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El Rio Grande Latin Market Largest Local Hispanic Grocer In DFW

El Rio Grande Latin Market

Last summer, El Rio Grande Latin Market opened its ninth store in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The opening earned owner Hamdy Shalabi the distinction of becoming the largest locally-based Hispanic grocer in the market. 

As anyone who has shopped in one of his family’s stores can attest, El Rio Grand Latin Markets are far from a typical ethnic store.

East Dallas holds an important place in Shalabi’s heart. He spent his formative years growing up there in the 1980s. In fact, in the same neighborhood that houses his newest store. He saw firsthand the need for more affordable options. 

El Rio Grande Latin Market

There are several smaller Hispanic grocers in the area, but the closest larger grocery stores for residents are several miles away. That’s also where you’ll find Walmart and Sam’s Club. And coming next summer, the first Joe V’s Smart Shop will open just a few blocks from Shalabi’s East Dallas store.

Retailing, along with a love for Hispanic cuisine, is in Shalabi’s blood. His parents are from the Middle East but moved to Puerto Rico, where Shalabi was born. A few years later, the family settled in Dallas, where for the next decade his father operated a convenience store until his death. Both of those events would come to shape Shalabi’s future. 

Shalabi and his brothers opened their first grocery store in 2005. Located in DFW’s Southwestern Medical District, the Maple Avenue location is still operated by the family today. At 28,000 square feet, it is the ideal size to learn the industry, as well as the needs and nuances of the market, Shalabi noted. 

Connecting with his customers and creating a rich cultural experience have always been priorities. As a hands-on owner, it was important to Shalabi that each of the store’s departments bring to life the traditions and flavors of the Latin culture.

The mission then – and today – was “to provide neighbors with fresh, high-quality products at accessible prices.”

With formidable competition just a few miles in any direction, knowing and adapting to customers’ needs and preferences has been critical for survival. For Shalabi, this has translated into appealing to a broad customer base. 

While at their core his stores are Latin markets, they also offer a variety of other products. For instance, some have a section for Middle Eastern spices and foods, as well as a separate halal meat counter to accommodate the region’s growing diversity.

El Rio Grande Latin Market

Store signs are often in English and Spanish, and store decor reflects the wider audience they are looking to attract.

The North Buckner store, which launched last summer, is the largest to date. Just shy of 60,000 square feet, it features a large selection of prepared foods, produce, groceries, juice bar, in-store seating, bakery and a 148-foot-long meat, seafood and cheese counter.

Specializing in Latin American food and cuisine, the company’s latest store is the fifth such one in the Dallas market. Customers are drawn for many reasons, including El Rio Grande’s prepared foods. La Cocina offers authentic entrees such as tamales, Carne al Pastor, Nopalitos a la Mexicana and Carnitas de Puerco, in addition to burgers and fried chicken. 

The items from the bakery and panaderia are made on site each day and include a wide selection of cakes (including made-to-order options), rolls and breads featuring Latin styles and flavors. 

Shalabi credited David Sonzogni, El Rio Grande’s director of food services, with playing a large role in the success of these perishable departments. Sonzogni joined the company after working several years in the restaurant and grocery business, including at Central Market.

Most of the store’s 150 employees are local. Through targeted outreach, Shalabi was able to fill most positions with workers from the surrounding neighborhoods.

Children’s health is a cause close to Shalabi’s heart. The family’s first store is within walking distance of Children’s Medical Center Dallas. Shoppers in that store often are patient’s families looking for a warm meal or something they can take back to the hospital. 

Through point-of-sale campaigns at the register, customers have helped the Shalabi family raise thousands for this important cause throughout the years.

Nine stores are a respectable count for any retailer, but Shalabi said he is not done growing. He wants to expand further in the DFW market, whether it be acquisitions or finding existing buildings he can repurpose into future El Rio Grande stores.

Read more market profiles from The Shelby Report.

About the author

Carol Radice

Senior Content Creator

Carol joins The Shelby Report with more than 25 years writing for B2B magazines that cover the drugstore and supermarket industries. A Rutgers graduate, she earned her B.A. degree in journalism and mass communications more years ago than she cares to admit. She is thrilled to be working with such an accomplished team and to share her knowledge of the industry with Shelby’s readers.

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