Local

Rice Epicurean Markets closing four stores; only one to remain open

Monday, December 03, 2012

A local grocery chain is shutting the doors to most of its Houston locations and the move will cost a lot of people their jobs.

Rice Epicurean Markets, a well-known Houston specialty grocery store, is downsizing and closing four of its stores at the following locations:

  • 5616 San Felipe
  • 12516 Memorial Drive
  • 3745 Westheimer
  • 2617 W. Holcombe

At this point and on paper, a total of 262 jobs would be lost in the closures. But Rice Epicurean's CFO is bringing in reps of big chains like H-E-B, Kroger and Walmart to help those employees, treating them like family, but one going through a transition.

It is a part of Houston's history. A grocery store that began in Rice Village 75 years ago and over time grew into a chain of more than three dozen locations. It began three generations ago with Bruce Levy's grandfather.

"He was friendly to all of them. Everybody knew him in the community and everybody knew him in the stores and everybody knew him as a really nice man," said Levy, Rice Epicurean's CFO.

Over time, the stores were trimmed to five and called Rice Epicurean Markers, offering high-quality products. But they still gave customers a link to their own pasts.

"I shopped at Rice in the Village with my mother as a little girl," said customer Becky Cemo.

This time next year, only one Rice Epicurean will remain -- at the location on Fountainview. And where the other stores are, new ones will take their place, built and operated by Freshmarket Stores based in North Carolina. Like Rice, it will be a specialty concept.

"We're very excited to bring the Freshmarket to Houston and offer to our customers what they have been doing in a lot of other states," said Levy.

The remaining stores will start winding down in the new year. The famous delivery service will still operate at the store on Fountainview.

The family business is moving even deeper into real estate now; a new direction for a Houston institution. But for some customers, it's bittersweet.

"Where am I gonna be able to get that homemade soup and where am I gonna get my specials and where am I gonna get my friends. I'm going to miss this story," said customer Larry Wright.

The Freshmarket stores will open at the end of 2013 in Houston.

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