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Whole Foods made me go ick!

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  • Diana May 19, 2008 08:13 AM
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So Saturday, I was on my own, and decided to make it a good day of fun and health. Hit up the Ed Hardy Sale looking for a t-shirt with a bulldog on it for a reasonable price. Scored! Found a new "Massage Envy" and got the "introductory $39 hour massage". Oh yeah. I even went to "Color Me Mine" and spent an hour or two at "craft time", just for fun.

Drive to the Wole Foods in Woodland HIlls, hoping they have something good for dinner. Picked up some things from the Olive Bar, but nothing at the deli, salad bar, hot foods bar or anything piqued my interest.

Knowing different branches have different stuff, I went to the Sherman oaks on on Sepulveda, which is on my way home, anyhow.

The hot bar was disappointing. I keep looking for those chick pea fries to no avail. I wandered around,, picking up a small thing of Butternut squash soup, and eventually settled on a "egglplant Feta roll" for a small app, and one of the burritos from the relatively new "burrito bar".

I should have known better, I guess, as the beans looked kinda tired, but the girl stirred them up and they looked good. Besides, beans cooked all day can be fabuous, right?

I asked for both black and pinto beans, and got my "choice of veggie" by asking for grilled veggies. The kid WIEGHED them, and gave me one piece of yellow zucchini. She was going to give me half a coin of eggplant, but I sort of said it was silly, so she was super duper generous and gave me the whole thing. I asked for rice, salsa, sour cream, cheese, cilantro, onion and guacamole. "Guacamole is a $1 extra" she announced. I said "well, OK, make it a dollar's worth!" and watched in amazement as she put on about a teaspoon full. She refused to put on more.

She sort of rolled it up, asked me if I wanted it grilled (no, I did not) and handed it over wrapped in foil and paper. I paid $6 for it. It looked big, but I was still sorta miffed about the guac shrotage, so I went and got an avocade which had plenty of goodness in it for less than a $1 a teaspoon.

Got that burrito home, heated up the feta thing, poured a little soup and a glass of good wine and sat to chow in front of the TV. Ick. The soup had NO flavor, not even of butternut. Really, someone had decided that seasoning was an art beyond thier grasp. Tried the feta thing. Again, no seasoning, and the cheese was obviously insalted. Ugh.

Perhaps the burrito would save me. Oh god, the beans were cold, insipid, and flavorless. Was there cheese? I think she forgot it. Salsa? Cilantro? I saw her put it on! I turned on the oven, opened the burrito, put on a litte Vallarta "FUD Queso Fresco" and some hot sauce. I warmed it, hoping that would help. Nope. It was just a large wad of bland grossness. It sorta looked like vomit, but vomit has more flavor.

I tried some of it on the dog, who eats just about anything. No way, Jose!

Eew. Everything went into the trash-the soup, the feta roll, the burrito.

What a waste!

The central office is right don the block from me. I feel like going in there and raising hell.

Whole Foods? Holy Crap. I expected, and have had, WAYYY better from them. Next time, maybe I'll go to Pasadena, or do what I was thinking of doing, and go somewhere else entirely.

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  1. The burrito bar at the Whole Foods in Westwood once provided me with probably the worst-tasting and -textured burrito I've ever had in California. WF is NOT ready to be in the burrito business. I still love them for most other things, but they need to stick to their strengths.

    1 Reply
    1. re: nick_r

      Agreed here - I had the same WORST burrito experience (premade version) at the Mar Vista WF years back... Some things work at WF's but I think their strengths are with things like the OP mentioned (olive bar-like things - pretty hard to mess up) and cold items in general like some of their salads. But even then, the salads can vary drastically when using your visual sense versus your taste sense. Most things look good - I won't dispute the general quality of their ingredients. If you're eating there, grab a speck of each you're interested in, pay, sit down and sample, then go back for what truly appealed to you.

    2. At the Whole Foods in El Segundo, I've found that the cold salad bar items are pretty consistently great, and the hot items are pretty consistently terrible. I had to find out the hard way, too.

