Texas is known for a lot of things: The Alamo, the Rio Grande, longhorns, barbeque. But there’s one Lone Star State institution that lives deep in the heart of Texas: H-E-B. This local grocery chain has over 340 stores just in Texas, making it a mainstay in every resident’s life. So, for the yankees and non-Texans among us, what exactly is H-E-B and is it worth visiting on your next trip?
What is H-E-B?
The origins of H-E-B can be traced all the way back to 1905. Florence Butt, a local of Kerrville, Texas, opened a store named C.C. Butt Grocery Store on the first floor of her house. After her son, Howard Edward Butt, returned to Texas from World War I, he took over the business. By 1927, he successfully opened stores in other towns and changed the name to H-E-B, his own initials. No offense to the Butt family, but having their last name next to the word “grocery” was probably not the best idea. The name change stuck, and their expansion boomed throughout the rest of the 20th century.
Who owns H-E-B?
To this day, H-E-B is privately owned by the Butt family. Howard’s son Charles took over as CEO of the company in 1971 and still serves as the chairman to this day. His nephews Howard E. Butt III and Stephen Butt both hold high-ranking positions in the company. As of 2022, they are the 6th largest privately-owned company in the United States and have over 145,000 employees.
In addition to their flagship locations, there are also several subsidiaries owned by H-E-B. Their Central Market locations are specialty stores with more gourmet and organic products. The H-E-B Plus stores focus more on non-food products, anything from housewares to electronics. In Houston, they own the Mi Tienda stores which sell Mexican products, including fresh tortillas. They have even gotten into the BBQ game; some H-E-B locations house the True Texas BBQ restaurant chain.
Is H-E-B only in Texas?
Part of what makes H-E-B so popular in Texas is that it cashes in on Texas pride. They are owned by a Texas family, headquartered in Texas, one of the largest employers in Texas, and they give 5% of their pre-tax earnings to Texas charities. Even their inventory is Texan with things like a Texas-shaped cast iron pan and Texas-shaped tortilla chips. Any Texan could proudly walk into an H-E-B and feel right at home.
That said, there are no H-E-Bs anywhere else in the United States besides Texas. The company previously tried to expand into Louisiana but the store failed. The Bayou State tried to mess with Texas and it didn’t go well; or is it the other way around? Who’s to say.
However, H-E-B has had significant success with our neighbors south of the border. There are more than 50 H-E-B stores in Mexico, from Coahuila all the way south to Guanajuato.
Does H-E-B sell liquor?
You can buy wine and beer at H-E-B, but liquor is a no-go. Texas has weird laws about the sale of alcohol. Any place that wants to sell alcohol needs a permit, and the permits vary based on the ABV; the higher the ABV, the more restrictions.