The Nicknamed Krogers of Houston
Kroger excelled at doing the least possible to keep you from not coming back for decades. They’ve never done anything to lead the way anywhere, but they were certain to overreact to any competitor coming in nearby.
From Garden Oaks to the East End, here they are in *the* definitive list.
Mainly I am putting this here for posterity, as I think HEB will run Kroger out of Houston inside of ten years. They did have a good run — filling a niche between post-downfall Randall’s and satisfying the needs of those for whom Fiesta was too funky —
Kroger excelled at doing the least possible to keep you from not coming back for decades. They’ve never done anything to lead the way anywhere, but they were certain to overreact to any competitor coming in nearby: witness the 11th Street Kroger first transforming itself into a Wal-Mart (tripling in size, adding in aisles and aisles of home decor, kitchenware, and patio furniture, and stocking shelves with Duck Dynasty schwag and Guy Fieri doucheskillets; only to do a 180 when HEB came in up the street, whereupon they added a tres chic wine bar.
There is no discernible Kroger identity, only reactions to competitors, and so you have this schizophrenic store whose out-of-town and clueless consultants mistook the opening of that Walmart to mean the Heights was actually turning into Magnolia before realizing that it was in fact turning more into the modern-day Austin of high rents and rich thirtysomethings. Anyway….
It was never fun going there but you weren’t apt to get food poisoning from anything you got from them, either. Which was not true of one of my last trips to a Randall’s. My daughter Harriet tried to warn me shopping there was a waste of time: “There is no food here, dad,” and she was kind of right. I remember nothing there was very tempting, all of it was expensive, and then, whatever my crazy-starved mind deemed good enough to eat in spite of all that was spoiled.
Good riddance, Randall’s.
I’ve never had as bad an experience with Kroger but I have a years-long beef with them over their sheer incompetence. I just don’t understand how such a behemoth of a grocery chain can allow its clock to be cleaned so easily and thoroughly by a regional rival, even one as sharp and savvy as HEB is. Why doesn’t Kroger poach some of HEB’s talent? Why don’t they stock their shelves with things Texans like? Why don’t they make the slightest effort to adapt aside from bells and whistles and inflating floor space? The stubborn incompetence offends me, as does their belief that all Americans eat alike.
Anyway….at one point, they had enough of a hold on the Houstonian psyche to spawn folk nicknames.
Atlanta has the same phenomenon — their “Murder Kroger” is more infamous nationally than any of ours, and it turns out their Disco Kroger predates our own. DC does the same albeit with Safeway stores, and it’s true that in most cities, you will find a couple of supermarkets with nicknames, but not to the extent of Houston, DC and Atlanta.
It takes a certain combination of market forces to come about: a few too many of a certain store which requires that people differentiate one Kroger from another by something other than geography. There are two Krogers in the Houston Heights, so one needs a nickname. The Montrose area of Houston has had as many as three: Disco Kroger, the long-gone Kirby location, and Cougar / Deco Kroger, which some believe is in Montrose and others River Oaks.
There are numerous lists of Houston’s named Krogers floating around out there going back to the pre-Facebook / Twitter days of message boards. The Press and the Chronicle both published articles, but the Press one is unsearchable and the Chronicle one is both terrible and a slideshow, so no thanks.
So here is my amalgamation of many of them, one which does at least have the virtue of my having been to all of these in person over the years.
Disco Kroger: We are now almost a year out from the its “shuttering” and for many it was a, and perhaps the, Death of Montrose Moment. Nah, for me that was the closure of the Dunlavy Fiesta, which unlike Disco Kroger, kept playing the music that made them famous right to the end. Disco Kroger shelved their dance-pop playlist years before they closed, leaving behind a store with cool staff, subpar merchandise, and a clientele ranging from eccentric to dangerously schwacked-out of their minds.
