Houston Nightclub owner transforms shuttered establishment into Black-owned grocery store

Seeing a need for accessibility to fresher produce within Black communities, Robert Thomas created District Market Green Grocer

Seeing a need for accessibility to fresher produce within Black communities, Robert Thomas created District Market Green Grocer. Learn more about the business in this video by TSU student Jonah Baker.

HOUSTONDistrict Market Green Grocer’s intimate ambiance is not its only distinguishing feature. It could attract the attention of a resident who recognizes the grocery store as a former nightclub.

With its vibrant lights still shining inside, the abandoned nightclub has been transformed into a marketplace for over 30 Black vendors selling everything from fresh produce to hair care products.

Intending to cater specifically to the community’s health needs, owner Robert Thomas is passionate about combating food deserts in the city of Houston.

As the pandemic spreads, some of Houston’s urban areas are in a fragile state, resulting in food deserts defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “areas that lack affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat milk, and other foods that comprise the full range of a healthy diet.”

These communities include the Northside, Sunnyside, Third Ward, Fifth Ward, and Acres Homes areas, according to the USDA.

Seeing a need for accessibility to fresher produce within Black communities, Thomas created District Market Green Grocer, a Black-owned grocery store in Houston. The chic grocery store resembles a boutique and prides itself on supporting promising Black and international vendors. Thomas believes that supporting local Black vendors will influence the community to mass-produce and manufacture their goods.

“We are the number one consumer, to me, that means we consume more than we actually manufacture and make… I feel like it’s a wonderful opportunity for the Black culture to step up and do our part in today’s society,” Thomas said.

Previously, the grocery store served as a bustling hub of activity. The former club, which was energized by music and gleaming low lights, has been transformed into a quiet, intimate space filled with soft jazzy tunes. The grocery store, tucked away on the corner of FM 1960 and TC Jester, has grown into a vital part of the community.

“This used to be my nightclub…because of the pandemic, a lot of us turned to different things. I saw a need in the community… food deserts in certain areas. When you go into supermarkets, you don’t see any Black vendors on the shelves. And they told me I was nonessential and shut my business down. So, those three things came together, and that’s how I got the idea,” Thomas said.

MORE: Napoleon Johnson: Pioneering journalist returns to KPRC 2, station where his storied career began

Located in the center of the store is a trendy converted juice bar with vibrant LED lighting receives rave reviews from eager shoppers.

“I have people that come in and pray that I’ll be successful. People come and buy and support. The community is embracing it,” Thomas said.

District Market Green Grocer welcomes shoppers from all walks of life with open arms ready to experience the community-oriented establishment. As a result, consumers flock from throughout Houston to enjoy the ambience of the Black-owned store.

“When we heard about the market, we were excited to visit and shop with a market that is Black-owned. I wanted to expose my children to it who are also interested in being entrepreneurs,” Lakeesha Walden, a customer, explained. Walden traveled from College Station to show her support for the grocery store and to expose her children to examples of “magnificent” Black representation. The supermarket sells the wares of several prosperous Black entrepreneurs.

Thomas is constantly on the lookout for Black vendors to stock the store’s shelves.

Denise Cole, the proprietor of D’s Sweets and Treats, discovered the supermarket via Facebook. She was immediately taken with the cause and knew she wanted to be a part of it. Cole has been baking in the deep south of Mississippi since she was 10-years-old. She serves a variety of freshly baked treats. Additionally, she advocates for other vendors, purchasing sweet potatoes for her pies exclusively from District Market Green Grocer.

“In order for all of us to be more successful, we need to support each other,” Cole said, noting that the Black community is quick to put the needs of others’ businesses ahead of their own.

The grocery store located on one of the most bustling streets in Houston is far more valuable than what an onlooker may see. Its mission and history distinguish it. As the store grows, Thomas plans to expand his inventory with additional Black vendors in the hopes of opening another revolutionary location soon. Thomas hopes that by committing himself to Black culture, he will educate and guide the community toward perpetual prosperity.

KPRC 2 is partnering with Texas Southern University throughout the month of February for a celebration of Houston Black history. Students from TSU’s School of Communication and members of @KTSU_2 “The Voice” online team are providing content for the @kprc2 Instagram account and the station’s other digital platforms. Posts and articles have been researched and produced exclusively by TSU students under the supervision of their School of Communication professors and the KPRC 2 digital team. The student journalists’ content will be published throughout February 2022 on click2houston.com/blackhistory.


About the author

Lydia Dillard (Image provided by Lydia Dillard)

Lydia Dillard is a digital reporter aspiring to take her writing skills beyond and pursue a career in law.

About the video reporter

Jonah Baker (Image provided by Jonah Baker)

Jonah Baker is a multimedia journalist who believes if we just take a moment to talk, we would find that we have a lot more in common.