H-E-B knows how to make a grand entrance.
As the first of its namesake grocery stores opened Wednesday in Frisco, the scene was reminiscent of Black Fridays past.
At least 1,500 people were in line waiting to get into the store, which opened at 6 a.m. A DJ and the Wakeland High School drum line kept the crowd entertained for what many have been waiting to do for years — walk into a local H-E-B location.
Crowds were hyped up by employee greeters as tunes such as Montell Jordan’s This Is How We Do It blared. It took 24 minutes for the fast-moving line to end. H-E-B employees passed out $25 gift cards and other freebies.
The day before the opening, Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney paid the popular retailer the ultimate compliment.
“We’ve got The Star, Dallas Cowboys and PGA, but I am not sure anything has had this level of excitement in this community,” Cheney said.
One of those excited about the store’s opening was Prosper eighth grader Dante Tapia, who dragged his mother, Claudia Tapia, out to stand in line for several hours. He wanted H-E-B’s frozen chicken wings and avocadoes, which the young foodie said “haven’t been good around here lately.”
The Reedy High School athletic training team arrived at 5 a.m. to buy doughnuts to take to football practice, saying, “heck, yeah, we’re going to eat the doughnuts in front of them,” meaning the practicing players.
The assembled crowd consisted of both longtime loyalists and curious shoppers. Some became friends standing in line, and sometimes they found out they had a lot in common besides H-E-B.
Kathryn Ovalle, 61, of The Colony, and Sela Garrett, 61, of Carrollton, discovered they both had daughters who went to medical school in San Antonio, where H-E-B is headquartered.
“My daughter brings us hot sauce and all kinds of things. The tamales and beef are great,” said Ovalle, who shops at Kroger but said she’ll drive the six miles to this H-E-B store to shop from now on.
Garrett heard that H-E-B stores sometimes have rare live plants but was also there for its spices and canned goods, vegetables, salsa and chips. “I shop at Albertsons, but I’ll make some special trips to this store often,” she said.
Everyone seemed to have an H-E-B story, and while most of the people in line were from Frisco, several shoppers said they came from Carrollton, The Colony, Little Elm and Plano. There was talk of shoppers from as far away as Oklahoma and Arkansas arriving during the day.
Next on H-E-B’s store rollout in North Texas is its Plano location later this fall. Stores in McKinney and Allen are under construction and are expected to open next summer. H-E-B said it will break ground on a Mansfield store early next year.
Stephen Butt, one of the company’s top executives and president of H-E-B’s Dallas-based Central Market, said research showed that Dallas-Fort Worth is not as familiar with H-E-B as other parts of Texas. H-E-B has 420 stores in Texas and Mexico and a workforce of 145,000.
About one-third of the population, the retailer estimates, had never heard of H-E-B and probably moved here from another state. Another third have some familiarity from visiting family or their students in college.
Then there are the loyalists who shopped the chain for several years and missed it.
That would be Zach Kohn, 27, of Rowlett, who was waiting in line with his red H-E-B reusable shopping bags. He was picking up breakfast for his co-workers.
“H-E-B got me through college with (its) prepared meals. It was so easy. I just had to heat them up,” he said, adding he’ll be driving to Frisco along with shopping at his local Tom Thumb until an H-E-B opens near him. “My wife works across from the property H-E-B bought in Rockwall.”
The real diehards were Jennifer Burnison, 46, of Little Elm, and Julie Hoffman, 56, of Celina, who were the first in line and got there at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“My siblings all live in South Texas, and so I know H-E-B,” Burnison said.
Hoffman added: “We’re just excited.”