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[TX] Austin Whole Foods as Disney World?


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Money magazine has a breathless article about the new Whole Foods prototype store in Austin. It sounds like a Wal-Mart, with little villages of goods and services inside the giant store.

 

In NJ and NY, the Wegmans chain has many of its stores set up that way. Short aisles in specialty zones, bright color differentiators, "streets" with various themes. Overhead banners and signs to let you know what's in various directions.

 

 

Money Mag

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* disclaimer * I work for the local competition

 

Keeping that in mind, I've been twice in the past 2 days. It is a NEAT store. Lots of "cool" gadgets and such that make you go "ooh" e.g. multiple fresh peanut butter grinders, the chocolate fountain, the coffee roaster.

 

The food "serving / restaurants" are cool, but who's really going to stop in the middle of their shopping to have a salad in the middle of the produce section? No one at either lunch or dinnertime. The sushi bar is easy to miss, but the sandwiches, bakery, and "Raw/natural" bar take these items and make them look fresh and worthy of my $$.

 

The candy bar, with it's high labor costs, is going to be hard to make money. I'm imagining a near future with limited service hours and/or a lot more pre-packaged selections outside to reduce service costs.

 

The bulk section - CM puts it to shame, very limited. The only"wow" for me was chocolate dipped plantains and the previously mentioned peanut butter grinders. But I'll still just buy Laura Scudders Almond butter from the regular store and snack for free on theirs.

 

Fish and Meat - lots of stuff, lots of stuff cut yesterday. Take a good luck at those meat bones - dark and definitely not cut in the past 24 hours. The chickens looked good, the quail a bit tired, and the pork also. And all that sausage... well, where do you think the "old" meat goes? It's there or the "smoked" table. Very clever, and a great way to extend the shelf life of the meat. Just be very choosy on your $25.99/lb filet mignon. And btw, you can get that same grain fed no hormone beef for about 25% less at your regular store.

 

Produce - colorful, full, and a wide selection. Now if there were only signs to tell you how much things cost. Signage was an issue all over the store, but most frustrating for me in produce.

 

Service - love the grocery valet idea, don't like that I can't take the same stairs down to the parking lot that I used to get upstairs.

 

Overall - stingy on the samples, especially for a showboat grand opening. A beautiful interior with a great feel, an adventure for all, and a big whallop in the wallet if you actually buy much.

 

--LHG

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I pretty much got the same impression as LHG. I've been to the store three times now. It's a giant food court with the center aisles ( dry goods ) as an afterthought. Obviously the money makers will be the prepared foods: they were tempting and fresh looking. The meat and seafood counters did not impress me. Neither did the produce department. This store is fresh and clean: the lighting is stupendous. The bakery IS impressive, at least at first glance. I'll have to go back a few times to see if they can keep up the quality.

 

It was still a Whole Foods, only bigger. I had a question or two that needed answering in the specialty foods aisles and couldn't find anyone to help me. I asked a produce guy if he knew where the bagged peanuts were. He looked at me and said, "Yes, I know. Do you want to know?"

 

What kind of customer service is THAT?

 

On the other hand, if I lived downtown and had a large disposable income and didn't cook much, I think I'd spend a lot of time and money at that store.

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“Americans love to eat. And Americans love to shop. But we don't like to shop for food. It's a chore, like doing laundry,” laments John Mackey, 51, the sneaker-and-jeans-wearing founder of Whole Foods. “Whole Foods thinks shopping should be fun. With this store, we're pioneering a new lifestyle that synthesizes health and pleasure. We don't see a contradiction.”

 

Every dollar invested in "synthesis," "lifestyle," "health" and pleasure" is another step away from ensuring that the produce is fresh and reasonably priced. I shop there, but it's been clear for a long time that Whole Foods really isn't about whole food any more.

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Well, let's face it: Central Market has been a thorn in John Mackey's side for 10 years. He just couldn't stand how much press it has had . All these years he's been plotting a way to take the attention away from those stores, and he finally did it. Everyone's talking about the new WF. I agree with you, Busboy: they have lost their vision, but that's inevitable. You have to move with the times in order to stay alive and grow.....and satisfy your investors.

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nothing I've read here or elsewhere makes me want to get past my silent pledge not to darken WF's door more than once annually - I do just fine, thank you, with CM, Wheatsville, Sun Harvest and HEB. I know it's very irrational, but they turned me off years ago and I've stayed turned off - always seemed "wholier" than thou, and too often lousy customer service. And the traffic at that corner of Lamar is awful and only to get worse....

 

foodie52, I did notice the change in CM's hours....

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I had similar customer service issues.

 

2 examples - on a hunt for giant tapioca pearls (don't ask because I don't have the time to explain my fascination with bubble tea) Had 3 different employees basically say, sorry, not my department.

 

In the meat market - asked about exotic meats and availablility. Guy fed me a huge line about how other places were illegally selling stuff w/o USDA standards. Why make up excuses? Just say sorry, we don't plan on carrying that. I refrained from pointing out the greenish cuts in his meat case as retribution.

 

I still think the peanut butter makers were the coolest thing. And someone told me there's a gelato factory in there???? How did I miss that? Anyone else seen it and can point me in the right direction? HEB doesn't sell Gelato.

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There's a gelato bar: one of the perimeter eating spaces. I sampled a couple and was not blown away by them. Teo's in 26 Doors makes it better. I was puzzled mostly by the subdued flavor of the pistachio. You know that nutty, almost perfumey taste of a good pistachio gelato? Well, it was missing in theirs.

