Trader Joe’s finally meets Whole Foods: The biggest grocery store openings of the past decade
It’s amazing how much a city can change in a decade.
Ten years ago, Austinites were only dreaming 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.
Entering a new decade, let’s look back at the most significant grocery store openings of the past 10 years. I haven’t ranked this list because “the most important grocery store opening” depends greatly on where you live and what kind of food buy. These were all notable when considering Austin’s evolution as a whole. Did I miss one? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trader Joe’s comes to Austin. Finally. 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. By that time, the newness of the concept had worn off and opening day was considerably slower than that initial debut.
Whole Foods’ rapid expansion. Whole Foods opened two stores in 2012, first in May in Bee Cave at the Galleria and then in June 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. (Whole Foods had planned for the Domain store to replace the Gateway location, but it ultimately decided to keep both stores open, even though they are less than 3 miles apart.) For historical context, the Gateway location opened in 1995, just a few weeks after Whole Foods moved from 10th Street and North Lamar Boulevard into what is now the REI store at Sixth Street and North Lamar Boulevard. The flagship Whole Foods downtown opened in its current space in 2005, and Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.7 billion.
H-E-B opens in the Mueller development. 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. Just a year before, 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).
365 by Whole Foods makes a splash in Cedar Park. In 2015, Whole Foods announced a new concept, 365 by Whole Foods, “a smaller-store concept where value meets quality.” It took two years for a Central Texas location to open in Cedar Park in April 2017, and by early 2019, the company announced it was discontinuing this secondary brand. No word on when the Cedar Park store will officially convert to a regular Whole Foods store, but many shoppers might not distinguish them at this point.
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 huge 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 stays small but mighty. At the beginning of the decade, shoppers looking for organics had a number 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. The company currently has five Austin-area stores.
Texas Farmers Market becomes a local food powerhouse. In March 2010, a Saturday farmers market opened in the parking lot of the Lakeline Mall that quickly became one of the biggest markets in the Austin area. The market eventually became known as the Texas Farmers Market, and in 2012, it added a Sunday market at Mueller that remains one of the busiest farmers markets in the area. Also in 2012, the pioneering Sunset Valley Farmers Market moved to Barton Creek Mall and became the Barton Creek Farmers Market, where it continues to operate every Saturday morning. The Sustainable Food Center started its own Saturday market at Toney Burger Center that same year.