Most of the buzz around Austin eating may come from the top-notch restaurants and bars, but a list from Food & Wine proves that good eating starts at home. On August 22, the culinary bible took on the task of ranking the top 10 supermarkets in the nation and two Austin favorites made it into the cart.
Coming in at No. 6, Austin-based Whole Foods Market was cited for being an innovator. Since being founded in 1980 with a staff of 19 people, Whole Foods set the standard for the American grocery stores long before being acquired by Amazon in 2017.
While noting that many of the features that initially made the store special (“better lighting, better design, more ambitious prepared foods, juice and coffee bars, full-service restaurants”) have since become commonplace, Whole Foods still has an ace in the hole with its 365 stores, which offers lower cost organic products and a greater concentration of the company's affordable house brand.
Although Austin can crow about having the flagship Whole Foods, there is still not a 365 inside the city limits. When introducing the concept to Central Texas, the company skipped over the city proper for Cedar Park. Austinites won’t have to wait long, however; the city's first 365 location is expected to debut in the 10-acre Plaza Saltillo development in East Austin by the end of 2019.
While Whole Foods is internationally known with over 450 stores, the No. 2 supermarket on the list made its mark with only nine locations. Central Market was cited for “almost Europe-worthy retail design, an overwhelming amount of fresh produce, and exceedingly good prepared foods.”
The fancy offshoot of San Antonio-based giant H-E-B debuted in Austin in 1994 and has since only had modest growth in the San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston areas. The small footprint gave the Food & Wine editors a little grocery envy. “This is the store that Texas should have exported,” they said.
In addition to the products on the shelves, the magazine praised Central Market for being a destination with “cooking schools, in-store entertainment, proper coffee bars (and an in-house roaster), plus excellent lunches and dinners served on premises.”
All in all, Austin came across as a grocery utopia on the Food & Wine list. Two other retailers on the list have Austin-area locations: German discounter Aldi (No. 7) and Southern California import Trader Joe’s (No. 4).