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Nov 2, 2007 10:31 AM

Whole Foods Oakland – It is SPECTACULAR (maybe) with 3 bistros, Fra’Mani grilled sausages, truffle shop, lots of room and lots of parking

Reports on Chowhound were kind of mixed, but I thought I’d stop by and check it out. I think I’m semi-sophisticated about food but I felt like a country rube on the first visit to the big city … my jaw dropped in wonder.

I agree with Agent 510 who said it is spectacular.

In that thread, sigleguychef provided these nice photos and writeup … It’s like a Whole Block …

I’ll put the details in the first reply so people don’t have to wade through all of it each time they open this post … about the maybe … there may be a few things they lack … but it was so huge, hard to tell.

There is this rant about the store which does shine a light on some of the faults ... and I do agree about the fish counter ... not so much about the produce ... yep,shocking prices, but stellar (for a market) cosmetic quality.

This really is a unique market that doesn't have much in common with the other zillion Whole Food stores. You won't find not only another Whole Foods like it or ANY other market that comes close to this in the Bay Area.

For those as unfamiliar with Oakland as I am it is one block from Grand and Lake Merrit ... the part that is nearest Broadway.

Whole Foods
230 Bay Pl, Oakland, CA

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  1. First let’s get to the prepared food

    - Geleteria Naia … actual geleteria
    - Bistro 1 – Serving grilled steak, fish, salads
    - Bistro 2 – Fresh & Wild Spa cuisine – smoothies, wraps, salads, soup
    - Bistro 3 – Allegro coffee shop

    The first two bistro have counters with high bar seats. The coffee area has tables both indoors and out where you can also enjoy your selections from ... TA DA …


    - Sausage Grill with a Fra’Mani sausage of the day
    - Everette and Jones BBQ Station (ribs, pulled pork, chicken, sweet potatoes, black-eye peas)
    - Carvery (coming soon)
    - Wood-fired pizzas with the leaping flames on display
    - Satay and Korean BBQ
    - Sushi
    - Noodle shop (Udon, soba, miso, fun, rice bowls)
    - Over twenty soups and chowders from 3 different soup islands
    - Seafood salad bar (octopus salad, mussels a la vinegrette, etc)
    - Large salad station
    - Regular Whole Food deli, prepared entrees and hot food
    - Chinese, Indian, Mexican, Vegetarian food stations

    That is if you are hungry after all the in-store sampling … I had 10 pieces of fruit, 2 chowders, cheese samples, bbq beef, Dry Soda (rhubarb, lemongrass, lavender … nice rhubarb), and some product the name I forgot with 4 salsas, 3 types of hummus (one very good type with chipotle …there’s fusion for you) and some sort of delicious hot frittata type thing. The samples were in a bad location .. at the end of a cramped aisle with people trying to get around you so the name escaped me. I might have forgotten some other samples.

    There is a nice cheese counter. The youngish person there did a good enough job. He knew the cheeses there but was a little shaky about some cheeses not sold in the store.

    The soft, brie-like Gorgonzola Cremificato was excellent. I bought some Cap Gris Nez which had a nice taste and looked like large brown hard rolls. Didn’t like another cheese wrapped in cherry leaves enough to buy.

    There’s a candy counter with truffles from Lake Champlain, Fran’s, Cosmic, Tea Room, Charles Chocolate, Joseph Schmidt and a few names I missed. A few to check out on future visits Anna Shea’s rose cream, Cosmic’s dulce de leche with chipotle and ancho or blusing geisha strawberry daquari. I'm not much of a Schmidt truffle fan, except the pumpkin, but the pomegranite looked interesting.

    Nice olive station with things like tiny bright red peppadaw peppers, blood olives, pitted saraena, large lovely green catelvetrano, pretty little green picholine, French Lou Pistou, Bella di Cerignola … and the other usual olives.

    There is a lovely case displaying huge sides of dry-aged beef.

