New Houston Grocery Store Combats Food Desert on the East Side

outside view of colorful, small grocery store

Little Red Box Grocery (LRB Grocery for short) which opened at 3401 Harrisburg in May, emerged to help solve  food-scarcity 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 to SNAP/EBT and WIC recipients.

The Second Ward is a USDA-designated food desert, which is defined by both low access to healthy food and increased access to unhealthy food. Unfortunately, these food options (or lack thereof) can also lead to higher rates of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. 

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

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

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

At just 800-square feet, the store might be small but it is packed to the gills with fresh, local vegetables, meats, meal kits, pantry staples, beverages and other goods. Shelves are stocked with cooking oils, baking items, crackers and chips, local cheeses and condiments, teas, breads, canned goods and much more. 

There are more than 25 vendors, including big box suppliers and local small businesses. The latter include drinks and bites from Kickin’ Kombucha and Cochinita & co., fresh eggs from Swift Hill Farms in Nacogdoches, vegan baked goods from Sinfull Bakery and grab-and-go meals from fellow Second Ward business Half Moon Kitchen. Furthermore, meal kits are in the works. “We’re going to be working on developing a line of better-for-you meal kits — with the help of focus groups — for families with children,” Newman explains. “You can feed a family of four for under X-amount of dollars that will be nutritious and come with recipes and tip sheets. The idea is just to take something else off the considerations of trying to figure out what to make for dinner. These 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 of 2020 as a response to COVID. This pilot store was online-only with curbside pickup, and provided essentials to a low-income, low-access community. Newman says the knowledge gained through this business helped to inform the way a brick-and-mortar store should look, how to establish trust in a neighborhood, what products to source and other factors. In addition, he credits Washington D.C.-based Good Food Markets as a guidepost for how to create Little Red Box. Although it is just one store for now, Newman plans to expand the concept to other areas of town.

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 has received Healthy Food Financing Initiative funding locally from Harris County and nationally from the Reinvestment Fund. In addition, the American Heart Association and New Hope Housing have been instrumental in increasing 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 collaborate with Little Red Box for expansion of a healthier food system, and to see SNAP benefits accepted as part of their business model,” said Mel Edwards, Senior Vice President of the American Heart Association Greater Houston Gulf Coast via a press release. 

Newman also intends to use LRB as a hub for community empowerment. The shop will either host or help promote events like job fairs, voter registration sessions, workshops, cooking classes and other events. Follow on social media for the most current information, or sign up for the newsletter to be in the know.

When you visit, check out the neighboring small businesses, including a popsicle company, streetwear store, secondhand store, café and print studio. 

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

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