The Untold Truth Of H-E-B

H-E-B is one of the most popular grocery stores in the country, with a loyal following of Texans and ex-Texans, and for very good reason (via Eater). Not only does it offer huge numbers of products, but it also has a reputation for being one of the best places to work — both part-time and full-time — and for being an incredibly generous company that cares about the state and its population (via Texas Monthly).

The history of H-E-B is one of innovation and care. The company has branched out significantly over the years, creating additional stores that cater to particular segments of customers (via H-E-B). It's home to market-based restaurants that wow skeptical reporters and has consistently placed on Glassdoor's annual list of best companies to work at since 2014. And the company is so popular in Texas that when Iowa chain Hy-Vee started expanding, its CEO was very blunt about how H-E-B was the reason Hy-Vee would not attempt to open stores in Texas, calling H-E-B a "phenomenal competitor" (via KVUE). So break out one of H-E-B's many store brands for snacks, sit back, and read about the untold truth of H-E-B.

Learning how to manage a 12,000-square-foot store

The typical H-E-B store is huge, topping 70,000 to 80,000 square feet. The San Antonio Business Journal reported in 2015 that the company wanted to open a store and gas station in downtown San Antonio, and the land they managed to find would not allow for a structure that big after taking the gas station, parking, loading docks, and other necessary features into account. They were able to make the store portion only 12,000 square feet, which might sound huge to anyone else, but to H-E-B, it was tiny. In fact, it was so small compared to their other locations that they had no idea how to run it. They sent a team of employees, including their senior vice president of strategic design, to Canada to meet with a team from Sobeys, a chain of smaller markets, to find out how to ensure the smaller space would be successfully run.

The problems the company saw with operating a space that small had to do with how to adjust their delivery schedules and plans for managing store stock. When your location is one-sixth the size of what you're used to working with, you can't order as much or store as much, which means you have to stay on top of inventory and ordering to ensure items don't constantly run out, leaving empty shelves and unhappy customers. It could have been worse, though; initially, the company looked at making the store only 6,000 square feet.

The company has changed names several times

Say "H-E-B" to anyone who has lived in Texas, and they'll know exactly what you're talking about even if they live in a city that doesn't have H-E-B. However, H-E-B is the fourth name that the company has had since it began back in 1905 (via Texas State Historical Association). Back then, the company was a small store named "Mrs. C.C. Butt's Staple and Fancy Grocery" on the ground floor of a building in Kerrville, Texas, that also housed the family of the founder, Florence Thornton Butt, on the second floor. She had worked for the A&P Tea Company before using her savings — and groceries she had stocked up on — to open the small market in hopes of further supporting her sick husband and two sons (via Texas State Historical Association). The store was a true family affair, with Mrs. Butt running the store and her sons bringing groceries to people around town.

Florence continued to run the store until 1919; after her son Howard E. Butt (do you see those initials?) returned from military service, he took over store operations (via Texas Hill Country). He also gave the grocery its first name change in 1922 to the C.C. Butt Cash Grocery. Previously, the store had run on a credit system with grocery delivery, but now the store was an all-cash establishment where shoppers picked up their own goods. In the 1930s, he changed the company name a second time to the H.E. Butt Grocery Company. By 1942, Howard started using the name H-E-B for his stores.

Expanding throughout northern Mexico

You would think a chain of stores in Texas that was expanding all over the south and center of the state would attempt to expand further in that state before heading out of the country. However, H-E-B's presence along the Texas-Mexico border made it easy for many people from Mexico to come up to the United States to shop at its locations in cities like Laredo, and that customer base made it easy for the company to see what Mexican consumers were interested in (via Supermarket News). In 1996, H-E-B announced that it would open a store in Monterrey, Mexico, as well as a second store soon after. The company was already considering expanding further in Mexico, contingent on the first two stores doing well.

The company did so well, in fact, H-E-B soon opened additional stores in cities like Saltillo, Nuevo Laredo, San Luis Potosi, and Tampico, eventually reaching 50 stores in Mexico by 2014 (via My SA). In 2018, the San Antonio Business Journal reported that the company was thinking of opening gas stations at some of its Mexican locations, too. According to H-E-B Mexico's website, the company has 54 locations in Mexico as of early 2022.

So what about the rest of Texas? Well, in March 2021, H-E-B finally announced that it would open stores in Frisco and Plano in late 2022. H-E-B's Central Market, which focused on higher-end groceries, opened in the Metroplex in 2001, but the basic H-E-B had no presence in that major metro region until now (via KSAT).

