The new HEB? Curb your enthusiasm

Expats in San Miguel, for the most part, don’t have terribly complicated or consequential agendas. Few of us oldsters are working on a cure for cancer, cracking the mysteries of nuclear fusion, or training for the next moon launch.

So it doesn’t take much to get us excited. Take the opening of a new HEB supermarket in nearby Querétaro. Most of our friends have visited it, and there have been several postings about it on the Civil List, the expat internet bulletin board, commenting on this new shopping experience.

Stew and I went there over the weekend, and the HEB store was so mobbed we couldn’t get into the parking lot. Apparently, Mexican shoppers are excited too, or at least curious.

So we trekked up there yesterday to satisfy our curiosity and not feel left behind our local friends who had already made a pilgrimage to Querétaro, and keep talking about this new and exciting (read: American-style) shopping mecca.

Yet, our reaction yesterday was a resounding “Meh!”. It might have been that we were tired after a long day of Costco-ing and a few other errands in Querétaro, and didn’t have the energy of to explore the store. Or that personnel at the store, or at HEB headquarters in San Antonio, are still fine-tuning the operation.

Whatever the problem was, we were not persuaded that it’d be worth it to schlep an extra 20 minutes to HEB, as opposed to the trusty old Mega in San Miguel.

When we ambled into the HEB, we were struck by its size: yeenormous, at first sight, although I don’t know if it’s actually bigger, in floor or shelf space, than the City Market monster that Mega opened at the Antea shopping center down the road, or a medium-size HEB in Texas.

Bulk grains, spices and seeds, anyone?

City Market appears to be more spacious that the HEB, and has devoted more space to wine, beer and other booze—including a wine-tasting bar—and features a sushi counter, nooks with fancy cosmetics, even at the expense of everyday essentials, such as toilet paper, cat litter and laundry detergents.

Much of the drama and hoo-hah at City Market is lost on Stew and I, but then, we’re not big on sushi or French bath soaps.

Maybe Mega’s marketers figured the Lady of the House would come to City Market to sniff around for the finer things, and send Juanita the Maid to Soriana to pick up the less glamorous abarrotes.

The new HEB is clearly experiencing opening-night jitters. The dozens of employees walking around were a welcome touch over Mega—who leaves shoppers to fend for themselves—even if many of these roving helpers didn’t know where stuff was, if anywhere at all.

It took three smiling and solicitous young guys to determine the store didn’t have any Melitta #2 coffee filters, or coffee filters of any kind, even though there was a 50-foot-long display of different coffee makers.

Diagonally at the other end of the store, there was a coffee bean bar that lets you select from a 18 types of coffee beans, but alas, the coffee grinder was out of order or no one knew how to use it.

Coffee beans everywhere, but nowhere to grind them. 

The small coffee shop around the corner was manned by two eager, twenty-something guys.

Zabdiel seemed to have a dimpled smile tattooed on his face and told me his name was Hebrew and referred to one of the angels guarding the gates of heaven. He took the orders but seemed a bit flustered by more than two customers in line.

His equally cheerful buddy operated the espresso machine with the deliberate speed and trepidation of someone disarming a nuclear device. Our two cappuccinos showed up after a 15 minute wait.

Such glitches, caused by lack of experience, will work themselves out eventually. What was more disappointing was the fruit and produce area, which despite dramatic lighting and displays, in quality didn’t come near their HEB cousins in San Antonio.

The peaches (“imported”) were as large—and hard and tasteless—as baseballs. Apples were bruised. Some of the red onions were rotten. Some of the produce was limp and belonged in a compost pile.

Not a good show. On Wednesdays, when our Mega gets its shipments, the fruits and vegetables are better than that, and a heck of a lot closer to home.

And sorry, Jennifer Rose, no Leepton Tea anywhere. But we’ll check the next time we visit.

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