      1. Did you really expect to get a better than mediocre burrito at Whole Foods? I give you credit for being an optimist! On occasion I've picked up a salad from the salad bar or a made to order sandwich on the way to work; turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, 1/2 avocado, some sort of aiole etc. for $7.49. A nice change from my usual almond butter/cherry spread sandwich! But any ethnic food at Whole Paycheck, I'll pass!

        1. Hello Diana,
          Whole Foods is an excellent market chain and you are very fortunate to live in California to be able to have access to the kind of healthy selections they offer. They are not a fast food chain and you should stick to their fresh vegetables, excellent meat and other raw foods and vitamins. I would stay away completely from anything they have prepared or cooked at their various stores. You are also lucky to be able to have Trader Joe's another grocery/ market I miss, more than you can imagine, living in Asia.
          Kit Marshal, http://restaurantdiningcritiques.com

          4 Replies
          1. re: marshal4

            As much as I agree with you in most respects, the grass is always greener on the other side, isn't it... Living in California, or for that matter, the US, I think we do take a lot for granted. We, especially we Chowhound-types, can knit-pick and dwell over the smallest details of who has the best burger, xiao long bao, al pastor, salsa, shaved ice, ultimate expense account experience, etc. The choices and quality here exponentially dwarf so many other places in the world. But I for one feel transplanted in your shoes here in LA in that, the food in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are almost but impossible to recreate here. I sure can do without the humidity, the crowds, and some of the more stringent aspects of the socio-political issues one faces on a daily basis there, but living in places like Singapore, where all but the most uninitiated of tourists who occupy each precious square centimetre of space are de facto Chowhounds, that even when closing one's eyes and walking blindly down just about any hawker center and knowing that no matter where you stop, the food will seduce you to return again and again...

            1. re: bulavinaka

              You are so right! The more I travel the more I find that each place has its good points and its bad points. When it comes down to the bottom line, in the end you just must appreciate the good points and try to down-play the
              less-than-good ones, wherever you may be or reside.

            2. re: marshal4

              I don't think that's a fair criticism of the original post. Just because we might have better options than other places and Whole Foods might be good for some things does not mean we cannot critique their prepared foods. The prepared foods section of Whole Foods is growing and, in the newer, larger stores, will take up very large portions of the store.

              I have routinely been disappointed with Whole Foods' prepared items (from the Sherman Oaks store). I find the flavors of their items to just be off. Their chicken salads just always seemed off (the curry chicken pales in comparison to the curry chicken salad from Gelsons) and the Mexican food items are usually pretty dry. Now, I mainly stick to sushi for a quick meal, and appreciate being able to get brown rice for health reasons. They sometimes have decent grilled vegetables, which I like for convenience, and their hummus, but beyond that, I find their prepared foods lacking. When I want a quick prepared meal, I much prefer Gelsons' deli counter.

              1. re: Jwsel

                Alright, I will give you that one. It is probably unfair to judge every store in the Whole Foods chain by a few less than stellar prepared food experiences. I did not mean it in that way. What I meant to say, if I did not get it across, was that they are basically a market first and the prepared foods are a service to their customers aside from being a money-making operation as people are becoming less willing to cook these days. Compare them to other market's prepared foods and they will probably win.

            3. I've been going to Whole Foods since the mid-80's, when I lived in Austin and shopped at the original stores. I have never been satisfied with their prepared foods, because (1) with a few exceptions, they're overcooked, dried out (especially poultry), and taste lousy; and (2) to counter the poor taste, apparently, WF adds sugar or other sweeteners to far-too-many dishes.

              Of course, I have similar feelings about the hot prepared food at most grocery-store takeout operations. If I need takeout from WF, I'll get an assortment of cold items at the deli counter -- long-stem artichokes, anchovies, cheese-stuffed chilis, roasted red peppers, prosciutto, etc. Added to their good selections of cheese, bread, and crackers, it makes for a fine cold meal, especially if I top an organic, whole-grain cracker with a slice of artisanal cheese, a cube of artichoke, and a piece of WF-forbidden-well-cured bacon from Bristol Farms or other den of iniquity and shame!

