DISPATCHES FROM BEHIND ENEMY LINES: WHOLE FOODS’ LATEST INCURSION INTO FOODSERVICE
Heather Lalley, Editor, Foodservice Group on March 30, 2017
A giant, gleaming new Whole Foods opened last month in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. It’s a grocery store, yes, but it should be making quick-service and fast-casual operators very, very nervous.
This two-story, 75,000-square-foot leviathan of a supermarket boasts a couple of bars, a coffee roastery, seating for more than 200 people throughout, a fresh-made pasta stand, a kiosk-driven build-your-own concept, and a selection of prepared foods of impressive breadth. The store is the latest iteration of this new breed of groceries that are as much about grab-and-go, ready-to-eat and entertainment as they are about picking up meal ingredients.
Here’s a look at some of this new store’s features that could be stealing your customers.
Tucked into the back corner of the store is the Wine Box, a bright, cozy spot with a few tables as well as counter seating. It offers a rotating selection of 35 wines by the glass as well as shareable plates of pickles, cheeses, dips, toasts and more. As with Whole Foods’ other bar (see the next slide), consumers can bring their drinks with them while they shop.
The Red Star Bar, which looks like any neighborhood watering hole, boasts 100 types of whiskey and about 32 beers on rotating draft. There’s counter seating, as well as both high and low tables. The menu offers a long list of comfort foods like poutine, smoked brisket sandwiches and tater tot nachos. There’s a kids menu and a breakfast menu, too. Just outside the bar? A wall of old-school arcade games—no quarters needed.
Near the Red Star Bar is a quick-serve, kiosk-powered area where consumers can order many of the same things that are on the bar menu. There’s an assortment of sandwiches, small plates, burgers, poutine and salads. There are plenty of options for vegans and vegetarians, too, including a loaded vegan poutine with kale, mushrooms and pickled onions.
There’s no need to leave the store when shoppers can find food and drink from upscale chains inside. This Whole Food features a large refrigerated section dedicated to Snap Kitchen grab-and-go meals, as well as a juice bar run by Real Good Juice Co. Both concepts also have locations in the neighborhood.
In the center of the cheese department is a selection of 17 different fresh pastas and rows of sauces from marinara to vodka cream to pesto. A self-serve mochi bar, a pay-by-the-pound cookie display and a gelateria occupy the space as well. There’s a deli case stocked with rows of chicken quesadillas, piles of vegan Buffalo wings, mounds of twice-baked potatoes and so much more. In the center of the store, just steps away from the checkout aisles, are well-lit refrigerated cases filled with all sorts of heat-and-eat meals, from whole quiche to tilapia almandine. A wood-fired pizza oven and an on-site sushi chef are additional draws.
The entire first floor of the store is devoted to Allegro Coffee Roaster, which will now roast coffee for a dozen Whole Foods locations in Chicago. There’s ample seating in the coffee shop at tables and on stools that look out onto the street.