Baker, Ahles & Kaskovich

Fiesta Mart raising its profile with new, remodeled stores

Remodeled Fiesta supermarkets in Fort Worth and Arlington have an expanded selection of produce.
Remodeled Fiesta supermarkets in Fort Worth and Arlington have an expanded selection of produce. Courtesy of Fiesta

Supermarket wars in North Texas never wane, and now a Hispanic-themed grocer is stepping up its game to meet new competition.

This month, Fiesta Mart rolled out five new or remodeled stores in North Texas, featuring updated signage, expanded taquerias, a bigger selection of produce and more employees. The store at 275 NE 28th St. in north Fort Worth had its grand reopening Wednesday, and one on Pioneer Parkway marked its improvements the week before.

The Houston-based chain is trying to raise its profile as it faces new challenges from rivals. According to The Dallas Morning News, Fiesta has lost market share in recent years to competitors such as El Rio Grande and Walmart.

Michael Byars, a veteran grocer who served as the top executive at Minyard Food Stores for three years, was hired last year to take the helm after Fiesta was bought by a private equity firm. He told the Morning News that in addition to renovations, he is adding employees to stores, which he described as badly understaffed.

The renovated Fiesta on 28th St. features a new seating area in the taqueria where shoppers can get freshly made tacos, sandwiches and tortas. A panaderia features freshly baked bolillos, pan dulce and tres leche cakes, and butchers at a carniceria can provide custom cuts plus a selction of marinated meats and tamales.

The company is also busy converting nine Minyard and two Sun Fresh supermarkets, acquired this summer to the Fiesta brand, including a Minyard at 6324 Meadowbrook Drive in Fort Worth and a former Sun Fresh at 3300 Harwood Road in Bedford (also formerly a Tom Thumb). They are expected to open late this year or in early January.

New Middle Class

Fort Worth-based Elevate Credit is one of a fast-growing breed of online lenders using big data to issue high-interest, short-term loans to credit-strapped consumers.

Now it’s trying to separate itself from the “fintech” (financial technology) crowd by marketing itself as an advocate for what it calls the country’s new middle class — Americans who must turn to subprime lenders because of dinged-up credit scores and little savings.

Last week, the company said it had launched the Center for the New Middle Class, a research-focused group that it says will educate the public about the growing needs of individuals who can’t access traditional credit options.

That’s a lot more people than you might think. Elevate estimates that there are 160 million Americans who need non-prime credit, a group that has grown since the financial crisis put many people in a hole and regulators forced banks to back away from them. Elevate says many do not have $400 in savings to cover a short-term emergency.

In an interview with us this year, Elevate CEO Kenneth Rees said many American don’t realize that the subprime market is now filled with mainstream customers who have just hit a financial hurdle and want to improve their lives.

“We believe that financial stresses on the average American are greater than they ever have been,” Rees said. “Half of Americans now have no savings, so they’re living paycheck to paycheck. That is fundamentally different than the situation 20 years ago.”

The center’s first research report says non-prime customers are:

  • Nine times more likely to have been turned down for credit within the last 12 months;
  • Six times more likely to have been denied a job because of low credit within the last 12 months;
  • 12 times more likely to have been denied an apartment because of the lack of credit within the last 12 months;
  • 52 percent more likely to deny themselves comforts to save money.

Elevate says its loan products — an installment loan and a personal line of credit — are designed to help customers rebuild their credit history by allowing for interest rates to drop as low as 36 percent if the customer consistently makes payments. The company says it has originated more than $3.3 billion in loans.

More wings in Arlington

The region’s first Buffalo Wings & Rings restaurant has opened in Arlington, adding another choice for sports fans to catch some food and a game.

The sports-themed restaurant, at East Lamar Boulevard and Ballpark Way, offers a club-level dining experience, with competitive prices on its wings, sandwiches, salads and drinks, said Bill Melton, the area franchisee.

The Cincinnati-based chain emphasizes the quality of its food and customer service. The wings, made from fresh chicken and cooked to order, can be grilled or fried and served with 13 sauces, Melton said. There are 16 beers on tap, including local crafts, and plenty of TV screens.

Buffalo Wings & Rings already has more than a dozen locations in South Texas and would like to spread across the Metroplex, said Philip Schram, chief development officer.

“Twenty, 30, 40 locations … would be a big achievement,” he said.

Melton said he’s looking to Fort Worth for his second locations. Schram said the company is in discussions with two other groups about becoming area franchisees.

Andrea Ahles: 817-390-7631, @Sky_Talk

Max B. Baker: 817-390-7714, @MaxbakerBB

Steve Kaskovich: 817-390-7773, @stevekasko