    Some of the rest of this stuff might be at other Whole Foods but I haven’t shopped at a Whole Foods recently enough to know if other stores carry it. In the my misty memory some of it seems familiar. I bought some Black Forest Bacon from the many varieties of bacon available. There was fresh Buffalo eye of round and other cuts proudly up front with the other beef. There was boneless turkey breast stuffed with blueberries and herbs and chicken breast stuffed with things like wild rice and apple and cinnamon and almost any other meat you could think of looking very lovely.

    Frozen items that caught my eye were carnitas that Robert Lauriston mentioned favorably, breaded soft shell crabs, Duck breast fillets, Rocky chicken chunks (nuggets … just thought it was funny), Vermont Mystic blueberry pie, Healthy Seed hemp bread and dinner rolls.

    Some of the dairy products were Ricera rice yogurt, organic ghee, soygurt, and Oikos Greek yogurt.

    A few of the more interesting soups and stews … Hungarian stew with Linguica, French lamb stew, Cioppino, Brazilian … uh, fish stew, cioppino, seafood gumbo, Thai curry with shrimp, Diestel turkey stew, Southwestern chili and the usual Whole Foods soups.

    At the noodle counter the rice bowls were unagi, tofu, portabello mushroom chicken and salmon.

    The veggie section was impressive for Whole Foods … but I haven’t been for a while … yet it didn’t come close to Berkeley Bowl or the farmers markets. The produce was cosmetic perfection … but there was a price for that … really it took my breath away for a few items … $3.99 a pound for conventionally grown tomatillos that most Mexican markets are currently selling for 69 cents a pound. The only thing I haven’t notice elsewhere were some pretty green Thai papayas. Almost bought one but couldn’t figure out if this was the type used for papaya salad.

    Now the possible flaws … and this is the part that after all of these wonders I suspect people might jump on … I’m not sure if there are enough … groceries.

    It is so hard to tell because the store is so massive that the grocery section might be dwarfed just by the sheer size. While there were about a dozen types of Agave syrups and merlot, pinot noir, chardonnay, etc grape juices … well, I’m not sure if there was enough plain old bottled juice.

    Some sections, it just hit me that there wasn’t enough of an item like maybe canned veggies or .. .I don’t know.

    The beer section has some interesting beers and a very knowledgable and helpful manager, but I think the selection at Berkeley Bowl might be larger and ditto on the wine.

    The fish counter had lots of fancy fish, but some looked tired. No faulting the meat counter though.

    Hard to tell if it is still in the throws of opening. At the cheese counter there was a cheese I heard Whole Foods carried and they didn’t. The guy there said they were still in the process of stocking up … oh yeah, they were selling Tsar Nicoli cavier at the cheese counter.

    What IS nice is the room … lots and lots of room in all the sections … uh, except the half dozen grocery aisles that are crammed together … yeah, yeah, supermarket with inadequate groceries.

    That being said, I don’t often shop at Whole Foods more because they are cramped and horrid experiences. This Whole Foods is civilized and I will be a regular here … nice stop after stocking up at Grocery Outlet down the street.

    And there is tons of parking too. There is a little lot on the lower level, but on the upper level is a HUGE lot that even in the throws of holiday frenzy should be more than adequate.
    So I’m not sure. My first impression is that I love it … I really, really love it. I’ll see after the initial rush wears off and I’m there regularily.

    26 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      Do you think they have Guinness Kaliber? It will be worth the trip if they do since we haven't been able to find it anywhere else in the Berkeley area.

      1. re: chemchef

        Sorry, didn't look closely. I was waiting to ask if they had (blush) pumpkin beer. But I was listening to the beer manager talk to another customer who seemed really enthused about some of the beers ... something about one with smoky notes.

        They only had Buffalo Bill's pumpkin ale and not the other two Raley's is selling.

        1. re: chemchef

          Bevmo in Oakland should have Kaliber. Their website says that they carry it. Here's a link to info re the Oakland store. I would call them first to make sure that this particular store carries it. You may also want to try the Albany store.


