Why Does Texas Love the Grocery Store H-E-B So Much?

The story of H-E-B seems unoriginal, equally far as cult grocers go : A family launches a memory in a modest town a retentive meter ago ( in this case, the Butt class, in Kerrville, Texas, in 1905 ). That shop earns a loyal follow and expands throughout the area ( Texas ). It becomes known among its fans for its wildly dedicated employees ( many have worked there for 30-plus years ), ace customer service ( only at H-E-B will person hand you a newly baked tortilla to snack on while you shop ), and unique food products ( hatch chile cookies ! ). Adoring public odes are published about it across the Internet. Long lines form whenever a new location touches down .
This fib could be told of any beloved regional grocery store store — your Publixes, your Wegmans, your Harris Teeters — except that San Antonio-based H-E-B exists in a single U.S. state ( with 52 stores across the border in Mexico ) and is the 12th-largest secret company in the country, according to Forbes. What ’ s the dispute between H-E-B and everyone else ? certain, it ’ mho ranked among the circus tent places to work and is reasonably ahead-of-the-curve with its mobile check ( possibly that ’ s why employees at Amazon suggested that the technical school giant star acquire H-E-B before it settled on that other Texas grocer ) .
But, truly, H-E-B has barely tapped into one of the most mighty cultural forces in being : Texas pride. H-E-B ’ south corporate campus — where many of the buildings are made of Texas limestone, and the neoclassic design is quintessential Texas architecture — runs along the San Antonio River Walk, and is built on an old military compound called the San Antonio Arsenal. A Texas landmark, known for being a major provide storehouse during both universe wars, it now supplies Texas to Texans, from Whataburger Fancy Ketchup to Takis rolled tortilla chips to Franklin Barbecue sauce .
The H-E-B web site prominently declares that H-E-B has “ proudly served Texans since 1905, ” and that its stores are all about “ outfitting Texas families with all they need for Texas lifestyles. ” In 2016, Manny Fernandez succinctly described what that means in the New York Times : “ You don ’ triiodothyronine fair move to Texas. It moves into you … We tattoo Texas on our arms, buy Texas-built trucks and climb fire escapes with Texas dirt in our pockets. place, we are unsubtly suggesting, matters. ” Being from most states is just character of your bio ; being from Texas is a lifelong commitment.

I know this is true because I am from Texas. My parents moved the kin to Dallas from New Hampshire when I was around a year old. My dad shades his font from the Texas sun with a cowboy hat on his casual walks, and has farseeing identified as more Texan than indian ; as kids, my sister and I posed for photos off the highway amid the Texas bluebonnets every spring ; I know all the lyrics to the de facto state sung, “ Deep in the Heart of Texas ” ; and though I live in Brooklyn nowadays, I hush wear shorts emblazoned with the Texas flag to the gymnasium .

If you ’ rhenium not from Texas, the department of state might seem like one giant stereotype of cowboys, conservatism, and brashness. But Texan identity is more complex than that : There ’ sulfur rural Texas, Silicon Prairie Texas, barrelhouse Texas, hippie Texas, Latinx Texas, oil-soaked Texas, Vietnamese Texas, and yes, gun-slinging Texas — equitable to name a few. A grocery store memory can be a prism for identity, refracting and focusing it ; Whole Foods famously does this for an integral group of people held together by little more than social classify and a undefined smell of taste. What ’ randomness alone about H-E-B fandom is that its customers are ultimately firm to H-E-B in thus far as they are loyal to Texas. This is possibly one of the most distinguish factors between H-E-B and the early cult grocers : People love Publix substitute, crave Trader Joe ’ mho snacks, and idolize Wegmans ’ customer service, but H-E-B is a way of life .
Have you ever wanted a cast-iron frying pan in the shape of the Lone Star state ? Party tray ? Burger-shaper ? Cutting board ? Pecan coat ? cheese ? You can find them all in the aisles of H-E-B. Texas ’ s unique outline, with its correct angles and craggly edges, is probably one of the most recognizable in the nation. There are hundreds — literally hundreds — of Texas-shaped items at H-E-B. An employee at a San Antonio placement tried to convince me that the Texas-shaped tortilla chips are superscript because the singular silhouette, with its handle and curved ridges, was much made for scooping up salsa. A shopper from Schulenburg, who regularly drives 25 miles to visit her nearest H-E-B, told me that she fills her grandchild ’ second Christmas stockings entirely with Texas-shaped bangle items purchased at H-E-B stores .
It turns out that, after oil, Texas pride may be the state ’ south one most lucrative natural resource — in part because it can take so many different forms, each of which can be sold to a distinct audience. Against the backdrop of a broader conversation about the future of Texas and Texan identity, H-E-B is unabashedly embracing the longer, wide, more divers position of what it means to be a proud Texan, and reaping the fiscal rewards of doing sol ; H-E-B ’ s more than 340 stores span several concepts, each of which appeals to a specific Lone Star State residential district or sensibility .
Most notably, in 2006, H-E-B launched Mi Tienda, a grocery range that caters to the needs of the state ’ s huge Latinx population, with a masa factory and tortilla presses in each store, products like dulce de leche and Mexican wedding cookies, and a default Spanish-language web site. additionally, there ’ mho Central Market, H-E-B ’ s specialty-foods store, which was launched in 1994 to appeal to a more globalize audience by offering a thwart incision of the cuisines that comprise an increasingly multicultural Texas, and now competes with Whole Foods ; Joe V ’ s Smart Shop, a budget grocery store post ; and Oaks Crossing, a family-friendly restaurant in one San Antonio store serving chicken-fried carne asada and brisket nacho .
Four years ago, H-E-B ventured into the barbecue business — the category of food that Texans are the most particular about ( even if Tex-Mex is what more Texans actually eat ). “ What is the most Texan food we can put out there ? ” Kristin Irvin, who is in charge of development for H-E-B ’ s True Texas Barbecue, asked me. “ It ’ s barbecue. ” She added that her team tasted barbecue from more than 25 different iconic Texas spots — Black ’ mho, Franklin, and the like — to make certain that their interpretation would pass conscription. To Irvin and her team ’ randomness credit, the food I tried at a True Texas Barbecue inside a San Antonio H-E-B was pretty good — the sausage was appropriately alert and well-spiced, the char on the brisket was just right, and even the turkey tasted impressively juicy. There are immediately 10 True Texas Barbecue locations spread across the state .

