I learned about the oldest operating grocery store in San Antonio, Texas, Kenney’s Food Store while discussing San Antonio “legacy” businesses at work. Kenney’s began in June 1886 as an animal feed store by the grandparents of Mrs. Marie Kenney and was taken over in 1988 by Mr. Atilano Mendoza, an affable gentleman with kind, green eyes who used to frequent Kenney’s Food Store when it was run by Marie. He remembers the store being closed around 1pm, during the daily siesta of the hospitable owner of German heritage, whom he became friends with. When she was ready to retire in the late 1980s, she offered to sell it to Atilano under one condition – that he keep the name. He did that, buying Kenney’s Food Store and changing only three things – adding a restaurant and the addition of cigarettes and alcohol to the list goods for sale.
The store is colorful on the outside, with cobalt blue trim lining the windows and primary colors red, yellow and white spelling out “Kenney’s Since 1886” and “Lone Star Accepted” on the tan building exterior. Inside, there are photos of the Kenney’s manning the store in what looks like the 1950s (Atilano pointed out that the store counter in the photo is the same one used today). There are photos of the Mendoza’s – notable among them, one of Atilano’s father, who is now 91, as a young wrestler. There are also posters – the Rolling Stones, Selena, AC/DC, a Tyson-Holyfield one near the register and a Bill Murray “Rock the Kasbah” comedy special poster reading “Opportunity rocks where you least expect it” which sits under a classic “drink Fanta” clock. There are Elvis gold records and framed photos of JFK, Henry B. Gonzalez, John Wayne, Three Stooges, I Love Lucy, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean. I inquire about the bottles and cans included among the collectibles and am shown an original “J.R. Premium Beer – from J.R. Ewing’s Private Stock” (J.R., of TV’s “Dallas” with his signature and quote, “If you have to ask how much my beer costs, you probably can’t afford it”) can of beer that sits among the classic cans and bottles of brands now reimagined and or defunct. There is an old typewriter, cashier machine, and a small children’s tricycle that sit near the restaurant area of the store. There is also original artwork – one of an Aztec Indian, a Mexican general and a 1950s Latino with the backdrop of the San Antonio skyline behind them, and a caricature of Mr. Mendoza.
The store sells standard items every can get at most grocery stores – canned goods, cake mix, cereal, oatmeal, dried food like pasta, beans, rice, refrigerated items such as milk, eggs and juice and select produce like lettuce, avocados, onions, tomatoes and potatoes, and unique items that you can’t find everywhere (like masa), in addition to sodas, tea, chips, and candy. School supplies, pet food, detergent, over the counter medications, hair care items (including classic Three Flowers hair pomade), toothpaste, bath soap, light bulbs, electronic items, and lotto tickets are also sold, but children will especially like going to Kenney’s because of the toy selection positioned across the register. Mr. Mendoza told me when his sons were children, they used to tell customers “don’t buy the toys – they belong to my daddy and us,” which is, in effect, a proper kids review of the great selection of toys you can find at Kenney’s including yo-yo’s, paddle balls, plastic cars, bicycles figurines, water guns, old-fashioned wearable plastic “painted ladies fingernails,” coloring books and other items. You can also buy real hats, for adults and children – I purchased a fedora for my two-year old nephew.
It’s also clear that Kenney’s is a great place to meet friends and family for authentic Mexican breakfasts and Tex-Mex lunches. Breakfast options include tacos, pancakes, Juevos Ranchero, with sides such as avocado and tomatoes. Lunch fare includes fried fish, brisket, barbacoa, fajitas, asparagus, rice, and beans. The morning I went, I chose a papa con huevo on tortilla de maiz, hecho de mano, with a side of ranchera sauce (two for $1.89, no extra fee for the salsa). Any restaurant that makes homemade corn tortillas is an automatic find for me, so I am more than pleasantly surprised that not only do they have them, but that they began making them in front of me. The tortillas are authentic, thick and toasted to perfection. The gentlemen gathered for breakfast are friends and are interested in the work I am doing for Westside Development Corporation and by extension, La Prensa Texas. Like Atilano Mendoza, it is clear they appreciate their neighborhoods, understand the significance of supporting local businesses and the importance of cultivating the camaraderie that comes from being a member of the community.
Kenney’s Food Store is located at 342 Merida, 78207, (210) 225-6884 and store hours are 7:00 AM to 9:00 PM.