At long last, the future is here. On Wednesday, in a Silver Lake strip mall where a Ralphs once stood, Whole Foods will open their long-awaited 365 by Whole Foods Market, a millennial-geared spin-off offering quality at a lower price point.
After practically inventing “organic” as a corporate concept, the 35-year-old supermarket chain has found it increasingly difficult to hold onto their market share alongside the Trader Joe’s and Sprouts of the world. The 365 concept appears to be their answer, and the L.A. flagship’s opening will be followed by two other 365 outlets in the Pacific Northwest, with 10 more slated to open in 2017.
The Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market may officially open Wednesday at 9 a.m., but on this celebratory Monday afternoon, the space is full of huddled groups led by valiant, knowledgable Whole Foods representatives, slowly making their way, station by station, across this great store.
There is an entire refrigerator section filled with kombuchas. There are a dozen different kinds of fake cheeses. Every aisle is beautiful. Even the cat food display looks like pop art. On the whole, it’s much less overwhelming than a mothership Whole Foods, and more human-scale.
Displays have signage that say playful things in faux-hand lettered fonts. The message is clear: Whole Foods might be a massive corporation, but the Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market is cool. They get it.
Near the entrance, there is a self-service tea kiosk where you can create your own tea blend, mixing and matching from 18 different options.
“You wouldn’t think to mix a yerba mate and a black tea—that’s really taboo in the tea world,” teaBot’s co-founder and CEO Rehman Merali tells me. But, according to Merali, people do it here, and “they love it.” This is the Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market, and anything can happen.
Chloe Coscarelli of by CHLOE, a popular New York vegan eatery, stands in a pink chef shirt next to her business partner Samantha Wasser and tells us about their (vegan! plant-based! kosher!) restaurant-within-the-market, which will be located adjacent to the fresh produce section and serve signature by CHLOE items like their Mac n Cheese, Whiskey BBQ and Guac Burgers (except presumably without cheese, real barbecue or an actual burger, as all products are vegan and plant-based). By CHLOE and teaBot are among several partners brought in to further customize the Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market experience.
Next, we enter “Veg Valley,” which lines the northern wall of the market. Peter, our Whole Foods guide, explains that having vegetables in a separated, cordoned-off area will reduce the energy needed to keep it cool, emblematic of the Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market’s overall commitment to sustainability.
Veg Valley is currently empty, but its silver shelves gleam with possibility, and Peter tells us to imagine them full of vegetables. The strong A/C blasts like a wind machine, and I wonder if this is what it feels like to be a model, imagining food where there is none, and having my hair gently swept off my face by an artificial breeze. It feels great.
At the next station, a man with a scruffy almost-beard delicately ladles Organic Girl brand pepper greens onto a tiny paper plate for us to sample. The greens are very green, but not in an overly bright, too-green way. That would be gauche, and reek of preservatives. These greens are a perfect, bespoke green. They are delicious. Everything in the Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market is delicious.
The fruits and vegetables will be available on a pay-per-item basis, as opposed to pay-per-pound, and there are convenient weigh stations on the end of each of the displays. This will make things faster when you check out, and also reduce waste, according to Peter.
There are a lot of flavor profiles and signatures. Peter tells us that the prepared foods section, which will have hot and cold bars, will be full of “trending flavors and ethnic tastes.” I am not sure what “trending flavors” means, but I don’t want to disappoint Peter by asking, especially because I think he might have just seen me wrapping up my sample of perfectly crunchy sugar snap peas in napkins and shoving them in my purse for later.
The hot and cold food prepared food bars will charge by container size instead of weight, further cutting down on time spent weighing, and waiting. More innovation.
We are taken to the market’s northeast corner, which features an original artwork mural by a local artist. It says “Silver Kale.” I don’t have the words to describe it, so I will just leave it at those two: Silver Kale.
“We really wanted to bring in some of the flavor of the neighborhood. And it’s also a great photo opp,” Peter tells us, as our group pauses to do just that.
I wonder if this will become a neighborhood icon. Ten years from now, will teenagers gather in front of this wall to take selfies and post them on a social network that hasn’t been invented yet? Will this be their Elliott Smith wall? Probably.
