Austin’s 2nd Gift to the World: Whole Foods

lamar.jpgWhole Foods Market, the granddaddy of natural/organic food markets, first opened in Austin on September 20, 1980 on Lamar at 10th Street with 19 employees. That location is now occupied by a used CD store, Cheapo Discs. I remember going to Whole Foods on lunch and dinner breaks from the Sound Warehouse at 11th and Lamar, which is now a Whole Earth Provision, in the late 80’s/early 90’s. To me, a kid from Dallas, it was quintessential Austin hippie and one of the things I loved about the city. I remember really liking that they gave tortilla chips and salsa with their sandwiches. Mmmmm…salsa.

In some ways, the growth of Whole Foods has mirrored Austin’s own growth over the past 25 years, struggling to maintain a balance between staying true to the original spirit and rapid expansion and growth. The company has experienced explosive growth over the last 10 years, coinciding with a rise in interest in natural or organic foods. According to their website, their stock has split three times since going public on January 23, 1992 and they’ve grown to 187 locations in the U.S. and U.K. with 39,000 employees.

The 80,000 sq. ft. landmark store and new corporate headquarters opened on March 3, 2005 across the street from the location they’d occupied since 1995. If you’ve never been, it’s quite an impressive sight to behold. I’ve gotten lost in the walk-in beer cooler more than once, only to become entranced by the chocolate fountain. That store is more of a destination and meeting place than a place you’d want to shop regularly.

One of the founders of Whole Foods, John Mackey, maintains a blog on the Whole Foods website. He’s recently used it as a forum for debate with Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan, who Mackey believes unfairly characterized Whole Foods in his section on Industrialized or Big Organic. There’s quite a comment thread there and lots of information, Pollan’s responses are here and here. Having read Pollan’s book, I agree with Mackey that it doesn’t paint a flattering picture and he’s using the power of blogging to try and correct the perception created by the book. It’s a lot to read, but worth checking out.

Look for our third and fourth gifts today as we catch up and then fall in step with our Metroblogging brethren for the rest of the week.

1st Gift: Slacker

Tags: Metblogs7Gifts 7Gifts Metroblogging7Gifts

6 Comments so far

  1. Eddie C. (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 2:21 pm

    I wouldn’t call Lamar at 10th street “south.” I was of the impression that “south” starts at Town Lake.


  2. ttrentham (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 2:26 pm

    You’re right. An oversight on my part. I’ve corrected it.


  3. The Dude (unregistered) on November 29th, 2006 @ 4:16 pm

    Awesome, I’m in the middle of reading the Omnivores Dilemma. But when I read the industrial organic part, it sounded like he made it sound like Whole Foods came from some place in California. Also, I didn’t feel he painted a bad picture of the place. Just that it was hard to maintain the balance between organic and industrial.


  4. Spook (unregistered) on November 30th, 2006 @ 6:36 am

    It should be pointed out that Wheatsville Co-op originally opened in 1976, four years before WF did.

    The WF founders were trying to duplicate Wheatsville’s success at the time. It may be hard to imagine now, but it took Whole Foods several years to become more popular than Wheatsville (bad management at Wheatsville in the early 80s certainly helped).


  5. Rantor (unregistered) on November 30th, 2006 @ 5:39 pm

    Wheatsville wasn’t the only food co-op, either, at the time that HoFu opened. At least one of them, though, failed to comply with good food-sanitation practices, causing people to fall ill and resulting in closing (the one I’m thinking of was south of the river and was called ___ Hills or something — Woody Hills?).


  6. ttrentham (unregistered) on November 30th, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

    Yeah, I guess Whole Foods was an amalgamation of SaferWay which opened in 1978 and Clarksville Natural Grocery, which opened a year later. I wasn’t trying to imply they were the first or the best, just the biggest and most recognizable. Whether that ultimately means positive things for Austin and the rest of the country remains to be seen, but I’m cautiously optimistic.



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