Whole Foods gets a big Boise welcome
Nov 15, 2012 (Menafn - The Idaho Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --With the aromas of coffee and turkey bacon swirling through the aisles of Idaho's first Whole Foods Market, shoppers filled the grocery store they've waited years for.
The Austin, Texas-based company first eyed the location -- Broadway Avenue between Myrtle and Front streets -- in 2005. Planning and economic snags held up the project, but company leaders and their local partners, including the landowner, Norco CEO Jim Kissler, stuck to their vision of a Boise store.
It didn't hurt that Walter Robb, Whole Foods' co-CEO, had made friends here and is a longtime Boise State football fan. (He calls Coach Chris Petersen "one of the best leaders.")
Robb said Whole Foods is looking at other sites for stores in the Treasure Valley but declined to say where. He said he is focusing first on making the new store a fixture and contributor in the community.
"It feels very good to be here now," said Will Paradise, Whole Foods' president in the Rocky Mountain region.
A Whole Foods team started scouting for local producers long before the store opened. The store features more than 350 products made by people within a 400-mile radius of Boise. (That includes Portland and Salt Lake City.)
Several of those locals were behind sample tables Wednesday morning, ready for 500 shoppers in the first three hours.
Two employees of Doma Coffee Roasting Co. poured the Post Falls roaster's blends, which are also sold at Natural Grocers and the Boise Co-op and served at several cafes and restaurants in Boise.
The turnout in the first hour was "exactly what I was expecting," said Janine Zacca Zenner, while replenishing cups of chips and Zacca Hummus, made from garbanzo beans grown in Genesee, near Moscow. "I knew everyone (would be) swarming."
Many of the store's first shoppers are loyal fans of the chain, even making a point to seek out Whole Foods stores while on vacation.
"We couldn't wait,"?said Liesl Milan. She and her mother, Peggy Seaman, both of Boise, said they like the 42,000-square-foot store's wide variety of organic and natural foods.
Corie and John Pearce drove from Meridian, looking forward to the "fresher cuts, thicker cuts" of meat and fish, John Pearce said.
"We picked up a few items to sample at home," Corie Pearce said. "Unusual things like huckleberry sausage."
At least one shopper was there on a mission. May Zimmerman just moved to Boise with her husband -- the store's cheese specialist -- and had not been grocery shopping in six weeks. She's been a Whole Foods shopper since 1984, and for health reasons is now a Whole Foods devotee.
Zimmerman and her husband, who goes by Scotty, visited Boise in March and found a house in August.
"I love Boise," she said. "It feels like home."
Among the local employees is Dan Dolenar, who joined Whole Foods after 18 years with Albertsons supermarkets. Dolenar leads the produce section. He said he looks forward to going out and finding local vendors -- a responsibility he feels "so empowered" to have.
What does he hope customers check out first? The store's "Whole Trade" offerings, which come from partnerships with growers in developing countries. Second??Produce from Idaho growers such as Rice Family Farms.
The Boise area was so ready for Whole Foods that a series of tours ahead of the opening for 1,200 people filled up in a matter of hours. Ninety spots for VIP tours filled up in five minutes, store leader Bruce Green said.
The Treasure Valley has been a destination for several grocers with an organic, natural focus. Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage opened a Boise store on North Milwaukee Street in February. The next month, Rosauers Food and Drug and Huckleberry's Natural Market opened in Meridian. The Boise Co-op, a North End fixture for decades, has remodeled and added cafe seating and a pet shop.
Whole Foods executives and store leaders hope the proximity to Bronco Stadium will make the store -- and its tap room with Idaho wines and beers -- a post-game destination.
Green plans to keep finding local vendors, making personal relationships with customers and developing the store's character, he said.
"Food, to me, is one of the greatest ways to bring people together," said Ken Meyers, executive vice president of operations. "I would want to feel the store woven into the community."
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey
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