The location that closed after 10 years

H-E-B did actually expand into Louisiana at one point, albeit with only one store in Lake Charles, and managed to stay for 10 years. However, they haven't done any more expansion outside Texas and Mexico since then, much to the chagrin of former Texans (via The Lost Ogle). As H-E-B grew, it created a version of its store called H-E-B Pantry, which had several locations in eastern Texas. The company decided that adding an H-E-B Pantry in Louisiana would be a natural step in growth, so they opened a location in Lake Charles in 1996 (via Supermarket News).

However, starting in 2000, H-E-B decided to shutter its Pantry stores and replace them with larger, regular H-E-Bs due to competition from chains like Walmart (via Houston Business Journal). The Louisiana store hung on until 2003, when it was closed (via City-Data). However, it wasn't replaced with a larger H-E-B, and the company left Louisiana. Why H-E-B did not stay in Lake Charles is unknown; potential reasons include lots of obstructions caused by local construction to underperformance (via City-Data).

An employee retires after 56 years with the company

One of the really groovy side effects of being a great company to work for is employee loyalty, and H-E-B was lucky enough to have someone work for them for 56 years. Ofelia Garcia, known as Ophie, started in 1965 selling tobacco at an H-E-B in Harlingen (via Austin 360). She started branching out and working in different departments, eventually moving to the cosmetics department and to Austin, where she worked at the Oak Hill store until she retired in August 2021.

Garcia almost retired earlier, when the company threw a party for her in her 51st year of working for H-E-B. However, she said that she didn't feel ready at that point. She is such a beloved figure at the company that TV station KVUE reported that the city of Austin declared December 22, 2021, as "Ofelia Garcia Day." According to Southern Living, the only person to work for the chain for longer than Ophie Garcia is CEO Charles Butt.

H-E-B does their customers a favor

Favor Delivery is a local Texas home delivery service — think of it as a combination of Instacart and Door Dash that also lets you get delivery from other stores and services, according to Favor itself — that quickly became a favorite of Texans. H-E-B partnered with Favor in 2018, making it a wholly owned subsidiary and giving H-E-B access to an expanded customer base. While Favor still operates as its own company, and its runners can deliver goods from places other than H-E-B, the partnership between Favor and H-E-B has allowed the two to create programs that helped Texans during the pandemic.

Back in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, stores began offering special senior hours because of the higher risk to this group from the then-new coronavirus. H-E-B and Favor took it a step further by creating a special delivery service for seniors over 60, who could receive same-day deliveries that were contactless. H-E-B and Favor also created a two-hour express delivery service for H-E-B goods without extra membership fees in April 2020, according to Supermarket News. Not only was this helpful for people who didn't dare venture out, but the combination of the two companies meant that Favor could expand rapidly to areas where H-E-B didn't have stores. The delivery service was already in many cities, but it accelerated its expansion at the beginning of the pandemic.


Grocery store delis and prepared-food departments can be hit or miss, and while visiting Midland, Texas, writer Daniel Vaughn of Texas Monthly found himself staring at a barbecue sign outside an H-E-B after searching for a place to get something to eat. He wrote in an April 2019 article that his last meal from another grocery-store barbecue was "sad," and he didn't have great expectations for what he was about to get at H-E-B, whose in-store barbecue restaurant is called True Texas BBQ. However, he was proved wrong when he received plates full of made-on-site meats and sides that had him calling True Texas BBQ the best barbecue chain in the state.

It would be easy to dismiss that as hunger talking over some decent barbecue, but Vaughn wrote that he went back to different True Texas BBQ locations — and some competitors — to try different dishes over a few months. He came to the conclusion that as far as chain restaurants go, H-E-B's True Texas BBQ managed to be the best. While his review may have been the opinion of just one person, keep in mind that Vaughn is the Monthly's barbecue editor and has written and co-written two different books on barbecue. If he says it's the best, that's a sign that the restaurant truly is good.

One location let customers take groceries for free

H-E-B is known for its generosity to its workers and to communities around the state — and an incident that happened as the state was preparing for the historic winter storm in February 2021 was a perfect example of how the company responds when people are in need. As shoppers at the store in Leander, northwest of Austin, were picking up supplies, the power went out. As one shopper pointed out to Austin 360, that meant the payment terminals didn't work.

