And on the 365th day, God finally created a proper grocery store in Brooklyn.
It’s easy to joke about how miserable grocery shopping can be in New York, and yet we can’t complain about the lack of options. There are the upscale chains (Whole Foods, Westside Market), the covetous yet expensive specialty shops (Brooklyn Fare, The Greene Grape), enormous fluorescent big-box shops that make food shopping more pain than pleasure (Stop & Shop), local grocers and bodegas with good deals but inconsistent offerings, and then, of course, the endless snake-of-a-line at Trader Joe’s.
But what about the all-purpose, every-day grocery store, which has grown scarcer in the city? Between the high cost of specialty items and the inconvenience of fighting crowds or picking over lackluster produce, it’s enough to make you click “re-order” on Seamless every night of the week.
But now, perhaps, a savior?
Whole Foods 365, the lower-priced sister to the company’s flagship Whole Foods stores, opened its first East Coast outpost on Wednesday at the new 300 Ashland complex in the heart of Fort Greene. But judging by the line down the block—curving next to the brand-new Apple store—for its 9 a.m. opening, and the crowds filtering through the aisles, it’s at least intriguing to the neighborhood.
Like Whole Foods, which calls itself “America’s healthiest grocery store,” the 365 stores don’t carry products with high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated fats, GMOs, or artificial flavors.
On the street-level floor are grab-and-go spots in the “Friends of 365” program. There’s the first East Coast shop from the Oregon-originated, plant-based, all-organic Next Level Burger, where a mass of people crowded to order the signature umami mushroom and quinoa patties. There’s a Juice Press selling acai bowls ($10.50) and ginger fireball blasts (two for $12.50); a stand for Brodo, the Manhattan bone-broth place with a cult following—perfect for flu season, actually.
For thirsty folks, there’s Whole Foods’ first-ever POURiT Authority, where you can load a card with cash, grab a glass, and pour your own beer, cider, or wine (Brooklyn Brewery, Other Half Brewing, and Threes Brewing are all represented). Upper East Side transplant Orwashers Bakery, where an Americano with local Toby’s Estate beans runs a respectable $3, caters to the before-work crowd with donuts and ham-and-Gruyère croissants. These partner shops are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Oh, and there are also Amazon Lockers, courtesy of Whole Foods’ new owners.
That’s all nice, but where can I buy my avocados? The grocery store itself is down an escalator (it’s open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.) and honestly, descending into the row upon row of organic produce isn’t unlike entering the gates of Heaven. Or so I imagine. People already looked right at home—a young kid carried a papaya over to his mom; a bespectacled woman stocked her cart with kombucha; an older woman slung a piece of pepperoni pizza into a box for later ($3.50 for a slice, or 2 for $6). There are over a dozen flavors of Halo Top, the “healthy” ice cream that dares you to eat the entire pint in one sitting.
But on to the actual healthy stuff—the Whole Foods signature. A giant salad bar and hot-food bar will run you $8.99 per pound, and while I know it’s the first day and the staff is motivated to keep everything looking extra nice, it really was the most beautiful salad bar I’ve ever seen. There are 19 checkout stations, and the line appeared to move swiftly—Oprah should steer clear, this section is stocked with carbs galore, with $1 bagels and cookies sold by the pound. You can pick up a rotisserie chicken on your way home from work, or some apology daffodils if you’ve done something wrong.
New York-born brands are widely represented—Brooklyn’s Gotham Greens gets prime display in the salad section, while Café Grumpy and Toby’s Estate beans are available to grind by the pound. There are also three kinds of local honey. Three!
Did I mention the aisles? The aisles are so wide they’ll make you wonder why you ever tolerated bumping butts with strangers when you squeezed though C-Town. Displays featuring Flash Finds offer curated items that aren’t part of the typical Whole Foods mix—Brooklyn shoppers are the guinea pigs for Brodo’s frozen bone broth, or the local Granola Lab.
John Walker, the coordinator of operations for 365, told me the store’s stock was curated by category managers at company headquarters in Austin, partnering with regional managers who try to anticipate what locals will enjoy. Prices, he says are “at or better” than the typical Whole Foods stores—maybe not a salve for those who nicknamed it Whole Paycheck, but for what I saw, price points were reasonable, especially for the level of quality.
Plus, crew members were smiling—some were handing out slices or oranges and apples as greeting—and that tense feeling of desperation in the air at most grocery stores was nowhere to be found. Of course, people will complain about the swift rise of chain stores in the borough, but perhaps Brooklyn has finally found a better way to eat well.