              1. I like Whole Foods as a market (although the limited scope of products they carry means I usually have to supplement my trip there with a stop at Ralphs or Pavillions). In my experience, however, their prepared foods are pretty consistently awful. (I once got a roast chicken there that even my cat wouldn't eat.)

                1. Diana - learned that lesson a long time ago - avoid the cooked preparations at WFM, both sherman oaks locations, and also all the produce there as well. The stores are toooooo small, the staff too snotty, the service beyond bad, the parking is even worse, and their small size means a very limited selection of items traditionally carried in Woodland Hills, Pasadena, Porter Ranch or Glendale.
                  Tonight I finally gave up on the whole store at Coldwater - truly chaos from staff, product, and the snottiness of staff just finally put the frosting on the cake.
                  For produce, Gelsons or Farmer Boys - no Trader Joe's, thank you very much!
                  In fact, TJs is losing me much as WFM is, while Gelsons is getting better by the day.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: carter

                    Agree wholeheartedly with Carter on the 'tude problem at Whole Foods, at least the Riverside/Woodman location. Went there once ISO a certain salad dressing; they were one of the few places that carried it. Punk-a$$ 20-something stocking shelves thinks he's too good to help a customer?

                    Once was enough. I'm not likely to set foot in another WF ever.

                    1. re: Akitist

                      I have to say, the staff at the El Segundo Whole Foods is ridiculously nice and helpful...no 'tude whatsoever. I've also had good experiences at the Redondo and Brentwood locations.

                      Also, while the hot prepared food is awful, not all the "prepared" food is bad...the prepared cold salads are excellent.

                      1. re: Nicole

                        I think the tudes of the "help" are often a mirror of the their customer base as well as the mgmt. I worked in the markets for over five years and felt this to be the case. Sour-faced egotistical customers puking insults, unrealistic demands and showing no appreciation for going the extra mile combined with poor management that have no idea how to lead by example will oftentimes result in experiences like what carter and Akitist agonized through.

                        I found the same experience at the El Segundo store that you had with their clerks - helpful, laid back and I see the same with the vast majority of customers - very laid back, polite, and not demanding in general. The South Bay is like that for the most part - just need to steer clear of the young guys feelin' their oats after a few beers...

                        1. re: bulavinaka

                          I was in retail, working with the public, for several years, too, and make it a point to be pleasant to floor staff. Big smile, "'Scuse me, can you tell me where I can find...."

                          Don't hit Gelson's often, but it's a 700% better shopping experience, essentially the same customer demographic.

                  2. I see the prepard foods at all markets, and have seen them at Whole Foods as well, and I wonder who actually buys that stuff. I know I cant walk past the prepared items fast enough. A burrito bar @ Whole Foods? that sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Also store made soup sounds pretty bad as well.

                    Whole Foods has nice produce, and in my opinion that is it. The meat is overpriced, and not very good, and the same goes for their seafood.

                    1. Welcome to club. Since I live in NC and have never once gotten anything remotely edible from WF, it must be chain-wide policy to not season any of their prepared food. Not even salt. Nothing. Zip. Maybe lack of flavor is supposed to make it healthier? There must be some benefit since they charge so dang much for it.
                      Even before the current spike in food prices, WF's prices have been largely out of reach. I just haven't figured out how they've managed to convince so many people that there's a reason to pay those prices.

                      1. WF prepared foods have sucked from day one, it really doesn't matter which store you go to. You are buying prepared foods from a very large grocery chain; of course it's going to be bland and tasteless.

                        A huge WF opened close to my workplace (in the burbs) about a year ago and when I walked in on day one, it seemed like half the store was devoted to the food court: Sushi/Dim Sum, burger bar, grilled fish bar, comfort food kiosk, plus the usual steam tables x 4 and the deli.
                        And I knew they were doomed.
                        The fish grill was the first to closed and turned into a display case, half of the steam tables which were formerly for hot foods were converted to displays or for cold foods with a longer shelf life.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: sebetti

                          The thing I didn't like about WF prepared foods was not that they were underseasoned, but that they tasted as if they had been seasoned with garlic/onion powder. After the first couple of purchases of things that looked delicious but tasted lousy, I swore them off forever.