          Beverages & More
          525 Embarcadero W, Oakland, CA 94607

          Beverages & More
          836 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

          1. re: Nancy Berry

            The Albany store didn't have it last time I checked.

        2. re: rworange

          you are being fooled by the shininess of the produce. displays, if you look at alot of the stuff closely , it is shrivled, rotten or just plain the same crap you can buy at any other store. I really think the whole effect of the store is blurring perceptions of the crappy stuff they are selling.they dont take care of perishible foods in a good way, their "on sale" wine prices are higher than the everday prices at other stores..

          1. re: jason carey

            I admire them for beginning to sell produce from local farms and such, however, I disagree with you about the appearance of the produce. Most, if not all, of the produce I have seen at various Whole Foods stores is indeed pristine in appearance. However, anyone who has talked to farmer's and/or shopped at farmer's markets for their produce knows that pretty produce does not equal flavorful produce. Unfortunately, we as humans "eat with our eyes" which makes it hard for us to overcome that misconception. And yes, for most things, Whole Foods prices are higher.

            Having said all that, I'm a sucker for a "pretty" store, and will definitely have to check it out at some point.

            1. re: jason carey

              I did look closely and with the exception of the tomatillos, everthing was perfection. I was thinking the high prices had to do with them being able to put out the pretty stuff. Also I went on Thrusday which is usually the best day for any market when the freshest produce is put out.

              That being said, out of the 10 fruits I sampled, not one rose above Safeway ... even Grocery Outlet quality ... at mainly $3-$4 a pound. This is not a place I'd buy my produce. But the selection is massive compared to the ordinary supermarket. Raley's still does the best of all the conventional markets as far as unique, good-tasting produce at reasonable prices.

              They do seem to stress organics more than most Whole Foods.

              I'll reserve my decision about the cheese counter to see if they rise above the usual Whole Foods experience ... which is good variety of cheese that is not stored carefully. It seems a place to first evaluate the cheese with your eyes and catch certain cheeses when they are new to the store.

              They had a Portuguese cheese I like quite a lot, Sierra de Estrella (or something close to that), but one look at it told me they didn't care for it correctly and I didn't even want a sample. However the cheese I bought was in excellent condition ... yeah, I won't even mention the obscene price per pound on it ... but it was worth it to me.

              I think ... this Whole Foods is really a massive super specialty store ... and that is what I will more likely use it for ... to buy items I can't find elsewhere ... and there seem to be a few.

              Also, it is good if I need to do a lot of shopping in one-stop and not drive around. Yep, I prefer Cheeseboard for cheese and Lulu Mae's for a variety of chocolates and Berkeley Bowl or Farmers markets for produce and anywhere else for wine/beer. But there are times you don't want to run around circling for parking, fighting crowds ... and this is just all so ... easy ... though a few notches down from the places I usually shop ... and yes, at times worth the premium price.

              It may be like the handsome guy who dazzles you and then you find out after dating a while, uh, there's no there there.

              After a few months of shopping I may get over the dazzle and share your opinion ... but right now I'm infatuated.

              They DO need to fix that fish counter though. That is sub par even by the standards of other Whole Foods. It's not like they can't reuse a lot of that day-old fish in deli dishes or chowders and keep the fresh fish pristine. Maybe they should consider the Chinese Market route and put in a few live fish tanks.

            2. re: rworange

              I haven't been there enough to know what might be missing in terms of groceries either...except I was there yesterday and discovered they don't have cake flour.

              1. re: chompy

                I've had the same experience at other Whole Foods stores. No cake flour. And most people you ask don't know what you're talking about. (In general, I am pro-WF.)

                1. re: chompy

                  They won't have cake flour because it is bleached. They might carry pastry flour or soft wheat flour, which are also low gluten and better for cakes than all-purpose flour, but which are not necessarily bleached.

