Division of H-E-B Grocery Company
|Headquarters||Dallas, Texas, U.S.|
|Number of locations||8|
|Products||Bakery, dairy, deli, floral, frozen foods, meat, produce, seafood, snacks|
|Services||Catering, cooking classes, wine classes|
Central Market is a gourmet grocery store chain owned by San Antonio, Texas-based H-E-B Grocery Company. It specializes in high-quality, hard-to-find gourmet foods. Most locations also have a full-service kitchen, offer cooking and wine classes in their culinary school, and offer catering services. Each store is more than 75,000 square feet (7,000 m2). In December 2007, it had eight locations, all in Texas. The newest store in Southlake features less square footage. Central Market was named "Outstanding Specialty Food Retailer" by Specialty Food Magazine and the National Association for Specialty Food Trade.
The original store opened in 1994 in the Central Park Shopping Center on North Lamar in Austin, Texas, two years after its competitor Whole Foods went public. A popular following began immediately after the store opened. Many Texas foodies were attracted to the store's offerings and were willing to travel from other cities just to shop in the store. Beyond supplying hard-to-find products, Central Market's highly trained staff are knowledgeable about all things epicurean.
It was not long before H-E-B Grocery Company expanded the chain to the San Antonio area (the store is located in Alamo Heights), Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston. The chain's second store opened in 1997 in a converted H-E-B on Broadway in the San Antonio area (in the Alamo Heights city limits). Two years later, a third store was opened on South Lamar in Austin. Fort Worth and Houston were introduced to the chain for the first time in 2001, with stores on West Freeway and Westheimer, respectively. Central Market's sixth and seventh stores opened in 2002 on East Lovers Lane in Dallas and Coit Road in Plano. Continuing its Dallas-area expansion, an eighth store opened at The Shops of Southlake in Southlake on December 6, 2006.
According to a 2000 article in the Houston Business Journal, "The two Central Market stores in Austin have become a tourist attraction of sorts, drawing in more than 1.5 million visitors a year, second only to the state Capitol in terms of Austin tourist attractions."
Central Market is known for its Café on the Run, which includes several featured areas intended to give customers the most extensive selection of options for fresh, convenient meals. The chain also carries a line of exclusive organic products called Central Market Organics. The product line includes organic or all-natural items ranging from commodities such as milk and eggs to pasta sauce and cookie dough.
Central Market deliberately limits floor space allocated to packaged products, allowing more space for fresh produce, meat and seafood, bulk products, and chef-prepared items. The produce section stocks items such as crabapples, meyer lemons, sweet limes, and pink lemons that are hard to find at other stores. The limited space for packaged products is devoted primarily to items that cannot be found at other supermarkets. The soft drink aisle, for example, carries many gourmet brands but does not stock ordinary Coke or Pepsi products (except for imported Mexican Coca-Cola). Other aisles follow the same pattern with an emphasis on local, imported, organic, and gourmet brands rather than standard supermarket products.
As appropriate for a store that first began in Austin, the self-styled Live Music Capital of the World, most Central Market locations feature a patio with live music on several nights each week.
Town and Country Markets operates three stores under the Central Market name in the Puget Sound area of Washington state. Town and Country Markets opened its first Central Market in Poulsbo, Washington, in 1995, a year after H-E-B opened its first Central Market in Austin. Town and Country also operates stores under the Town and Country Markets name in Seattle and on Bainbridge Island, Washington. In 2000, it remodelled its Shoreline Thriftway into another Central Market, and in 2004, it opened a third Central Market store in Mill Creek. The chain plans to open a fourth Central Market store in Issaquah but the projected opening has been pushed back from 2010 to 2011 due to economic conditions.
The Town and Country Central Market stores follow a similar concept to the H-E-B Central Market stores but are slightly smaller. From the outside, their architecture resembles the H-E-B Central Markets, including a faux silo. On the inside, the layout is very similar, with many of the features found in H-E-B Central Markets including expanded produce, meat and seafood departments. The selection of packaged products is much more conventional than that found at H-E-B Central Markets, featuring mostly standard supermarket products with some gourmet items mixed in. The Town and Country stores do not offer cooking classes.