Austin's beloved Royal Blue Grocery has expanded into a new market: A Dallas outpost opened softly on October 30 in Highland Park Village.
Co-owner Craig Staley says that the store saw plenty of customers, which they didn't anticipate with the weather and it being Halloween. "The traffic we saw, even with it being such a rainy weekend, was phenomenal," he says. "We were blown away. But a lot of people in Dallas have been to our stores in Austin, and know us and the brand."
Staley and his partner George Scariano founded Royal Blue in 2005 as a compact urban market, to fill the "bodega" need for in-town shoppers. It occupies a unique niche, combining elements of gourmet shop, convenience store, regular grocery, and cafe. There are five locations in Austin, but the Dallas store represents a slight departure, Staley says.
"We made some changes to the store, mostly expanding categories," he says. "The cafe space is much bigger, with 70 seats inside and out. And the wine department is four times the size of anything in Austin."
At 6,500 square feet including seating areas, the Dallas store is also larger than most of the Austin stores, which Staley says typically run 2,500 square feet.
Royal Blue won the prized slot over other well-known operators including Dean & DeLuca.
"When Tom Thumb went away, the folks who own and manage Highland Park Village looked at our stores and were very interested in what we do," Staley says. "At the time, they were talking to Dean & DeLuca, who were also interested. But one thing we do that they don't are the basics: Windex, dish soap, and they weren't interested in adding that. They chose us because we were going to be able to do your regular grocery items and serve as a comprehensive convenience store, which is the way Tom Thumb was being used."
Features include a butcher counter with meat from Niman Ranch and deli meat from Boars Head; coffee beans from Stumptown of Portland, Oregon; a bike rack in front (Staley is a big bicycling advocate); and a cafe menu that Staley calls "grab-and-go driven."
"We do a lot of things that are already prepared, so we're faster than a sandwich shop," he says.
The menu includes salads, breakfast tacos, cold sandwiches like the muffuletta sandwich, hot sandwiches that are heated on a panini press, and pizza by the slice. Royal Blue is also stocking Dallas items such as breads by Empire Baking and pastries from Bisous Bisous.
The store occupies the end cap, with a presence both to the rest of the center as well as Preston Road. Staley is gratified that Royal Blue is in the former Skillern's Drug Store space, which was there in the 1930s. "We're occupying the entire footprint that was once the drug store," he says.