True Texas Barbecue was followed by another True Texas clientele, True Texas Tacos, which opened earlier this year in San Antonio. The restaurant, which focuses on breakfast greaser, is housed in another by-product concept, the H-E-B Convenience Store, because eating natural gas station breakfast taco is, to some, a Texas rite of enactment. At True Texas Tacos, the tortillas are flour ( anything else would be blasphemous ) and impertinently made on site. The fillings come in barbacoa ( grizzle cow ’ s head ), picadillo ( reason gripe ), and my personal front-runner, a crisp slab of bacon with refried beans and tall mallow .
You can besides grab a Big Red, the house of cards gum-flavored pop that was invented in Waco and is taken as a matter of fact to be the ideal counterpart to a smoky barbacoa taco. When an H-E-B employee found out that I had never even hear of Big Red, despite growing up less than 100 miles away from its birthplace, they immediately filled a big cup with the frighteningly red sodium carbonate, and made me try it with the barbacoa greaser — the jazz band was at first cloying, then pleasantly salty. ( I credibly could have done without the Big Red. ) still, I couldn ’ metric ton believe that I had missed out on this allegedly quintessential Texas experience. It made me wonder : If H-E-B doesn ’ metric ton do it, is it very Texan ?
In Dallas, where I ’ molarity from, there ’ s no vanilla H-E-B location, a source of extreme annoyance among locals. But my family has long been devoted to Central Market, where we could buy whole spices, ghee, masoor dekaliter ( red lentils ), and wheaten tortillas, which are ( calm ) the closest approximation my ma has found to roti in any mainstream grocery storehouse. central Market besides introduced my syndicate to English double cream, arborio rice, and miso, broadening our palates with tastes from other cuisines. There are however ample communities that H-E-B could do a better caper of showcasing — the state ’ sulfur robust immigrant populations from China and Vietnam come to mind — but it ’ south hard to think of another stigmatize that ’ second as expansive in its sight of who and what gets to be Texan, or that comes arsenic close to its aspirations to represent all of Texas. Whatever the future of Texas looks like, there ’ s a good find it ’ ll show up in H-E-B .
We may live in the United States of California and Texas, but H-E-B has no plans to expand beyond Texas, at least in the U.S. Julie Bedingfield, an H-E-B populace affairs director, says that the company gets requests to open stores outside of Texas, chiefly from Texas natives living elsewhere, “ every single day. ” You ’ five hundred think that, in the same room that Popeyes has exported its Louisiana fried chicken across the nation, H-E-B would want to sell its brand of Texas to people outside of the country. But H-E-B equitable wants to dig into its native dirt even harder : shortly after Amazon acquired Austin-based Whole Foods, H-E-B announced the creation of a technical school and initiation lab in Austin, which will house its latest skill, a Texas-based pitch app called Favor.

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The strategy seems to be working. “ I don ’ t actually like Whole Foods after they got bought by Amazon, ” an H-E-B customer in San Antonio told me. “ I don ’ metric ton like seeing the Amazon farce everywhere. ” With H-E-B, on the early hand, “ I feel like they do things to support the community, ” she added. “ many people I know, their kids work there … I think H-E-B has earned the monopoly. ”
The dedicate barbecue sauce aisles and the chicken-fried steak may sometimes seem a spot like Texas caricature — but whether or not every H-E-B customer connects with every Texas-adjacent item international relations and security network ’ t the point. It ’ south all barely a way for H-E-B to communicate its message, brassy and clear : We get it. You love Texas, and so do we .
I ’ ve noticed, living in New York, that people tend to write off Texas as a Wild West of conservatism and unruliness. similarly, when my parents moved to Dallas from Nashua, New Hampshire in the ’ 90s, everyone told them they would face acute racism. alternatively, we ’ ve all found the face-to-face to be truthful, at least where we ’ ve lived — Texans, on the whole, are loose, honest, dedicated, and friendly. possibly that ’ s why H-E-B resonates so strongly in Texas. The stores represent Texans as they see themselves. There is no try to construct a monolithic image of Texas — or even to help people outside of Texas understand Texas. H-E-B is the clandestine that only Texans are in on. It ’ s a retailer whose ethos is very clear : This is Texas — where the food is better, the people are more loyal, and the form of our state is actually quite noteworthy. Y ’ all got any questions ?
Priya Krishna is a food writer who contributes regularly to the New York Times, Bon Appétit, and other publications. Her cookbook, Indian-ish, is out April 2019.
Laura Kraay is a freelancer illustrator live in Austin, Texas.
Fact checked by Emma Grillo
Copy edited by Rachel P. Kreiter

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