The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers much of south Houston – between downtown and Beltway 8 – a food desert, where a high number of residents live more than a mile from the nearest supermarket.
One of those people is Rodney Jones, who lives in Sunnyside, just south of the 610 Loop. He said there are two grocery stores in the area.
“And those stores are unkept,” he said. “They’re not very well kept, you know. There’s a lot to be lacking.”
Jones attended the groundbreaking of the new Pyburn’s Farm Fresh Foods store in the South Union neighborhood, just north of 610 at Scott Street.
“Hopefully, as more grocery stores come into the area, it will breed competition,” Jones said, “so that we can upgrade the level of products that’s being made available for the people in the community.”
Houston Mayor Annise Parker and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee were among those helping the Vuong family break ground on the new grocery store in the South Union neighborhood.
The significance of the construction of the new store could be felt throughout the groundbreaking ceremony.
For Councilmember Dwight Boykins, who grew up in this area, it was an emotional moment.
“This property means a lot to me,” he said, choking up. “You see, I grew up here. I lived in those apartments. And then I lived here. We’d play football here. And for this man to take it out of his pocket to build a grocery store, when we only had convenient stores, to bring fresh food, it means a lot to me.”
“This man” Boykins referred to is John Vuong, the owner of Pyburn’s. He and his family own 11 other grocery stores, all in low-income areas. Vuong came to Houston from Vietnam in 1979.
“I (had) to live in a low-income neighborhood and I experienced the hard time how this community to get their groceries,” Vuong said. “And I always dreamed of having a store and have a way to stay in business.”
Vuong received a $1.7 million loan from the city for the development of the store. With that comes the requirement that the store provide customers a shopping experience equal to that of stores in high-income areas and that it create at least 25 jobs.
At-large Councilmember Stephen Costello is part of the Houston Grocery Access Task Force, which came up with the concept for getting grocers to build in food deserts.
“You know, this was the first project,” he said. “It came to fruition because Mr. Vuong had the property and Grocers Supply did an excellent yeoman’s job introducing him to us. So what we’re going to be doing now is looking to other districts where there are food deserts and seeing if we can figure out a way to get a grocer into those areas.”
The Pyburn grocery store is scheduled to open in the first quarter of next year.
The Pyburn’s Farm Fresh Foods market will be built on an about 3-acre property on the corner of Scott and Corder streets.