Fresh cut flowers begin sensory overload at the new Whole Foods in East Memphis.
The new Whole Foods Market in East Memphis isn’t simply a bigger and better version of the original market formerly located next door. It is an entirely new take for Memphis on how grocery shopping can be fun, healthy, upscale, and expensive.
In other words: Goodbye alternative/rub-shoulders-with-strangers vibe and hello slick and spacious.
For me, the transition is a bit of a mixed bag, since I started shopping at natural food grocery stores when they were still named after people. (Shed a tear for the rustic appeal of the original Mrs. Gooch’s in west Los Angeles, which was, in fact, purchased by Whole Foods in 1993 in a $56-million stock deal. To be fair, the stores by then were the second largest natural foods supermarket chain in the country, so rock on Sandy Gooch.)
While I can’t help but miss messy bulk bins, I’m not sentimental about the brown rice and granola days. For several decades, natural food was an insider’s club, misunderstood by many people and unaffordable for most. Whole Foods changed the game, spreading the gospel with a mind-blowing selection of fresh food and groceries that, while expensive, still aren’t as pricey as they used to be, especially during grand openings.
I stopped by Whole Foods on opening day to slip in for photos, but started shopping before I got inside. I couldn’t get past the gorgeous tulips for $5 a bunch, pictured above. I bought four bunches, all yellow.
For the next hour, I was in sensory overload, wondering around the store to find sales (lobster tails for $5 each) and plenty of samples. I ate chunks of cheddar cheese and grilled sausage and pimento cheese from Tom’s Tiny Kitchen (both on sale and sampled). I discovered divine artisan chocolates from Portland called Moonstruck. I was. Mostly, I marveled at the store’s gorgeous abundance: fresh produce, organized rows of groceries, prepared foods, and fun extras, such as a growler bar, a gelato bar, an olive bar, and a BBQ shack smack in the middle of the store. I didn’t sample any of the smokehouse meats, but the menu lists sausage, brisket, pulled pork, pulled chicken, turkey breast, pork loin, smoked duck breast, and baby back ribs. And on Sunday, you might want to skip church to try this standing special: a smoked pig ear sandwich topped with pickled onion collard slaw.
While the store was crowded, there was no wait to check out thanks to multiple lines and plenty of baggers. Parking, however, wasn’t so easy, so try parking near the Paradiso and walking to the store. More important: Don’t stay away because of the crowds. The market can accommodate plenty of people, and the energy is upbeat and festive. Just be sure to bring a well-padded checkbook. I spend almost $80, even though I intended to not buy a single thing.
House-made gelato and sorbet ($6 a pint) serve up locally-inspired names, such as Federal Expresso, Pink Palace Strawberry, and Prince Mango.
Customers line up for sandwiches ($8), combo plates ($8-$10) and tap beer ($5) at the BBQ Shack inside the new Whole Foods.
Maria and David Benton try the chicken sandwich, served with one of six sauces, including Memphis style, Kansas City style, and spicy Southwest chipotle.