                2. re: rworange

                  I think Whole Foods has brilliantly adapted to changes in customer preferences. These days, there is little demand for a traditional supermarket - many consumers buy groceries at discount stores such CostCo and WalMart, favor specialty stores like Trader Joes, and/or have opted out of traditional grocery purchases, subsisting on a combination of convenience foods and meals out. Ten to fifteen years ago, most people at the supermarket had a full cart of groceries. Today, it's rare that I see a shopper at Andronico's purchase more than fifteen items. I've talked to grocery store professionals about this matter, and they see it as a dangerous trend, especially considering that supermarket margins are rather slim to begin with. Is it a coincidence that Andronico's is closing stores while Whole Foods is expanding?

                  Whole Foods has moved away from the traditional supermarket model. They understand that profits are best found through "value added" items such as cosmetics, smoked salmon, and sandwiches. Large margins allow Whole Foods to realize profits even when customers only but a few items - it's easy to spend $75 and still shop in the express lane. Whole Foods understands that there's no money in selling groceries anymore, so the few groceries they carry are for the convenience of their customers. I believe that the Whole Foods of the future will be a combination of food court, pharmacy, and specialty food counters - sort of like a franchised Ferry Building.

                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                    I think you need to be very careful when you say "most people" -- you and I don't shop like "most people." "Most people" don't shop at Andronico's: it has a very specialized demographic -- in fact, with it's pricing structure and product mix, it's more like Whole Foods than it is like Safeway. "Most people" don't buy groceries at Costco. "Most people" don't even belong to Costco, and even for those who do, it's not a place to buy groceries unless you're feeding a large family, not to mention they don't *carry* a full line of groceries. "Most people" don't shop at Trader Joe's: there aren't that many of them, and they're concentrated in areas with specific demographics. "Most people" in the Bay Area don't shop at WalMart: there aren't that many. "Most people" still shop for groceries at Safeway/Lucky's/Albertson's/Raley's/Nob Hill/Food Max/Pak N Save -- why else did they just build a new Nob Hill and a huge new super Safeway in Alameda?

                    Whole Foods, despite its size, is still a specialty retailer that is moving in and "cherry picking" the higher end of the grocery business. If retailers are moving away from the traditional mass market model, it's not because there aren't any customers, but because, as you said, the profit margins are much lower. Why should they try to sell cheap groceries in West Oakland when they can sell high-profit-margin items to a population that has more disposable income to buy value-added products?

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                      Wow, this thread has turned into quite an interesting conversation. I went from being excited about checking out the new Whole Foods, to contemplating the philosophy behind various supermarkets. Very good stuff, indeed!

                      Good job!

                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                        LOL - the joys of editing and Chowhound. I realized the problem with my original phrasing and fixed it before your your reply registered. I agree that it's dangerous to make generalizations, but there is a very real nationwide trend of consumers gravitating towards either discount wholesalers or specialty grocers. WalMart may not have a strong presence in the Bay Area (yet) but it is a powerful force in the grocery buying habits of many Americans. If these trends continue, the "most people" generalization will be accurate in a decade or two.

                        It seems to me that Safeway is actually moving in the direction of a working class Whole Foods: the "ingredients for life" campaign, emphasis on value added organics and convenience foods, etc.

                        1. re: Morton the Mousse

                          Safeway's organic produce is absurdly expensive. If anything, it'll scare any working class people away. Last time I went into a store, it scared me.

                          1. re: Morton the Mousse

                            I don't see WalMart making too many inroads into the Bay Area. WalMart has mostly been sucessful in moving into areas that are growing and newly urbanized/suburbanized, not places like the central Bay Area where they have to compete with well-established retailers and a hostile business environment from both unions and communities. Actually, I'm completely shocked every time I realize there's a WalMart in Oakland -- I don't know how they managed that! I've never been in it (despite the fact that it's fairly near my house, several miles nearer than the place I go to fill that same niche in my shopping, i.e. Target), but I don't think it's a "super WalMart" that carries groceries.

