Whole Foods – not the circus, but almost – comes to town

Jeanne Huff//November 13, 2012

Whole Foods – not the circus, but almost – comes to town

Jeanne Huff//November 13, 2012

I remember the first time I drank a shot of wheat grass juice. It was about 10 years ago in Denver, where I was living at the time. We went to a grand opening of a new sort of a health food super store called Alfalfa’s (later bought out by Whole Foods).

I remember the excitement. Walking around the brand-spanking new store, crowded with shoppers, felt like being in Macy’s in New York at Christmas time. This store had everything – a bakery department, a deli, a restaurant and juice bar.

“How about a shot of wheat grass?”

“Sure, I’ll try it,” I said, caught up in the moment. I watched as he made it, electric green liquid trickling out of a juice machine into a shot glass.

I really had no idea that it would taste the same way the grass shavings from my lawn smelled. Blech.

I know that it’s good for you and has a wheelbarrow full of vitamins, but I doubt I will ever muster up the courage to belly up to the grass bar again.

More than halfway through yesterday’s sneak peek media tour of Boise’s Whole Foods, I met up with my green nemesis. Yes, you can get juice shots – wheat grass, carrots, celery – at the juice bar there. But I digress …

What is it about a new grocery store? It’s a nice touch that the giant, organic, has-everything-you-might-want-to-put-in-your-mouth-and-it’s-probably-good-for-you store gives at least a nod if not an opened-arm welcome to “local.”

On my tour of Whole Foods Nov. 12, Ben, my tour guide pointed out some splashy art at the store’s entrance and marching along the produce wall, thanks to Noel Weber’s Classic Design Studio and seed packets from Edward’s Greenhouse. There will be a “breadbreaking” at the grand opening Nov. 14 at 9:30. It will be preceded by a $3 oatmeal breakfast at 8:30 benefitting the Idaho Foodbank. After the bread (8-foot-long challah baked by Zeppole) is broken – by Mayor Dave Bieter – doors will open to all at 10 a.m.

The local element does not stop there. There are local wines, local fish (rainbow trout from the Fish Breeders of Idaho in Hagerman), local beef, local sheep, local cheese (Blue Sage Farm in Shoshone), local produce (Rice Family Farms, Symms), and local beers. In fact, all 16 beers on tap in the upstairs River Room are local: Crooked Fence, Payette Brewing, Salmon River, Laughing Dog and Highlands Hollow.

Leo Ray, owner of Fish Breeders of Idaho in Hagerman, said his secret is to marinate trout in Italian salad dressing. Photo by Jeanne Huff

Ben said the store worked with the Idaho Department of Agriculture to ferret out local purveyors and that Whole Foods really wants to “break bread” with all of us. He said: “Our goal is to be your community store. We know we can’t just come in and say that. That’s something that’s earned.”

Ben also asked us if we’d ever heard the phrase: “whole paycheck” in referring to the high prices some think the store charges. He said his Uncle Joe ribs him about it every year at Thanksgiving. He recommends that if you can’t afford to shop whole hog at his store, and you can only afford a few things, focus on meat and seafood. He bragged that they have full control of the seafood from fishermen to the fish counter and they own their own processing plant.

“You know,” I said, “a lot of people do their budget shopping at Winco and then make stops for organics or specialty items at the Co-op or other stores.”

He said with the location of Whole Foods practically right across the street from Winco, “You can park once and shop twice.”

I wonder what the folks at Winco would say about that …

Me, I might shop there for some things. I have to admit the glitz and glamour – and taste samples – pulled me in. Their cheese counter was pretty impressive, and, while Zeppole will continue to sell bread at both Whole Foods and the Co-op, they will have a few “exclusives” only at WF: Millionaire Short Bread and Cinnamon Raisin Challah. Sorry, Co-op. But, I will be going to the Co-op for my local eggs – the closest the eggs at WF hail from is Utah.

I also liked some of the weird food I saw and might try. Like the jar of chestnuts – it says on the back of the jar you can sauté them with brussel sprouts. And I tried some crazy freeze-dried yogurt bits called “happy yogis,” another local company with a New York marketing arm. There are 10 butchers, two sushi chefs, a wine steward, and a certified cheese professor. And meet Brian Sanner — the executive vice president of juicing.

Look, I’m sure everyone in Boise will be there to check it out for themselves, probably this weekend. It will be a madhouse. You might want to grab a shot of the wheat grass before you wade into the fray.

And remember: Just park once. Shop twice.

Brian Sanner, executive vice president of juicing, will pull you some fresh wheat grass shots -- $3.49.