                          The WF near my workplace is closing a small location and opening one in a space that had housed a full sized supermarket--it sounds like we should expect a lot of prepared foods. I must say I'm looking forward to the salad bar, though. And WF here carries some Zingermans breads which is a good thing.

                          1. re: coney with everything

                            Yeah, it's tough to generalize about why WF prepared foods are bad, except maybe that they don't hire cooks who know what they're doing. I've had food that was dramatically over- or under-salted, and stuff where the seasonings were just odd.

                            1. re: David Kahn

                              I'd also say low turnover plays a factor, as does the ratio of the number of dishes to the volume sold per day.

                              For example, how many people do you think buy a veggie burrito at a specific whole foods each day? 5? versus a taqueria?

                              And how many distinct dishes does a taqueria make? 10? versus whole foods? 100? To serve the same number of people?

                        2. I went to the new Whole Foods in Pasadena on the Arroyo (the giant one that is 2 stories) and I must admit there were very few people there at 6 o'clock at night. I wonder how they are possibly going to stay in business. They were wonderful when they first opened in November, but I noticed the quality of the prepared foods, deli and bakery look tired and unappetizing, especially for the price. I can't imagine anyone shopping there on a regular basis in these bad economic times, because the prices are beyond ridiculous.

                          They have a large eat in section and it was empty. The salad bar is great but it is $8.00 a pound and rising. I guess people here in Southern California would rather put gas in their SUV's than eat. Trader Joe's is still as busy as ever and more and more people are going to Fresh and Easy for the basics. Nothing in the deli looked worth wasting my money on, and the hot take out food looked dreadful. I ended up getting a 10 dollar salad from the salad bar and it was just all right.

                          1. So I called the international headquarters in Texas yesterday and left a message of displeasure.
                            Got a call back from a Melanie? Melody? Megan? (I forget) from the So Cal central office, which just so happens to be down the street from where I live. Less than a block!

                            She apologized for what happened, and said she would "forward" my concerns to the particular store's "team leader". Remember, as is obvious to anyone who can spell, there is no "i" in team. otherwise, I guess the "team leader" could have seen the problem for himself and stopped serving disgusting food.

                            Well, then M lady, who was polite and professional, started laying on excuses.

                            As for blandness and lack of flavor in the soup, eggplant feta thing and burrito:
                            "Well, you may not know that we cater to people who may have restricted diets, and thus we avoid heavy seasoning." To my taste buds, they avoid all seasoning. Perhaps they only consider salt a seasoning. Does Whole Foods test kitchen staff not know of other herbs or spices? Garlic? Cilantro? Pepper? and those super-exotic spices such as, oh, the amazingly rare basil, lemon zest, cumin, parsley, cardamom, chile powder?

                            Perhaps these restricted diets restrict flavor? I told her my experience wasn't "underseasoning" it was utter lack of flavor.

                            I asked about the old rice and beans, mentioned the ridiculously overpriced teaspoon of guacamole and she said, "Well, I'll forward that to the team leader. We know when you were there, so we should be able to see who was on the shift. It will be dealt with.

                            Ahh, so rather than addressing the issue as a whole, I guess "Whole" foods is going to berate a single worker, who was probably following pre-set policy.

                            Finally, I mentioned I had to throw away the dinner I had spent money on, and asked her if she could do something to make up for it, as I was so let down I didn't feel like I got my money's worth and was not a happy customer.

                            "Did you keep the receipt?"

                            Well, no, not really. It was thrown away with gross burrito, soup ad such.

                            "Well, since we are de-centralized, it's really up to the team leader of each store to deal with these! Did you speak to the team leader before you left the store?"

                            No, because I left. I bought my food to go. I didn't know the food was going to be so vile till I got home and ate it. Since I don't have psychic powers, I could not anticipate that evening' s woe.