Death Star Kroger - Shepherd & 11th: This is my own invention == it derives from its sheer size combined with its ultimate futility. It’s torn between trying to compete with Walmart and HEB and that’s a battle it won’t win. So you have this behemoth whose existence is truly absurd, as ridiculous as a moon-sized instrument of planetary destruction whose complete annihilation could be brought about by one well-aimed bolt of heated light.
Broger - Studemont near I-10: the Kroger of the Bros.
Cougar Kroger - West Gray: and not because of proximity to UH. With the aging of its clientele, this Kroger’s name has followed along, going from variations on “Hot Babe Kroger” to “MILF Kroger” to its current status. Less sexist or horny observers call it Deco Kroger for its black-tiled facade. I am hereby predicting this is the next Kroger to go bye-bye.
Combat Kroger - Cullen & Polk: Gentrifying but still scruffy environs give it the name. This is a minimal effort Kroger that does little to cater to its Hispanic and/or hipster customers.
Kosher Kroger - S Post Oak & W Bellfort: In which Kroger tried and failed to match first, Belden’s, and now the Bellaire HEB, in meeting Meyerland’s high demand for kosher food and drink. I could swear this one has some other nicknames, these referring to its sketchy parking lot and swarms of homeless panhandlers stretching from the front door to the South Post Oak underpass, but I’ve spent literally hours over the last two days trying to dredge them up or track them down, all to no avail. I did find one of the weirdest Yelp reviews ever, so the effort was not a total waste. (See below)
Geriatric Kroger - 20th & Yale: Could also be Rendezvous Kroger. Nobody you or your downlow honey knows is ever in here (unless it’s Tim Freeman) even though it’s right there in the Heights proper. It was dry until a couple of years ago but it now sports a paltry beer and wine section. themoreyouknow
Try Hard Kroger - Buffalo Speedway: This is the one Kroger where they make an effort and almost rivals an HEB. The name fits the ‘hood — West U is an American Mecca of Try Hardism — as well as the ethos of the store. It’s like Kroger and West U have a mutual admiration society — Kroger really wants to impress West U, and the hell with the rest of us. Not even River Oaks gets such a spectacular Kroger.
Quiet Storm Kroger - Old Spanish Trail: East side of the Med Center on OST at Cambridge…Though it had a very mellow, distinct ‘80s feel, it was built in 1994, and now I see it was demolished in 2017. (EDIT: I have since read it was built in the ‘80s and passed through phases as a Safeway and an Apple Tree before Kroger got the property in ‘94.)
Road Rage Kroger - W 43rd (Garden Oaks / Oak Forest). Gets this name for its overstressed parking lot with its seemingly narrower slots. I seem to see more people seething behind the wheel here as they patrol this lot, banging on their steering wheels, cussing up a storm if my lip-reading is correct, than anywhere else. Roid Rage Kroger is also is high on the list of those preferred by grackles. (Not all are favored equally, but this one they really do love.)
Here, as promised is that bizarro review of the Kosher Kroger:
Store is a total disaster. The children from the book Lord of the Flies are banging on the windows of your car when you park, demanding your loyalty and having a trade war dispute in the parking lot, which is now littered with dirty diapers made from thatched garbage and broken dreams.
Stepping over dead animal carcasses with air raid horns blowing at full volume is no way to enter the Meyerland Kroger. After getting no direction or help inside the dank cauldron of misery Kroger calls a store, a hunched back limps their way through checking out your selection, drooling his approval at the choice you have made to visit and somehow attempt to leave this dungeon of despair. If you do manage to make it to sunlight or at night by feeling your way to the car from the light of the Taco Cabana sign or the headlights from the cars in line at the Whataburger drive through in the same lot, (many of the light poles are broken ((or turned off?)) in the parking lot at night) get ready for the wasted and angry mob of homeless zombies waiting around your car offering to "help you with your groceries" for a small fee (running off with your purse) and then bathing naked in the slime filled moat around the store after a lingering rain event.
All things considered though, not a bad way to spend an evening as long as your rickets immunizations are current and you and your children are all covered by cloaks of invisibility.