As we are escorted past the back wall of refrigerated meats, Peter upsells us on how not having a butcher to cut things on demand is better, because you won’t have to wait. This actually makes a lot of sense, and is further proof of why the Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market is the best. All the beef is purely grass-fed and all the chicken is California-raised, natch.
The move from station to station within the Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market is slow going, because every member of our group needs to take a picture their food, but without anyone else in it. We perform an artful ballet, each person leaning in, focusing their iPhone, and then quickly shuffling over to the side.
Any information on any product sold, probably down to the farmer’s eye color, is on hand, except for the prices, which remain state secrets. They will be unveiled Wednesday. But we are assured, time and time again, that they will be “significantly cheaper” than regular Whole Foods prices. That is the whole draw of the 365 concept, after all.
The booze section is plentiful, with an entire shelf devoted things that are “organic, organically grown or biodynamic.” I am told that this shelf is “a nod to the future state of conscious wine drinkers of the world,” and can only presume that the rest of the shelves are for monsters.
They’ve also partnered with Delectable to create a platform that lets you access user-generated reviews right there on iPads in the aisle, so you can scan through them and see which drinks other people liked. I would say that it is like a live-action Yelp, except that I think a live-action Yelp would probably involve standing with another human and hearing their thoughts.
I examine the eight different kinds of smoked salmon in the refrigerator along the back wall and realize I have never felt more alive. The smoked fish section is conveniently paired with lemon and lime juice, tartar sauce and capers directly below it. They have idiot-proofed this thing. If you can’t come to the new Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market and leave with a beautiful meal, then somewhere Alice Waters is crying.
As we edge towards the store’s southwest corner, David Chang, founder of Momofuku, hands me a little piece of shrimp with their signature Ssäm sauce sauce on it.
Is this real life?
David asks me if I like the sauce, and then waits to hear my response like he really wants to know what I think. I say it is great. It is great.
Tomorrow, David will literally have a dinner party with Martha Stewart, but today he is patiently handing me a napkin while I spit out the tail of my cocktail shrimp and our personal brands are one.
We are all living our best lives at here at the Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market, except maybe David Chang, who has been reduced to handing out samples. And Chris Bianco, founder of Phoenix’s renowned Bianco Pizzeria which many consider to be the best in America, who is stationed next to the prepared foods section, standing next to a table full of tiny pieces of cold pizza.
Over by the freezer, the descriptions on the frozen foods sound so organic and beautiful that I imagine microwaving one of the packages and then throwing it in a Le Creuset pot and serving it to Gwyneth Paltrow when she comes over for dinner. She will ask for the recipe and I will just smile.
I honestly feel like almost everything here would be GOOP-approved.
Also of particular note is the second store-within-a-store, where Allegro coffee and Larder Baking Co. pastries will be sold.
There is coffee for three dollars, which is a triumph in the land of Silver Lake, where the insane prices of coffee continue to climb like gas listings in 1973.
There is so much I am leaving out, because it would be impossible to convey everything about the new Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods in one story. I am not George Orwell; I cannot convey the entire future in one fell swoop. Here is what I can tell you: You know those signs that say if you lived here, you’d be home now? Well, I can’t help but think that if I lived here, I could probably go off my Lexapro.
365 by Whole Foods Market President Jeff Turnas, who could easily pass for a dad at Silver Lake’s own Ivanhoe Elementary School and is kind of hot in a forty-something long-haired skater way, tells me that this is more than just a new store, it’s a concept they are creating, and that it will extend beyond just the artists and eccentrics of Silver Lake.
“It’s Whole Foods quality at really great prices,” he says. “I don’t think it’s just for millennials, and I don’t think it’s just for Silver Lake.” Soon, it will be everywhere.
If the San Andreas fault goes and we lose our civilization, I pray that at least the new Silver Lake 365 by Whole Foods Market will be preserved as is and fossilized like Pompeii, so someday, someone can uncover it and see what life was like for young, upwardly-mobile urbanites in 2016.