Whole Foods is at a weird point in its life. Everyone was super happy with the chain for announcing cheap new stores aimed at millennials, then super pissed at it for admitting to price gouging the crap out of New York shops. The future looks complicated for this organic mega-chain, but one thing's for certain: it's going to be in the news a lot in the coming months. So you should probably catch up on the facts behind this 35-year-old grocery mecca. It obviously involves Texas hippies and "conscious capitalism," but there's some beer and smokes in there, too. Read this as you inch through the 25-person-deep checkout line:
1. Two of the founders lived in their first grocery store... and showered with the dishwasher
When John Mackey's landlord discovered he and Renee Lawson were storing food products in their living room, he kicked them out. Since their store was on the first floor of a Victorian house, they decided to live on the third floor. It was zoned as a commercial building, though, so they didn't have a shower. They used the hose from a dishwasher instead. One can only hope they had some artisanal soaps from the stockroom.
2. The founders were no fans of Safeway
Whole Foods has four parents: Mackey, Lawson, Craig Weller, and Mark Skiles. Before they came together to form Whole Foods in 1980, they were off running separate stores in Austin. Weller and Skiles' store had the unassuming name of Clarksville Natural Grocery. But Mackey and Lawson named theirs SaferWay, because they were goddamn rebels. And also in their 20s. Mackey and Lawson's shop gets mentioned more in WF lore, partly because Mackey is co-CEO, but also because of that whole squatting thing.
3. Mackey chooses locations based on the number of local college grads
Mackey told Reason in 2009 that the most important variable in choosing a new store site was the number of college graduates within a 16-minute drive. "I don’t know exactly why," he said. "I can tell you that about 80 percent of our customers have college degrees. I can speculate that our customers, on average, are better educated and better informed. And a college degree, while not a perfect proxy for that, is the best we have in terms of demographic data that we can get." So if you're still paying off student loans and have a car, watch out: Whole Foods is coming for you.
4. He also has his own inspirational CD set
It's called Passion and Purpose: The Power of Conscious Capitalism and yes, it's really a CD set.
5. Customers helped save the first store during a 1981 flood
Not even a year after Clarksville and SaferWay merged into Whole Foods, the worst flood in 70 years blew through Austin. The Whole Foods team was left with $400,000 in damages, and no insurance to cover it. This might've been the end of the store, if devoted customers and neighbors hadn't volunteered to help clean and repair the place. Whole Foods creditors, investors, and vendors also eased up as the shop rebuilt, and it was back in business 28 days later.
6. A Dallas location used to sell cigarettes
In an interview with Texas Monthly, Mackey revealed that über-healthy Whole Foods used to sell an über-unhealthy item: American Spirit cigarettes. This was back in 1986, and it was just one Dallas store stocking the cigs. Mackey says the sales were fine, but customers were so outraged at this supposed contradiction in the Whole Foods image that the smokes got yanked.
7. Weekends are the best time to buy produce
As an insider told us personally, Whole Foods puts five to 15 pieces of produce that were on sale during the week on even deeper discounts when Friday rolls around. So keep an eye on those russet potatoes.
8. There's "walking around beer" in Austin
Since it has a full liquor license, the Lamar location in Austin also places these buckets at convenient stops along your shopping path. You're supposed to get the can before you browse, but you can always post up in Bar Lamar (like we said, full liquor license) after you've crossed everything off your grocery list.
9. Even the dog food is fancy
You can't possibly expect the pups to eat Beggin' Strips when their owners are pounding French chestnuts and sea salt potato chips. Hence, rib-cooked dog bones. This particular treat was snapped at the Whole Foods in Brooklyn (ugh, of course), but you can find extra-exorbitant pet food at any location.
10. The company hires certified cheese pros
Whole Foods likes to bring food experts onboard wherever they can, and sometimes that means employing Certified Cheese Professionals. These elite individuals get their credentials from the American Cheese Society. It might be the smelliest society in the country, but it's also pretty serious: only 406 people have passed its certification exam. We assume it's hard, but we also kinda wanna take it for the snacks.
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