                            I *was* in my local Safeway the other day for the first time since I went in there last holiday season. I was wandering around killing time, and I was shocked at how expensive the produce was. It made me realize that rworange was right that the farmers market isn't necessarily more expensive than a supermarket, not just for organics, but for conventional produce as well. I buy about 95 percent of my produce from either Alameda Natural Grocery, which is 95 percent organic, or from farmers markets, and I've been assuming I'm paying a fairly substantial premium, but the percentage more I'm paying isn't nearly as much as I thought (for those of you doing the math at home, I buy the other five percent of my produce mostly at ethnic markets, which are a lot cheaper).

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              There are different classes of shoppers and the market seems more and more fragmented.

                              There's the WalMart/FoodCo/Grocery Outlet/Target Superstore/Longs Drugs group.

                              Throw in the ethinic corner markets and that segment that will shop certain famers markets like Old Oakland, Alemany, Flea Markets.

                              At the other end is the Farmers Market/Whole Foods/Andronico's/ group.

                              The middle shopping class remains Safeway/Lucky/Raley's.

                              At Grocery Outlet today, two women had finished there and talked about moving on to Walmart. Frankly a Target Superstore is a better deal than a WalMart. However these two stores have almost taken the anti-Whole Foods philosphy. The do NOT carry produce that will go bad and focus on non-persihables that can be stored longer. It is probably why in addition to volume buying they can get away with such low prices. No meat, veggies, and dairy to throw out. Yeah, they have a few dairy/cold cut/egg type items but they for the most part are the items that will keep a while.

                              While I was at the cheese counter at Whole Foods, some woman was looking for a 'wonderful' cheese she had recently at a party. All she knew was that it was French and had two names.

                              The cheese guy wasn't having much luck identifying it. So I asked if it was Pierre-Robert. She said that sounded maybe right. So I said that currently Cheeseboard was selling it.

                              She said "Cheeseboard? Where's that".

                              I said on Shattuck in Berkeley near Chez Panisse. Blank stare.

                              1. re: rworange

                                And on the flip side, I bet that woman also never heard of Grocery Outlet and doesn't know there's one a few blocks away.

                                1. re: rworange

                                  Interesting classification. I can't say that I disagree. Andronico's seems clearly in the same class as Whole Foods.

                                  How is the bulk spice/dried-herb section at the new Oakland Whole Foods? That was the one thing I was lusting after, as the Berkeley one is not terribly convenient for me (while this one I practically walk by on my way to work). From the discussion here, it sounds like I will be sorely disappointed.

                                  1. re: Marc Wallace

                                    You will be sorely disappointed. All I saw was 6 plastic bins of nuts or something along that line.

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      I am indeed disappointed. Sigh! At least my hopes will not be too high up when I do wander past there.

                                      Perhaps I will make my disappointment vocal, seeking out a manager. Sometimes that can make a difference.

                                2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  Yes indeed, supermarkets have become very expensive. particularly in the produce section. The best example is onions, which range over the year from 29 cents a pound to 49 cents at Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market. At the local Safeway they as often as I go, which is not more than 4 or 5 times a year, they never vary from 89 cents.

                                  1. re: Curmudgeon

                                    Onions at the Potrero Whole Foods were $1.49 a pound as of yesterday.

                                    1. re: grishnackh

                                      Well, I see I should have read this whole thread before posting below. I had the same reaction to the price of onions! That was just the most egregious example. Apples appear to be carefully priced such that they come out to be $1 each.

                                      Whole Foods makes perfect sense in Omaha and Topeka where food is dominated by supermarkets pushing highly processed, overrefined garbage and a WF showing up is like an angel coming down from heaven. And they're addictive -- a month of shopping at WF and suddenly everything at Safeway looks like poison. Maybe it's as bad here?

