GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Fresh Market is entering Texas for the first time by taking over four locations of pioneering specialty grocer Rice Epicurean Markets.
The companies last week said they agreed to a deal in which The Fresh Market would assume the leases of four of Rice’s stores in greater Houston and renovate the stores before reopening them under The Fresh Market banner next year. Rice, the 75-year-old family-run specialty grocer, would continue to operate one store that was not included in the deal and continue doing business as The Fresh Market’s landlord.
The leases involved are for Rice locations in the Uptown/Tanglewood, Memorial, River Oaks and West University areas of Houston. The Briargrove location will continue to operate under the Rice Epicurean banner. Financial terms were not disclosed.
The transaction will allow family-run Rice Epicurean to focus on its real estate holdings, Bruce Levy, executive vice president, told SN.
“Our family had been on two tracks for a long time — the grocery track and the real estate track — and at this point our family will be pursuing the real estate track,” Levy said. “We’ve always loved the grocery business and will continue to love the grocery business, but we also know these locations are first-class locations and the real estate is very good. The market continues to change, and this is a part of that.”
Levy said The Fresh Market was a good successor for the locations “because we think they will continue to serve our customers well.”
Founded in 1937 by the Levy and Freidlander families and named after its first store on Rice Boulevard in Houston, Rice Food Markets was once a publicly traded company with dozens of stores. It was taken private by its family majority owners in the 1970s. In 1988, it created the Rice Epicurean concept, becoming one of the first grocery chains in the country to court “foodies,” operating in a small handful of upscale locations.
The Fresh Market’s smaller footprint — its stores are square feet while the stores it will occupy range from 25,000 to 42,000 square feet — will provide Rice with incremental shop space it intends to lease to other tenants, Levy said.
“Throughout our history our business has naturally expanded into real estate, primarily in neighborhood shopping centers with our own stores and other quality retailers,” Rice said in a statement. “With this transaction, our family’s progression and growth in the Houston real estate business continues.
Read more: The Fresh Market Boosts Outlook
“A large part of our excitement in proceeding with this transaction is our enthusiasm in welcoming The Fresh Market’s distinctive new food shopping experience to our customers in Houston,” Rice added.
The Fresh Market said it would encourage Rice’s employees to apply for positions at its stores, which are expected to open in the second half of 2013. It has set up a website to update its progress (thefreshmarket-huston.tumblr.com).
“We are excited to expand into Texas, and into Houston in particular,” Craig Carlock, The Fresh Market’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We look forward to introducing The Fresh Market’s concept of quality perishable food, excellent customer service and unique shopping atmosphere to a new set of customers, and we look forward to offering our new neighbors a distinctive food shopping experience, one that we think cannot be beaten.”
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