WHO'S WHO - ROBERT R. ONSTEAD
(1931 - 2004)
The late Robert R. Onstead was born on July 20, 1931 in Garrett, Texas but graduated from high school in Ennis, Texas in 1948. He attended the University of North Texas and served two years in the U.S. Air Force.
When his father-in-law decided to offer Robert R. Onstead a job with his Randallís Super Valu grocery stores during the 1950s, Onstead gratefully accepted.
"The economy was in a pretty bad post-war recession," Onstead once recalled. "Jobs were hard to get, and my father-in-law offered a good deal for us to come to Houston. As it turned out, it was a good decision."
Onstead was not understating the case. Some 40 years later, he was chairman of the board of Randallís Food Markets Inc., which at the time was still based in Houston. He was also chairman of Tom Thumb Food & Pharmacy, which Onstead and his partners purchased in 1992.
The last thing on Onsteadís mind while growing up near Ennis, Texas, was a career in the food industry. One of his career goals, in fact, was medicine, and he began pre-med studies at North Texas State. The Korean War and marriage caused a change of plans. After returning from the war, Onstead decided against returning to school, and instead went to work for IBM in Dallas.
During the early 1960s, Onstead took over management of the four Randallís stores before they were sold to a public company in 1964. He then left that company, which had changed the name of the stores, to start his own company in 1966.
He formed a partnership with two former Randallís Super Valu employees, bought two small stores, and called them Randallís.
The first Randallís stores were discount supermarkets in working neighborhoods with an image of low prices and quality service. Onstead and his partners eventually purchased four large stores in more upscale neighborhoods and then offered specialty items shoppers couldnít find elsewhere. This change also prepared Randallís to purchase Tom Thumb Food Stores. The family owned, Dallas-based chain ended up with Onstead in 1992 because of his friendship with Jack Evans (who was an executive for the Tom Thumb Foods chain). Onstead served as chair of the board of Randall's from 1966 to 1999. He was president of Onstead Interests starting back in 1999 and a limited partner in the Houston Texans of the National Football League, which began in 2001.
Randallís, which still has a strong presence in Houston, Austin, and the Dallas-Fort Worth area (through Tom Thumb stores), later sold a majority interest in the company in order to expand throughout the state. In terms of expansion outside the state, however, "someone else will have to do that," Onstead commented. "Iím retiring next summer, after the expansion program gets underway."
In addition to building Randallís Food Markets into a chain that is well known throughout the Bayou City, Onstead spent a great deal of his time working with organizations in his industry and his home state. He served on the boards of Abilene Christian University, Greater Houston Partnership, Food Marketing Institute, Texas Commerce Bancshares Inc., The University Cancer Foundation, the Houston Economic Development Council, the Better Business Bureau of Houston and Houston Retail Grocers Association, among others.
Onstead served Abilene Christian University as a board member beginning in 1978. Onstead and his wife, Kay, are the namesakes of the Robert and Kay Onstead Distinguished Chair of Biblical Studies. He was instrumental in raising funds for the construction of the Biblical Studies Building and the Mabee Business Building. The bridesí lounge beneath ACU's Chapel on the Hill is named in honor of Kay. The Onsteads have funded numerous scholarships for ACU students preparing for careers in business and ministry, and provided internship programs through Randall's for many ACU accounting students.
He was a lifetime director of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and State Fair of Texas. Among other honors, he received the "Man of the Year" Award from the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation of Houston Gulf Coast and the "Distinguished Citizen" Award from the Rotary Club of Houston. He was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 1993. Throughout Texas, and especially in Houston, Onstead was known for his civic leadership and his business success.
Onstead retired from Randall's in 1998 and left the stewardship of the company to his offspring to continue the family business. His eldest son, R. Randall, Onstead, Jr., took over the president and CEO responsibilities of Randallís back in 1996, while a younger son was placed as a store director in Austin. Even third-generation Onstead's were already participating in the businessósacking groceries. One might say they were carrying on a family tradition up until Safeway acquired the chain in 1999. In 2003, R. Randall Onstead, Jr., assumed the position as president of Safeway Inc.'s troubled subsidiary, Dominick's Finer Foods, LLC, in the Chicago-area.
Robert Onstead, Houston businessman, died of a heart attack Wednesday, August 4, 2004, at an airport in Sicily while traveling with his wife, Kay, daughter and granddaughter. He was 73. He is survived by his wife, his brother, Dr. Charles Onstead, four children, eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
In 2004, R. Randall, Onstead, Jr., stepped down from his position with Dominick's Finer Foods, LLC, to assume a more active role in administering the family's portfolio of investments.