Grit Grocery‘s recent launch is one of the best things that’s happened to the Houston food scene. I was able to check it out on a recent Sunday, while I was in the city. It was parked at Levy Park, with a white and black striped awning, and a neatly stacked pile of shopping baskets beckoning shoppers. Fresh produce and an assorted batch of local seafood, pasta, milk, bread, etc., lined the shelves of the open-air store front. The friendly one-on-one service was also a great perk.
Dustin Windham and his wife were living in Azerbaijan a few years ago, while Dustin was in the Peace Corps and working on some food projects. He recollected that they would visit the neighborhood butcher, bakery, and fruit stands several times a week. When they returned to the U.S., they noticed that the concept of having local and fresh food readily available was not a really an option, especially in Houston. Co-Founder Michael Powell further explains, “[While Dustin was in Azerbaijan], he saw how people around the world shop for and consume food. People eat fresh, they shop often and there is easier access to food markets on the street or in small shops. In places like Azerbaijan, “local” is not a food trend, it’s a way of life. And that’s a radically different model than what we’ve become accustomed to in the United States, which relies on a giant food industry driven mostly by profit margins and processed food. Grit takes inspiration from how people have been shopping for food for centuries. We want to see more people making more trips to the store, but it has to be an easier and more friendly retail experience.The other side of Grit’s inspiration is from entrepreneurial startup culture, where people are making dreams a reality and where technology can facilitate solutions that society had never anticipated. Grit is using a range of high-tech solutions to make this old-school grocery a model of innovation.”
Grit Grocery was launched in 2015. The team found that it takes grit to take back your health, thus inspiring the company name. “It takes grit to farm the land and produce the nutritious products that make people live healthy. Oh, and we’ve quickly found that it takes some grit to start up a grocery store in the 21st century,” Powell stated.
When asked about why they chose to have a mobile truck, instead of a brick n’ mortar, Michael explained, “I’ve actually been working in the food retail design industry for the last 12 years, which is how I connected with Dustin. I have a PhD in cultural anthropology and have been working with a design firm as a consultant, studying shopping behaviors, food culture trends and food brands. In that time, I’ve consistently found that most people are less than satisfied with their grocery shopping experiences. It’s a time-consuming chore. While food culture is blowing up around us, the grocery store is mostly stuck in the mid 20th century. And that’s largely because people don’t have many viable alternatives. So it’s no wonder that as soon as online grocery or alternative stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods came along, people jumped the grocery ship quickly. But those experiences are lacking, for a number of reasons. Grit offers a more social and neighborhood experience. Our merchants don’t just stock shelves, they’re passionate advocates for local food, and the value of cooking and eating together. And the products that Grit offers are not just local, but we don’t carry any of the processed junk that has now come to fill the shelves at many of our competitors. The truck is a flexible, convenient platform. It allows us to go places where our competitors can’t or won’t go. The numbers make sense, too. A new ground-up grocery store can cost upwards of $15 million, and then they have to employ 200 people and maintain the 50 thousand square foot building (and 100 thousand square foot parking lot) 24-7-365. Grit trucks cost a fraction of that price, and maintenance is much lower. So basically, the cost of a few grocery stores could fund enough Grit trucks to be in most Houston neighborhoods, not to mention effectively ridding Houston of food deserts.”
They have quite a variety of locally-sourced product, including, “In produce, our main suppliers are Gundermann Acres in Wharton, Lightsey Farms in Mexia and Sustainable Harvesters in Hockley. Meat is supplied from Three Sisters Farm in Tomball, Liberty Provisions in Richmond and Rocking 711 Ranch in Edna. Seafood from Katie’s in Galveston. Fresh pasta from Fabio’s in Montrose (Houston). Ice cream from Fat Cat Creamery in the Heights. Baked bread and cookies from Cake & Bacon in Houston. Brazos Valley Cheese from Waco. The list goes on. We also produce a lot of products in-house, so you can look for our Grit Grocery brand on: juice, hummus, prepped salads, soup and a few upcoming items.”
Ah….yes…. let’s talk about those cool meal bundles. I personally got the Pasta Salad bundle on my first visit, and it did not disappoint! I’m not really a cook, but I was able to understand the simple directions that were included, and it probably took me about a half-hour to prepare. I also added a pinch of my favorite See Salt before I added the sauce and veggies.
Michael adds, “Meal Bundles include all the ingredients you need to make a simple, healthy, local meal. 2-3 servings per Meal Bundle. Local products are featured. We aim for classic crowd favorite recipes that take 15 minutes or less. No chef hat necessary. This is for your busy Tuesday evening dinner. Because the products are good, that’s going to make your meal taste great. Oh, and substitutions are always welcome. So when you visit the truck, talk to our Truck Merchant about the Bundles and make sure everything works for you.”
Great news, ya’ll! They plan on adding more trucks, which’ll mean more locations. “We are also developing technology solutions to make shopping the truck easier, including a “Chatbot” on the Facebook Messenger platform which will allow people to shop and pay for Meal Bundles before they leave the office, then come pick it up at the truck.”
Where and when to shop:
~Levy Park (3801 Eastside) on Sundays from 3pm to 8pm
~The Circuit Apartments in EaDo (2424 Capitol) Mondays and Wednesdays, from 4pm to 9pm
~Aris Market Square by Historic Market Square Houston (Downtown, 900 Preston), Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 4pm to 9pm
“We’re always trying to learn more about our customers and what they want, what would help them in their daily lives when it comes to eating healthier and making local shopping easier. What kinds of Meal Bundles would you like to see? Or what kinds of products are you seeking? How can we make it easier to make weekday dinners more interesting? What kind of everyday food problems pop up–big or small–that we might be able to help solve? Grit Grocery is a flexible platform that’s always open to new ideas for how to improve food shopping,” Michael finished.