Truth be told, I’ve never been a Whole Foods shopper. I’ve subscribed to the “Whole Paycheck” theory, and I’d much rather buy local than 2000 miles-away-organic. I’m pretty loyal to high-quality, cost-effective Trader Joe’s, and the local farmers’ markets.
But I’m afraid that’s all about to change. Well, I’ll at least have a new stop on the grocery circuit. The 48,000-square-foot Whole Foods Venice opened yesterday, and I was there.
What blew me away wasn’t the impeccably organized fresh produce, the fish smoker, or 2 counters of domestic and imported cheeses. (Though the hand-pulled mozzarella demo and tasting was pretty neat.) The prepared foods section was like a gourmet global buffet in Vegas on steroids. I was overwhelmed by such things as a rice pudding bar. A chocolate fountain surrounded by dozens of fancy dessert creations. A taqueria. Learning that every egg used in on-site food production was laid by a cage-free chicken. A Korean BBQ and sushi counter. Did I mention the wine bar with a tapas menu? The gelato bar? Or the local artisans’ area next to the shoe wall? Indeed, I get overwhelmed in a store of this caliber. Too many choices; too much variety! Can you imagine finding in Italy, a country made for foodies and locavoires, an entire grocery wall devoted to yogurt? I also worry about the corporate effects: how will the mom and pop bakery fare, the local taco truck, the pizzeria?
And the prices? $4.99 for a custom made burrito isn’t bad. $2.49 for a cup of soup. $3.49 for a gallon of milk. 1 1/2lbs. of Fair Trade organic coffee beans for $9.99. Not bad. And while it might just be a marketing ploy discussed recently in the New York Times, I was impressed with the 24 page newsletter, “the Whole Deal”, which emphasizes budget friendly ways to prepare healthy, gourmet food for your family. Whole Foods even offers a weekly Value Tour, which walks the savvy shopper through the store on a best deal mission. (Though I probably won’t be starting date night as the publication suggested: gorging on appetizers at home, so I can save money on dinner out.)
For take-out and bulk grains, little can compare. I’ll need to make a few more trips to really evaluate our new culinary show-stopper for groceries. But with such variety and eco-friendly values in my backyard, it’s certainly something I look forward to doing.
If you’ve got little ones Growing Up Gourmet…
check out the Whole Foods’ Mommy Mixer for new moms on Thursday, September 11 featuring organic baby food samples and cooking demos. Back to School Kid’s Day, Sunday, September 14, 12-4pm. Value Tours are schedule for Sundays at 11 and 3. More info here.