Central Market, Whole Foods open trial stores today
08:27 AM CST on Wednesday, December 6, 2006
By MARIA HALKIAS / The Dallas Morning News
Two of the most closely watched U.S. specialty food chains – both with roots deep in the heart of Texas – are putting their faith in Dallas-area residents to help them define their next steps in food retailing.
Competitors known for their innovations, Whole Foods Market Inc. and H.E. Butt Grocery Co.'s Central Market swear it's just a coincidence that they're each opening their chain's next-generation stores in D-FW today. In Southlake, shoppers will help Central Market decide if it's landed on the right suburban concept to make the leap outside of Texas.
In Dallas, the new Whole Foods at Preston Road and Forest Lane will help the Austin-based chain decide if it's going to become a major spa operator.
"This is our only spa, and no other spa has someone doing your grocery shopping for you while you're getting a spa treatment," said Nona Evans, Whole Foods' marketing director.
Central Market has heard visitors asking for a store in major cities on the East and West coasts and in Chicago, said Stephen Butt, head of San Antonio-based H-E-B's Central Market division, which is headquartered in Dallas.
"We find that very encouraging because there are a limited number of Central Market stores that we can build in Texas cities," Mr. Butt said.
"And the Plano, and now the Southlake, shoppers will help us grow beyond the urban parts of larger cities."
One way it's testing that is with a Central Market Café that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with outdoor seating for 200, a stage for entertainment and a playground with a castle and a friendly dragon.
That doesn't mean the Dallas area is a mature market for either chain.
Mr. Butt said that it's still a growth region for Central Market and that he envisions a fifth and maybe a sixth store in the area.
Whole Foods has an 80,000-square-foot store – which would be its largest – planned for 2008 at Park Lane and Central Expressway. A 50,000-square-foot store is also planned for the Dallas area, but no location or date has been specified.