Whole Foods readies Fashion Island store

Grocery shopping is usually thought of as a chore, certainly not something that is combined with dinner and drinks.

Whole Foods Market, known for natural and organic products, aims to change this stodgy attitude with the Sept. 19 opening of its Fashion Island location. The 32,000-square-foot store features a full-service restaurant, complete bar and teahouse.

To take it a step further, Whole Foods Fashion Island also has an outdoor lounge area with fire pits, valet and car-side drop-off service.

"You're in a grocery store, but just on a whole new level," said Maria Mugica, Whole Foods metro marketing manager.

In Whole Foods style, stores reflect the surrounding community. The Fashion Island market has some nautical design elements and the restaurant, which offers both fast-casual and sit-down dining, was named the Back Bay Tavern to honor one of the most prided landmarks in the area, said George Khoury, store team leader.

The Environmental Nature Center, which hosts a variety of educational programs about and in the Back Bay, is Whole Foods' selected community partner for the new store. On Oct. 17, 5% of proceeds will be donated to the center.

"Our stores are not cookie-cutter," Khoury said. "No two stores are alike — our stores really do take on a life of their own to reflect the community."

The market has about 275 employees, many of whom are from the local area, Khoury said.

Whole Foods also partners with local vendors, such as Jeanne Scott of the Waffle Lady. She operated several Waffle Lady restaurants, including the first, in San Clemente, until 2008.

It had been a long-standing goal for Scott to get her organic waffle mixes noticed by the grocer, whom she said has a mission that aligns with her own high standards.

"To be in Whole Foods is the highest stratosphere of grocery markets," she said. "There's nothing out there bigger than them to me."

A long-time Whole Foods shopper, Scott is looking forward to experiencing the new store with its combination of shopping and leisure options.

"It's going to get mobbed — I know," she said.

Which is exactly what Whole Foods hopes, but can't know for sure, what to expect because a restaurant-bar-tea house concept like this is a first for the grocer, Khoury said.

Back Bay Tavern features a relaxing atmosphere of dark brick and wood and a full menu that includes rotating seasonal draft beer, wine and cocktails using organic ingredients. The Tea Hive, the market's fusion tea house and cafe, will feature specialty tea drinks and a lighter menu.

"What we tried to achieve here is to make something really different, but still remain true to our roots as a natural food store," Khoury said.

Whole Foods opens at 9 a.m. Sept. 19 at Fashion Island, 415 Newport Center Drive. The first 300 customers on line will receive a free baguette.

"It's going to be an experience where the grocery store is a place to meet friends, where you hang out, break bread and create memories," Khoury said.


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