August 4, 2008

A sneak peek at the new Rochester Hills Whole Foods

When I say I focus on whole foods cooking I mean that I avoid processed food and processed ingredients but I'm well aware that most people hear the phrase and their first thought is the ever expanding chain of natural and organic grocery stores, Whole Foods Market. While travelling I've been to some truly amazing Whole Foods stores (Columbus, Ohio and Atlanta, GA were two of my favorites) but sadly my local market was a cramped store that has had a fair amount of problems. So I've been looking forward to the new Rochester Hills store. I really didn't want to brave the crowds that are inevitable during the grand opening week. Then I received an email inviting customers to a pre-opening tour. A small donation to the Clinton River Watershed Council was required but it sounded like a great idea. I recruited my sister-in-law for company and we headed there today. The parking lot was packed and while we waited for the tour to begin people were constantly coming in hoping to shop and being turned away.

Here's a run down of things that caught my attention:
Produce: More local produce and better labelling is promised as well as more Whole Trade certified items. The local produce selection had improved a lot in the old store over the past year so I have high hopes for the new site. Since the opening is not until Wednesday this section was mostly empty during our tour.
Seafood: A new shrimp bar with various cooked, flavored shrimp. Discounts on larger purchases of fresh fish. Some interesting looking salmon hot dogs. A stated commitment to sustainable fishing.
Meats: Locally-produced turkey and other meats are promised. Grass-fed beef and a dry aging machine for New York strips and ribeyes. The whole section is huge. A smokehouse will provide smoked meats and sausages. There is lots of space for fresh sausages and kebabs. A large cooler for family packs that is separate from the meat counter.
Wine and cheese: There will be new wine bar, larger cheese department and an olive bar.
Body care, etc: A new enlarged selection of baby/kid products. Really cute teapots, which I expect are outrageously expensive. We didn't get to walk around too much here.
Home and pet: A large increase in pet items and household cleaning items. A refilling bar for a brand of household cleaning products I have yet to try. I like the idea!
Pantry: The bulk items (nuts, flours, etc) are now in the same isle as the rest of the baking supplies. I love the expanded selection of teas. Every time the old Whole Foods got a new brand of tea I'd lose a brand/flavor I was already buying. No more Sleeping Bear Farms maple syrup. They're getting a comment card about that from me.
Frozen foods: Large open freezers for vegetables, fruits, breakfast foods as well as standing freezers.
Prepared foods: Major enlargement here. A sandwich bar, rotisserie, hot foods bar, pizzas, salad bar, cold foods bar, Asian foods section (sushi rolls and noodle bowls) and what I've eagerly awaited...a smoked meat bar! I'm a sucker for smoked brisket and pulled pork. We got a taste of pulled pork and it was very good, if a little over sauced.
Bakery: In house dough, finally. The previous store's bakery was pitifully small and they sold bread that was par-baked off site. The past year had brought a new low in baguettes except when they'd get in some from Zingerman's. I really hope they take advantage of the new space and start producing some great bread. We tasted a slice of baguette with Kenzoil. Kenzoil is new to me but is a fresh refrigerated basil and garlic olive oil that is produced in Ann Arbor, MI. The bread was good and the oil was flavorful and delicious.
Gelato bar: Not really my thing but the gelato cakes sound interesting.
Coffee: A new coffee roaster. I'm eager to try the in house roasts.
Demonstration area: Around the corner from the seating there is a full demonstration kitchen. It looks like a pleasant place to watch a presentation.
Overall: It's a beautiful new store, but this Whole Foods has a lot of competition. Just last year Papa Joe's and Vince and Joe's our two other "gourmet markets" opened new stores in the area. There is also a Trader Joe's across the street. The new location puts Whole Foods in an open air mall, the Village of Rochester Hills. I'm sure that the traffic is going to be atrocious, especially around the winter holidays. I'm not convinced that there will be adequate parking. It also has added another two miles to my original 12 mile drive. I can see it being a once a month thing only. I've been very happy with the response to my requests made to Vince and Joe's and it is the closest to me. If only they would work on their organic produce selection! They have a good selection of local produce in season but hide their organics in a back case. Papa Joe's is terribly laid out and has such a miserable produce department I only run in for something prepared for lunch or to grab a baguette or special order seafood.

The grand opening of the Rochester Hills Whole Foods is Wednesday August 6th.

My bag of tour swag.
Beware Herban Cowboy brand soap and deodorant.
It stunk up everything and was all I could smell on the ride home.