Instead of making people leave their groceries behind, store employees started waving customers and their carts through the checkout lines without requiring payment. The cashiers didn't bag the groceries but instead focused on ensuring people were able to leave with supplies for the storm. Their only request was that people get home safely. Another shopper told Austin's CBS station that he planned to donate to one of the local charities that H-E-B supported as a way to pay the company back for its kindness.

Their mobile kitchen and disaster response units

H-E-B's generosity is based on more than just last-minute grocery gifts. The company runs a mobile kitchen that travels to disaster areas to feed people who need a hot meal. Along with the kitchen, H-E-B has disaster response units that transport supplies to those areas, and the company tries to donate to local food banks to help spread the supplies to more people.

For example, in October 2019, an EF-3 tornado damaged parts of the Dallas metro area; H-E-B brought its mobile kitchen to the area to feed people for several days (via WBAP). The company also handed out cleanup kits to 500 homeowners. In August 2020, when Hurricane Laura drenched southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, H-E-B reported that the mobile kitchen traveled to the area, serving meals and donating food and water to local food banks. And in August 2017, after Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and other cities in southeast Texas, H-E-B sent mobile kitchens, disaster response units that included a pharmacy and a business center for bill-paying, water and fuel tankers, and more than 100 employees who had volunteered to help in a convoy of 15 vehicles to the city of Victoria — and that was just one of the many relief efforts the company made after that disaster. And the San Antonio Business Journal reported that when the West Fertilizer Company exploded in 2016, H-E-B provided meals and water to the victims and first responders. 

H-E-B's state pride

Back on the lighter side of things, if you're feeling a bit of Texan pride and want to display your love for the state throughout your kitchen, H-E-B has you covered. Their selection of Texas-themed food and kitchen implements changes every so often, but you can count on the store to have at least something in stock.

The classic item is a bag of Texas-shaped tortilla chips, always affordable and just the right size for dipping in queso or salsa. In 2021, HEB Obsessed took a look at the store's current offerings and found not only the tortilla chips, but also chicken nuggets shaped like the state, Texas-shaped plastic snack packs with ready-to-eat items such as salami and cheese slices, and a mini waffle-maker with a grill shaped like Texas. Past Texas-themed items have included a hunk of gouda cheese, pasta, and store-brand cheese crackers all shaped like the state.

New concept stores

In 1994 H-E-B opened Central Market in Austin, a new grocery that focused on European breads, more produce, and higher-end groceries, rather than the usual grocery-store fare of basic foods, toiletries, and over-the-counter medicines (although the Austin American-Statesman wrote in 2020 that the company opened a little side store selling those items at the Central Market location). Since then, H-E-B has expanded not only the number of locations it has, but the number of store concepts as well. There's Central Market; Mi Tienda, a Latino-focused store, which opened in 2006 (via Culture Map Houston); the aforementioned and now defunct H-E-B Pantry; H-E-B Plus!, which carries things like home goods and clothing; and even convenience stores that offer gas and a car wash.

The company also runs a chain called Joe V.'s Smart Shop, a discount chain whose stores are mainly in southeastern Texas. According to Grocery Dive, stores like Joe V.'s were among a group of discounted retailers that included stores like Aldi, aiming to give shoppers lower prices while also presenting the goods in clean stores. Grocery Dive also reported that H-E-B was expanding the number of Joe V.'s in an effort to grab the regional market before discount retailer Lidl could make a debut.

The company says it loves El Paso

You could forgive El Paso for feeling left behind by H-E-B. The company has no stores in that city and has no reported plans as of early 2022 to open any stores there, despite repeated requests from residents. Currently, they have to travel to cities like Midland or San Angelo, which are both a couple hundred miles away, to get to any of H-E-B's stores. And when the company announces new stores, they seem to be in far-off DFW or places like Lubbock, even farther away from El Paso than Midland (via the El Paso Times).

But a soda can graphic released in 2020 really made El Pasoans wince. A post on Reddit showed a photo of an H-E-B-brand soda can with a white field shaped like Texas — except for the far west end. You know, where El Paso is.

Luckily, the El Paso Times investigated the matter by calling a newspaper in Corpus Christi, whose employee said there were cans that had the full state of Texas shape, including El Paso. H-E-B noted that the graphic was sometimes cut off as a result of the placement of the nutrition label and that the company really did love El Paso.