                              2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                I agree that Andronico's is closer to Whole Foods than Safeway. When the fancy deli opened in the store at the top of Solano I remember gawking at the olive bar and all the prepared foods. I'm not surprised that the store on University is closing. The area can't support the prices. I've only seen people buying a few items at a time. Clearly they can't afford entire grocery carts of food.

                          2. I will visit the new Oakland WF in a few days, but from the tread, it sounds like the one in NYC on Columbus Circle and if so, I will only be sightseeing. Chowhound that I am, I never thought I would use the term "wretched excess" to describe anything food related, but that's how I felt the few times i visited the "super" WF. Too much of everything, except of course basic groceries, which given the economics of the supermarket biz today, as other threaders have cited so eloquently, is not surprising. Sensory overload--I could never actually buy anything in the six months I lived across the street from the one in NYC.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: annabana

                              I totally agree about the sensory overload. Also, I'm not interested in buying $3 apples and spending $90 on 1 single bag of groceries.

                            2. I went through as a tourist. Looks nice. The only thing I thought I might need was an onion for something I was cooking for dinner. $1.85/lb. For an onion. That's beyond nuts. In fact, it's almost six TIMES beyond nuts.

                              1. I'm a NYCer who just returned from 10 days visiting the East Bay. We stopped into the Oakland WF to take a look around; it also reminded me of the one at Columbus Circle (and another huge one in West Orange, NJ). I had my usual reaction to WF - nice looking, way overpriced (wine pricing was ridiculous), some useful niches - but frankly, given the bounty (and prices) available at the many famer's markets (we stopped at 3), the wide variety of high quality independent food stores, and the local higher end supermarkets (like Andronico's), I can't see why food-centric people would bother with the Oakland WF.

                                Loved the food in the Bay Area, BTW (and yes, your produce is incomparable in quality and variety), and hope to post soon on some overall very good and sometimes excellent eating experiences (Cesar's, Camino's, Chutney, Slanted Door, Blackberry Bistro, Arizmendi, etc.).

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: Striver

                                  I found the prices preposterous. I don't understand how the place survives.

                                  1. re: Striver

                                    I go to the Oakland Whole Foods for two things:
                                    1) Dry-aged rib-eye
                                    2) Vosges bacon chocolate bars

                                    1. re: daveena

                                      It was dazzling when it first opened. . . and it's gone steadily downhill since then.

                                      $13.00 for 4 organic sweet potatoes. When I got home, roasted and cut into them, they were wormy and mealy.

                                      It's all show pony and no substance. . . the prices are actually insulting. One of the cheesemongers is arrogant beyond words. The hot table foods are disgusting.

                                      I go here when I MUST have a 5-star Chocolate Bar - caramel almond is my poison. . otherwise I have Farmer Joe's in my neighborhood which is in it's own right overpriced but at least I don't feel completely violated after shopping there. . now if only they'd carry the 5-star bars, I'd be set.

                                  2. Calling rworange!

                                    "It may be like the handsome guy who dazzles you and then you find out after dating a while, uh, there's no there there.

                                    After a few months of shopping I may get over the dazzle and share your opinion ... but right now I'm infatuated. "

                                    As someone who enjoys your posts, I'm very curious where you stand 9 months later re: your beau, Oakland WF... please dish!

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Annie S.

                                      It's over. I've moved on. I prefer the Napa Whole Foods ... but even then ... pretty much what I shop there for is the Alexander saurkraut and pickles. One of those topics that makes me cringe when it gets revived.

                                      Has anyone ever eaten at the restaurant in the Oakland WF? Not the steam table, but that counter near the wine section?

                                      1. re: rworange

                                        Worry not, I still experience a full-body cringe when I recall (years back) exclaiming to chowhounds back in Minnesota that the "DRUGSTORE HERE HAS SUSHI AND IT AINT HALF-BAD, CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS SH#T?" We live and we learn... some of us in Rite-Aid.

                                        1. re: rworange

                                          I looked at the food at the "bistro" by the wine section, and was dumbfounded that they were asking as much for a burger as nice restaurants do.