                            "Oh, well, there's nothing _I_ can do. It's up to each team leader to deal with that. You should have seen him before you left. "

                            Gelson's, bristol farms, heck, even Ralph's would have eagerly rushed to send out a gift certificate or something. But not Whole Foods. They keep that Whole Paycheck once they get it, dang it. It's their money now. Silly me for not seeing the Team Leader.

                            So there you go, they serve disgusting prepared foods, and have a disgusting attitude right up to corporate to match it.

                            Protect the environment, eat organic, and damn the proletariat! Their new symbol should be a pirate flag, except pirates, at least, probably have no fear of seasoning the food.

                            7 Replies
                            1. re: Diana

                              Perhaps a learning experience.

                              I find that many of the people on the biggest soapboxes, who enjoy telling people how to best live their lives, are many times the bigest hypocrites.

                              I have never liked Whole Foods, so how they handled the situation does not surprise me.

                              They do have nice looking produce though.

                              1. re: Diana

                                So, what is the lesson? Don't by prepared food at a grocery store and expect it to be any better than "grocery store" food. As others on this board have said, "Why would you buy a burrito at a grocery store when there are so many great places to get one?" You said you bought it because you liked their burgers (nothing but a hunk of ground beef), their salads (nothing but vegetables in a bowl), and their deli (meats, prepared by a seperate company, taken out of package, and sliced). The point is, that butternut squash soup and a burrito have to be seasoned by someone who knows what they are doing. A grocery store isn't the place to get, or even expect to get, anything other than "grocery store" food. The only prepared food I would ever buy at a grocery store is a rotisserie chicken. And, those usually aren't very good. Why? They aren't seasoned (or trimmed) properly.

                                1. re: dhedges53

                                  But I can completely see how this prepared foods marketing setup at WF works for someone who's just bouncing in for something easy, hopefully healthy, and wants some variety as well. The eyes play such a big part in telling your palate what to choose or expect. Seeing thousands of square footage covered with eye-appealing food is pretty hard to say NO to when you're in for a quicky. Yeah, the OP definitely has learned a lesson - a pretty crappy meal at the end of an otherwise great day - no one forgets that, especially at their prices. But I wouldn't make the assumption that all grocery stores have crap prepared food. I know of quite a few that have perfectly acceptable, if not great food - it's just that WF in general isn't one of them, with the exception of some the things that have already been mentioned.

                                  One has to keep in mind that WF did initially build their reputation on healthy cardboardish food, or have bought out many stores and chains in the same vein. I still recall back in their "old days" when they first moved into the LA region back in the 80s where their baked goods were nothing but whole wheat, honey-sweetened fill-in-the-blank. Totally inedible to me, but the VW van driving wheat grass juice drinking crowds who scorned cake flour and sugar loved those items. That is where their roots are and I think there is some truth to what that "teamleader" said. And this is why I am very selective when I eat here. Pick some things that you think might work - in very small quantities - pay for them, try them and if they appeal to me, go back and get more. I'm not a fan of WF by any stretch of the imagination but they do have a great selection of many harder-to-find items - their prices reflect that - and as much as one of our friends drags us to the El Segundo store for a put-together meal more often than I like, I can think of a lot worse places to end up - at least I can sulk my sorrows away after the meal with a couple of nice Hitachino white ales...

                                  A note on the rotisserie chicken issue: I don't know if this is the general rule for this item, but when I used to work at a certain chain supermarket back in the late 70s - early 80s, the standard procedure was to pull the chickens that were close to expiration and use those in the rotisserie. It was a classic way to take an item that was soon to become a liability and turn it into a value-added product. And this is why I never get those birds unless I'm really really hunger like right-now hungry.

                                  1. re: bulavinaka

                                    How do you think grocery salad bars came into being?
                                    "Hey, this lettuce is about to go! so are these mushrooms. Eew, lookit this onion. Let's chop it all up, put it out, and sell it to people for $10 a pound!"

