requests for charity donations a year; they also respond rapidly and effectively to hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and floods. During Hurricane Harvey last year, they distributed more than 43 truckloads of water and 15 truckloads of ice.
• The company has three mobile kitchens to aid in disaster relief. Two are 57 feet long and can serve more than 6,000 meals per hour; a smaller third mobile kitchen was added after Hurricane Harvey. When shelters opened in Austin during the hurricane, H-E-B disaster teams moved their services here to provide meals.
• The name “H-E-B” can be found on sports arenas and other public spaces; the H-E-B at 80 celebration was on the H-E-B Terrace of the Long Center.
• For its 80th anniversary in Austin, H-E-B gave $10,000 each to the Seton Healthcare Family, Central Texas Food Bank, Zach Theatre, AGE of Central Texas, Creative Action, Austin Classical Guitar, Austin Sustainable Food Center and the Trail Foundation.
• H-E-B is an active backer of the Trail of Lights, Zilker Kite Festival and Austin Fourth of July Fireworks. For more than 20 years, the company has hosted free Thanksgiving dinners through its Feast of Sharing events in cities across Texas, including Austin.
• H-E-Buddy is the name of the company's kid-friendly mascot, an anthropomorphic grocery bag that promotes healthy eating. Many stores have a spinning wheel game that kids can play by using "Buddy Bucks" to win prizes.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify when Florence Butt opened the original store and when her husband died.