Grocery industry representatives from across Texas and far beyond are mourning the loss of Ross Lewis, one of the founders of Food Town, who died Dec. 7 at age 82.
According to his obituary in The Houston Chronicle, Mr. Lewis “loved his family and friends and, through his quiet generosity, helped multitudes of people throughout his life. He will be missed and remembered by many – his witty comments and wide smile are legendary.”
Mr. Lewis had already enjoyed a full, successful career in the grocery business by 1993, when he started Food Town with six fellow workers and friends. Together, they grew the chain from three stores to 30 throughout the Houston area.
Food Town was featured in the December issue of The Shelby Report of the Southwest. In the article, son Mike Lewis recalled the company’s origins.
“People always tell you that, when you retire, you should do something you love,” he said. “My father…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. 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.
Mike Lewis, who is president of Food Town, described the company’s 30 supermarkets as neighborhood stores, which “tend to keep it simple.”
“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,” he said.
Ross Lewis and the other founders built the company by taking over vacant spaces, investing in the communities they serve and embracing the diversity of Houston. Food Town has long supported various community initiatives, particularly Special Olympics Texas, which Mike Lewis described as “very near and dear” to his father’s heart.
“Food Town has been on this journey my dad dreamed up…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.”
Ross Carroll Lewis was born Jan. 29, 1938, in Bryan, Texas. According to his obituary, he grew up on a farm and cattle ranch in nearby Normangee, where he met his future wife, Judy Smith, as a sophomore in high school.
After graduation in 1956, Mr. Lewis enrolled at Texas A&M. The couple was married in 1957, and he graduated with a business degree in 1960, according to the obituary. Told at a job fair he wasn’t IBM material, he went to the next table where Kroger hired him for its grocery manager trainee program.
The couple moved to Houston, where he began his grocery career. In addition to Kroger, Mr. Lewis worked for several companies throughout the years including Henke & Pillot, Lewis & Coker and Davis Food City.
Per his obituary, “It was at Food City where he worked his way through the ranks to become president of the company. He had a keen aptitude for dealing with vendors and salesmen that gave him the reputation as one of the best buyers in the industry yet respected by all.”
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Lewis’ other immediate survivors include son Randy Lewis and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A private funeral service was held for family Dec. 16. In lieu of flowers, those wishing to do so are encouraged to make a donation to their church or favorite charity.
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