It’s amazing how much a city can change in a decade.
Ten years ago, Austinites only could dream of shopping at Trader Joe’s and H Mart, and if you wanted to shop at Whole Foods, you had to go downtown or what was then considered pretty far North Austin. East Austin had a couple of H-E-Bs, but they weren’t large enough to handle the quickly growing population east of I-35.
Here are the most notable grocery store happenings of the past decade.
H-E-B opens in the Mueller development, far South Austin. In July 2013, H-E-B unveiled the new location at Mueller, which was and remains one of the company’s most environmentally friendly stores in the state. It was one of the first H-E-Bs in Central Texas to feature an in-store restaurant, complete with draft beer, and this summer, they are adding the chain’s first food court inside this location. In 2012, H-E-B opened a 102,000-square-foot store at the intersection of East Riverside Drive and Pleasant Valley Road that was another significant investment in East Austin. H-E-B also opened stores in Dripping Springs (2010), Wimberley (2015), Lakeway (2015) and Hutto (2016). H-E-B has continued this expansion in 2020 with a 130,000-square-foot store at Slaughter Lane and Interstate 35 that opened in June with a True Texas BBQ restaurant, a bar with beer and wine selections, and outdoor seating. The company is also taking over the property at Lake Austin and Exposition boulevards that once housed a Randalls, where it is building a 110,000-square-foot store that will have a multi-level design and underground parking. The company revamped much-loved stores on East Seventh Street and in Allandale, and although it announced the pending demolition of its oldest standing store on South Congress Avenue, those plans have been delayed because of the coronavirus.
Trader Joe’s comes to Austin; Wheatsville expands. After opening several stores in Texas, Trader Joe’s opened its first store in Austin in September 2013, on the same day that Wheatsville Food Co-op opened its second store on South Lamar Boulevard. Although many longtime Austinites had been looking forward to a south location of Wheatsville, the much-anticipated Trader Joe’s location in Rollingwood was packed, with the checkout line wrapping around the store. A second Trader Joe’s opened in the Arboretum in 2014, followed by a downtown store in 2016 at the Seaholm development.
Whole Foods’ rapid expansion. Whole Foods opened two stores in 2012, first in Bee Cave at the Galleria and then in Southwest Austin near South MoPac and William Cannon. The Domain location didn’t open until 2014, but this quick succession of openings was a boon to shoppers who previously had to go to the downtown or Gateway stores. For historical context, the Gateway location opened in 1995, just a few weeks after Whole Foods moved from its original store at 10th Street and North Lamar Boulevard into what is now the REI store a few blocks down. The flagship Whole Foods downtown that we know now opened in 2005. (Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.7 billion, you’ll remember.) The newest Whole Foods, its first location east of I-35 and the seventh store in Austin, opened in the Plaza Saltillo complex earlier this year.
Aldi breaks into the Austin market. In many parts of the country, Aldi is as common a sight as Walmart, but not in the Austin area, where the German-based grocer has only one store, which opened in Pflugerville in October 2017. This bare-bones brand that shares a parent company with Trader Joe’s is known for small stores and notably lower prices. Customers have to use a quarter to use a grocery cart and sack their own groceries, and the store has been a hit with shoppers in Williamson County.
H Mart debuts with North Austin store, food hall. The New Jersey-based Asian supermarket chain has more than 60 stores across the U.S., as well as several in Canada and the U.K., but Austin didn’t get one of these slick, sophisticated gems until February 2018. The 68,000-square-foot store drew thousands of customers on opening day, and the store continues to buzz with families from across Central Texas who come for a vast selection of international foods, high-quality produce and fresh meats and seafood. A smaller and only slightly less buzzy Asian chain, 99 Ranch Market, opened on Airport Boulevard just a few weeks later in 2018.
Sprouts and Natural Grocers stay small but mighty. At the beginning of the decade, shoppers looking for organics had a couple of out-of-state brands to choose from, including Henry’s and Newflower Farmers Market. By 2012, the Arizona-based Sprouts had either acquired or renamed a handful of Austin natural food stores, and now you’ll find five of these stores in the Austin area. Natural Grocers is another popular option for shoppers seeking organic produce and meat, and after opening its first Austin location in 2009, this Colorado-cased chain has four Central Texas stores.