Houston’s New Grocery Fights the East Side’s Food Desert

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Red Box Small Grocery Store (LRB Grocery for short) which opened at 3401 Harrisburg in May, emerged to help address food shortage issues facing Houston’s historic Second Ward. The small store is a source of fresh, healthy food at competitive prices and accepts a variety of payment options, including Lone Star cards, which are issued for SNAP/EBT and WIC recipients.

The second quarter is a USDA Designated Food Desert, which is defined by both low access to healthy foods and increased access to unhealthy foods. Unfortunately, these dietary options (or lack thereof) can also lead to higher rates of chronic health conditionssuch as diabetes and obesity.

“We wanted to build a store for everyone,” explains the owner Samuel Newman. “A true gathering place for Second Ward residents and a counterpoint to current neighborhood grocery offerings that are either inconvenient or offer expensive/poor choice, especially when it comes to fresh produce and essentials from the pantry.” Newman brings more than 10 years of related experience to the company, having studied SNAP/WIC households for the HEB grocery chain and serving as executive director of the Houston-based nonprofit. Brighter biteswhich provides fresh food directly to underserved families.

Prices at Little Red Box Grocery are comparable to neighborhood big box stores, but in a location easily accessible to the community. It also ensures that everyone can find quality food without having to wade through the logistics of visiting a farmers market, for example. “What we’re trying to provide is value for money for customers — good quality at a reasonable price,” says Newman. “We believe convenience makes a compelling value proposition for the neighborhood, in addition to locally-made items in Houston that Kroger does not carry, such as local produce.”

fresh fruit baskets
Find fresh fruits and vegetables at Little Red Box Grocery in Houston’s Second Ward neighborhood. Courtesy picture.

At just 800 square feet, the store may be small, but it’s packed with fresh, local produce vegetables, meats, meal kits, pantry staples, beverages and other goods. The shelves are filled with cooking oils, pastry items, crackers and frieslocal cheeses and seasoning, teas, breads, canned goods and much more.

There are over 25 vendors, including big box vendors and small local businesses. These include drinks and bites of Kickin’ Kombucha and Cochinita & co.Costs eggs of Swift Hill Farms in Nacogdoches, vegan pastries of sinful bakery and take-out meal other Second Ward businesses Half-moon kitchen. Otherwise, meal kits are under construction. “We’ll be working on developing a range of better-for-you meal kits — with the help of focus groups — for families with children,” says Newman. “You can feed a family of four for less than X dollars that will be nutritious and come with recipes and tip sheets. The idea is just to take something else out of the considerations of trying to figure out what to make for dinner. They will be fun, healthy and good.

Despite its May 2022 opening date, the idea for Little Red Box first took root in Galveston in June 2020 in response to COVID. This pilot store was online only with curbside pickup and provided essential products to a low-income, low-access community. Newman says the insights gained from this venture helped inform what a brick-and-mortar store looks like, how to build trust in a neighborhood, what products to buy, and other factors. Additionally, he credits Washington D.C. Good food markets as a guide for how to create Little Red Box. Although it’s just one store for now, Newman plans to expand the concept to other areas of the city.

interior of a cheerful, well-lit grocery store
Natural light and tasteful fixtures create a welcoming shopping environment at Little Red Box Grocery. Courtesy photo.

The store received Healthy Food Funding Initiative local funding from Harris County and national from Reinvestment funds. Moreover, the American Heart Association and New Hope Housing helped increase awareness, product selection and community engagement. “The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are honored to partner with Little Red Box in expanding a healthier food system and to see SNAP benefits accepted into the part of their business model,” said Mel Edwardssenior vice president of the American Heart Association Greater Houston Gulf Coast via press release.

Newman also intends to use LRB as a hub for community empowerment. The store will host or help promote events such as job fairs, voter registration sessions, workshops, cooking classes and other events. Follow on social networks for the most recent information, or Register to receive the newsletter to know.

When you visit, check out nearby small businesses, including a popsicle business, streetwear store, thrift store, cafe, and print studio.

The Little Red Box grocery store is open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The store is closed on Mondays.


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