by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer, The Shelby Report
“People always tell you that, when you retire, you should do something you love,” Mike Lewis said. “My father, Ross Lewis, might have taken that a little too literally. He was a lifelong groceryman who loved the business, and he began Food Town after retiring.”
Ross Lewis and his six business partners bought the first store with personal seed money – no aid from banks. Twenty-six years later, the chain has grown to include 30 stores across Houston. Three of the founders still hold day-to-day leadership roles with Food Town, and some of the original employees still work for Store No. 1.
“This is the family business, and I’ve been part of Food Town from the very beginning,” Mike Lewis said. “I started as an assistant manager for our first store, and today I’m the company’s president.”
The 30 supermarkets are what Lewis calls neighborhood stores, proudly serving communities in the Houston area. And they “tend to keep it simple.”
“I think Food Town is a little bit different, but in a positive way. We’re a family business that will never be accused of having an atmosphere that’s too corporate – and no two Food Towns are alike,” Lewis said.
“We’ve never built a new store. We take over existing spaces that others have vacated – whether it’s was grocery store space or hardware store space. That way, we’re investing in the communities we’re calling home and improving the area for the neighbors we serve.”
The Food Town slogan is “It’s your town,” and Lewis said the company lives out this message in the diverse city of Houston.
“We enjoy providing old-fashioned service, carrying customers’ groceries out for them, preparing custom cuts of meat and doing what we can to create a better shopping experience,” he said.
“As native Houstonians, we love…all the flavors that make Houston unique…we want [customers] to come in and be able to fill up their carts with foods and essentials they can afford and all the favorites from around this town. In Houston, it’s not really ethnic food – it’s Houston food.”
Another way the company lives out “It’s your town” is through supporting various community initiatives.
“Food Town is a family, and as with most families, we tend to lean toward charities and causes that have affected those we love,” Lewis said. “Special Olympics Texas was very near and dear to my father’s heart, and we remained very involved with them for 20 years – even sponsoring their Food Town Golf Tournament to raise funds solely for that cause.
“We’ve also taken part in companywide events and walks in support of breast cancer research and the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Of course, as a grocery store, food drives for those less fortunate in our community were also a natural fit.
“In recent years we’ve worked to divide our efforts among the locally based charities Star of Hope, Hockley Boys & Girls Country and Cypress ministries.”
But when it comes to day-to-day shopping, Lewis believes that people choose Food Town over its competitors because of the customer-centric culture.
“We go above and beyond whenever possible – try to connect with our customers,” he said. “During the height of COVID-19, we offered special senior hours, for instance, and we’re always glad to take customer suggestions for things they’d like to see on our shelves. We’re small enough to consider individual customers, but big enough to offer some of the perks the big chains do.”
As for the future of Food Town, Lewis said he’s finding the balance between doing old-fashioned business and keeping customers’ shopping trips convenient, which requires some change.
“We recently rolled out a mobile app and grocery delivery services, and curbside pickup is next on the list,” he said. “Our plan is just to stay on top of trends and the way people prefer to shop and adjust to make sure we’re offering the best possible service. There’s always the possibility that new stores might enter the mix as well.”
All in all, it’s safe to say the Lewis family’s impact on Houstonians isn’t disappearing any time soon.
“Food Town has been on this journey my dad dreamed up for almost 30 years now, and it’s been a great ride,” he said. “We’ve learned and grown so much, and I’m proud of the company we’ve become. My sons are getting involved in the business now, and it’s an honor to continue the family legacy.”
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