                                    1. re: Diana

                                      And when it doesn't sell that way, there's always the soup bar. "Pot pourri" doesn't mean "dried flowers" in French.

                                    2. re: bulavinaka

                                      Lay some of the names of grocery stores that make good "prepared foods" on us.

                                      We have a meat market (Tony's) in Denver that makes a great sandwich (turkey, bacon, guac, on a croissant), and some prepared foods, that I've never tried) that look really good. The WF near me in Denver has some barbeque that looks, and smells, really good. And, a very impressive smoker. But, it's $10-$12/lb for brisket. And, I have two smokers out on my patio. I think the idea is to prepare for the next week, and then you don't have to go to WF, or any other grocery store, for a last minute meal. Of course, sometimes you can't avoid it. But, for a burrito, for instance, I have a Santiago's (all takeout, and pretty decent) about 12 blocks away. They specialize in Mexican food. Why would I ever buy a more expensive burrito at a grocery store that doesn't specialize in Mexican food. I would never buy Mexican, Indian, Italian, or any other prepared food at a grocery store. But, I like your idea of buying a small portion, checking it out, and then going back for more, the next time. But, like some restaurants with high turnover rates, can you honestly expect to get the same quality when you go back?

                                      Not likely.

                                      1. re: dhedges53

                                        Wegman's has perfectly respectable prepared food. I've eaten it frequently.

                                2. Though hope springs eternal, I have never genuinely liked Whole Foods. This apprehension dates back to shopping an early-80's incarnation in Houston on Alabama...the essential vitamin-reeking, "healthy," zealot-friendly warren. Depending on the store they might have good cheeses(I was once acquainted with the Chicago fromager for WF). Just this weekend I picked up some beautiful whole trout from an Indianapolis location. These pleasant experiences are far outweighed by the negative: assy, clique-ish employees, bland(to put it mildly) prepared foods, meat counters overpriced and reeking of rot, moldy, desultorily inventoried and packaged cheeses, poorly designed stores. Even the former Wild Oats now WF where I purchased my pristine fish has a plebian cheese counter(and a noted disinterest among it's staff) AND upon conversion swapped out Sahara, a decent hummus/baba ghanoush purveyor, for their crappy house brand. They've also ditched locally-produced, better breads for those WF(ugh...that pisstake of a baguette!). More reasons not to shop there.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: aelph

                                    I don't shop at Whole Foods.There is one in the Alamo Quarry MarketPlace in SA(San Antonio),and sometimes if I go over there,I look around but never purchase anything.
                                    I like to go to H.E.B.'s Central market on Broadway and buy some of their food items,and they have an area where you can eat.It is always busy,and there food is tasty,though I just buy a few things as it's pretty expensive.

                                  2. Fianlly some sort of resolution! I called world headquarters AGAIn to express my dismay at how the local office treated me. They also "couldn't" issue store credit or a gift card to cover the cost. (sure they can't) and also gave me the same line about "de centralized, team leader"

                                    Still she said she'd contact the team leader to see what he could do.

                                    Two days later, he called, said he checked it out, what I had said was true, he was shocked at how little $1 would get you, guacamole wise (he wasn't aware of how much his staff was putting out with the eyedropper) and assured me he wanted his store to make his customers happy and would look into fixing all he could. He said he'd mail me a $35 gift certificate, more than generous!

                                    I hope to get it soon.

                                    I Probably wont be buying another burrito!

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Diana

                                      Wow, good for you for being persistent! A $35 gift certificate is certainly a generous solution.

                                      1. re: Nicole

                                        I wouldn't give her a penny. She made her "BAD" choices, she should have to live with them.

                                        Not that anyone will read this post, as the "GESTAPO" on this board deletes about 90% of my posts.

                                        LOL

                                    2. Try an ethnic market like the Armenian market on San Fernando Road near Fletcher, better prices, a wide selection of foods, meat, fish. I also am turned off by the over-riced wares at WFoods. Up North, a few days ago in Sacramento, I went to a Nugget Market and their prices were reasonable, their selection was incredible and the service was very very good. My guess is that Whole Foods will fall behind.