 

I have tried to be unbiased and dispassionate about my views of this new store. I own stock in the company and hope it soars. Having said that, I also work for the competition!

 

That's Austin for you!

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I just came back from my third visit to WF. Each time I walk away less impressed.

 

The quality of the prepared foods sucked tonight. I thought it would be a fun spot for a casual bite on route to the airport to pick up Sharon. Some of the entrees looked too scary to think about. The beef entree, a braised dish, had pools of fat swimming on top, the turkey was so dried out it was almost sawdust held together by a thick layer of undercooked skin. Ended up eating too much of some very good bread. The bakery departments is one of the bright spots.

 

I think they are struggling under the pressure and crowds. The staff is nice, but clueless. If I am am going to pay a premium, I want to deal with people who know their products.

 

Does anyone else think the heavy police presence is unusual. OK, have a few cops directing traffic, but there must have been 6-8 officers in the store and another 2-3 in the garage. I noticed this the last time, so I do not believe it is related to SXSW.

 

Maybe I will go back in 6 months when the novelty wears off and the crowds thin out.

 

In a few years they are going to close the North location and move it to Braker and MoPac. I wonder if they will try and keep its charm or just repeat the downtown store, gimmicks and all?

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Lots of security. The amount of theft that must be going on right now (specially in the middle of the store, cosmetics and supplements) must be giving them fits.

 

I would love to see their shrink numbers....

 

So...is this a dream store or a nightmare????

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" So...is this a dream store or a nightmare???? "

 

I think Charles Butt is laughing all the way to the bank.

 

The cops didn't faze me. The shrink has got to be insane. I will admit to eating at least $2 worth out of the bulk bins. Hey, I'm intentionally there to eat away profits without spending any more than I have to. They have also got to be throwing away insane amounts of perishibles. I know we did at the opening of the last HEB. But we scaled back really fast. And we weren't trying to sell cooked salmon steaks at $26 a pound. Throwing away V&V sausage is a lot less expensive than throwing out in-store prepared foods!

 

I'm sad to hear that the prepared foods were disappointing. I'm planning to go there for lunch or dinner at the earliest possibility. What time of day were you there? Maybe I'll stick with the sandwiches or sushi.

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I've been 3 times during the first week and as long as I view it as an entertainment experience I don't get disappointed. Went on opening day so I could say I was there. The parking garage wasn't nearly the nightmare I expected--somewhat less horrid than Christmas crowds at the mall. Of course, I do have parking karma, so I may not be the best person to gauge that. I bought a small fig-orange gelato and it was creamy, but didn't taste of either figs or oranges.

 

The second visit I bought great blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries and some tomatoes and actually got to look at things without marauding hordes of clueless cart pushers in my way. I also don't get what the big whoop is about the candy island. Seems puny and not very impressive. The truffles with chilis might have been interesting, but that chocolate fountain isn't nearly the big deal I thought it was going to be. (Anybody read John Kelso's column about asking them to dip pork rinds for him-hahahaha?) They had a couple of impressive looking pastries over in the bakery and the breads looked pretty good.

 

The last visit was yesterday morning and I just got coffee and some cheese/pepperoni thing from the bakery. The coffee bar up front is a bit confusing as to whether you get your coffee first, take it up and pay for it or pay first after standing in line with the soy/latte/half-caff/light crowd. I wish they'd add a sign saying you can pay over to the right in the carry-out section that had 4 cashiers and no one waiting. I liked sitting out on the patio watching the traffic--not nearly as noisy as I thought it would be.

 

Overall, it's a nice diversion, but won't cause me to transfer loyalties from my beloved CM (where I do not, by the way, work nor own stock).

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Is this the store at 6th and Lamar (next to BookPeople) or a different location? That's the closest store to my MIL's house and we enjoy shopping there whenever we're visiting Austin - mostly because it was head and shoulders better than the WF here in the DC area. Too bad if it's been turned into a circus.

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  • 2 weeks later...

So I checked out the new Whole Foods last weekend. I parked in the Book People garage since I planned to go in there and to Waterloo for SXSW in-store concerts. Walked by the old WF and they still had their old shelving and stuff up, including customer comments on a bulletin board. What are they going to do with the old space anyway? Warehouse? Lease it out? I’m sure Book People won’t want it since they sadly closed the 3rd floor of their store a few years ago.

 

Walked across 6th to the new palace and was pretty impressed. When I lived in Austin, I did most of my shopping at CM and HEB, but I’d probably drop some coin at the new WF too if I still lived there. I loved all the smells wafting through the place, and I liked the idea of having the food counters throughout the store. I saw several people on a Saturday bellied up to the cheese bar and the seafood bar enjoying wine and food. Loved that you can buy BBQ to go. I was tempted by the slabs of rib, but I was still stuffed from lunch. I saw the aisles of wine and the walk-in cooler called Beer Alley and remembered how nice it was to be able to buy wine and non-watered-down beer at a grocery store instead of having to make an extra stop at a separate store. I still think I prefer CM’s selection better though. I walked around looking for the chocolate fountain mentioned in this thread but never saw it (the place was insanely crowded). They had fresh juices (raspberry lemonade and the like) in cups sitting in crushed ice ready to pick up and go (and they left the little straw “condoms” on the end to keep it sanitary). The clothing and music sections seemed a little out-of-place to me. I’d rather they focus on culinary excellence and improved customer service and do away with the fluffy stuff (they were the only areas of the store that didn’t look busy).

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