Pullman Market sculpting a new grocery and dining vision at Pearl

A new grocery store at Pearl called Pullman Market also includes six fresh food cafes, and a whole new kind of shopping.

By Jack Morgan, Texas Public RadioJune 3, 2024 9:45 am, ,

From Texas Public Radio:

A little more than a month ago, The Pullman Market opened at Pearl. The designer-styled grocery-buying experience is a combination of sustainability through local buying, and fresh-made artisan food. And its delineation from big-box store shopping is apparent right from the moment you approach it.

The first thing you notice at the Pullman Market is the enormous bright yellow train engine and the industrial-sized exposed electrical box just to the left of the entrance. They are reminders that this urban space for living, working and playing—Pearl—was once an industrial spot.

“This was a glass manufacturing warehouse, Samuels Glass. And the building itself is stunning,” said Kevin Fink, CEO at Pullman Market and Emmer and Rye Hospitality Group.

Fink is one of those guys whose enthusiasm barely allows him to sit still long enough to talk, and the energy for his latest project is palpable.

Jack Morgan / Texas Public Radio

Pullman Market's taco bar.

“There’s a beauty in maintaining the history of this space, but also letting it live with the modernization of society,” Fink said.

Samuels Glass built the art deco building in 1948, making glass here until they moved elsewhere seven years ago, leaving this prime location at the southwest corner of Pearl open for a new venture.

Fink found his way into management by being a chef, and that fact is borne out if you look around Pullman. There are six different places to buy freshly made meals, two of which are sit-down restaurants. And there are two more to come.

“Food has been such a great way to bring people together, to share, to break bread. And that’s the idea of Pullman,” Fink said.

The elongated triangular 40,000 square foot building is very much a grocery store, but it doesn’t really feel like one. There aren’t long, straight aisles, but rounded tables and thematic sections from side-to-side. You can see almost the entire store from wherever you stand.

Lush plants over a bar, a tortilleria, A Mexican restaurant, a sandwich spot, a huge bakery, an Italian restaurant, a burger bar, and an ice creamery round out offerings to those who come by. Despite it being packed, claustrophobics need not worry. It has an airiness about it that’s relaxing.

Robert J. Lerma

Kevin Fink (third from right) with some of Pullman Market's employees.

As we walked through the store, Fink would stop and point things out as we passed.

“This is kind of our ceviche section here. So all the things come in from the Gulf and you’ll see different things. This is the yellowtail,” he said. “We have five different versions of snapper coming in, which, when you go to a grocery store, you get one, maybe two, right?”

Fink is proud of the selection in his fish and meat department. He says their sourcing of meat is extensive to the extreme.

“We know the sex of the animal. We know how old the animal is, what it’s grazed on, where it’s been,” Fink said. “We literally know the ranchers’ names and oftentimes even the ranch hands.”

But when it comes to the variety found elsewhere in groceries, he notes this isn’t a superstore.

“Those are mega stores. And H-E-B has been really great to us overall, and they’re incredible Texas grown company and employer and brand. And they do a great job for the state. And we are 1/1000th the size of them!” he said.

Robert J. Lerma

Even though it’s clear he doesn’t see H-E-B as a competitor, Fink said you can do your grocery shopping at Pullman.

“You should be able to walk in here, find everything that you need, but you won’t find 19 selections of it. You’ll find three, and they’ll be the best quality. They’ll be really ethically sourced,” he said.

And that’s the question about grocery shopping here: how do you perceive value?

“If your entire thing is focused on cheap, then you’re right. This will never be the cheapest,” Fink said. “But will this be the best value in my opinion? Absolutely. Because quality to value is the transaction. So, if I’m giving you the worst quality thing at the cheapest price, that’s still not a good value.”

Fink perceives the Pullman Market as being an updated version of a farmer’s market, with the market itself sitting in for the farmer in their stall, dealing with and selling to the public.

“But the point is that they’re not having to be the cook, the server, the hostess, the accountant, the marketer, all those sorts of things. So we’re trying to kind of celebrate them really well but allow them to be great at what they’re great at,” he said.

Since his major effort is to source locally whenever possible, the food you’ll find there often isn’t what you’ll find elsewhere.

“We’re a supply-based grocery store. And the difference between that means we’re really focused on celebrating the things that we have here the most, and then figuring out how to make the best quality products with that, as opposed to just giving everybody exactly what they want. We want to have a journey, an exploration with them,” he said.

Something that becomes apparent quite quickly: The Pullman Market is in no rush to take your money and have you leave. There is seating all over the place. Regardless of the time of day, people are relaxing. Fink says that’s by design.

“I think there’s a lot about creating a space where everybody feels at home and welcome. If you really have intention of making people feel like the space is theirs, you cannot have a ticking clock of when they need to leave,” he said.

When asked if there are plans to expand beyond Pearl, Fink says his focus right now is on San Antonio and proving his concept can thrive before he tries to replicate it.

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