When Whole Foods Market opened its first New York City location in 2001, the Chelsea store didn’t include a seating area for customers.
Today, the natural foods store is as much about prepared foods as it is organic produce, meat and products. And when Whole Foods opens its 11th store in the city across from Bryant Park on Saturday, it’ll have its most diverse culinary offerings yet, from on-trend items like Nashville-style hot chicken, Detroit-style pizza and toasts to big names like Frankies Spuntino.
Further demonstrating how different this location is, the store is opening on the weekend, as opposed to Whole Foods’ typical weekday debut.
“We don’t typically open on a Saturday,” Whole Foods spokesperson Michael Sinatra said. “But it felt appropriate just because the store is so driven by culinary to have a couple days under our team’s belt.”
amNewYork spoke with Sinatra about the new location.
What’s the process like for bringing vendors on board?
It’s a mix of our team figuring out the pulse of what’s interesting in the food scene, what things they want to do in-house and what customers love and come to expect from us. When you think about Bryant Park it sort of has everything — you have tourists and commuters and residents. We’re taking all that into consideration. We also look at who are our partners in the food world and who we have always wanted to work with.
When examining the current food scene, what was the inspiration for what ended up in the Bryant Park store?
Detroit-style pizza and Nashville-style hot chicken are two that are featured in the store based on their popularity. When you think of things like pasta and sandwiches — things we’ve always done well — we’re featuring that. The food we sell always matches the quality of the products we sell; our Harbor Bar, the oysters we’re serving there, everything’s sustainability sourced. We really were able to reflect our quality standards in all our food and vendors. The Franks — they’ve been good partners with us for a long time, with products we’ve sold on our grocery shelves. Hari [Nayak] we’ve worked with a bit on some of the Indian food we’ve sold for years — he’s doing Indian-inspired bowls.
What was the response like for the vendors, were they all approached?
It’s really a mix. We’re very fortunate to be a known entity. It’s people who we want to work with who never really thought about doing a different concept, and then folks who are interested in growing their business and expanding what they offer.
How were the concepts developed for Bryant Park?
It was a mutual effort. Some of it is us saying, these are some of the other things we’re going to have in store, we don’t want to see replications. We don’t want five chefs coming in to do pizza. We have an Italian sandwich offering, which is mostly cold; The Franks are doing hot Italian sandwiches. There are some complementary offerings, but it’s looking at the larger picture. Someone we want to work with may end up at a different store because of similar offerings already. A lot of times these vendors rotate, some are more permanent, some can change with the seasons.
How does Bryant Park’s offerings compare to other Whole Foods?
It’s hard to quantify — every store does sandwiches and soups and salad. In terms of the number of venues and diversity of options, I would say this is to date our largest and most diverse offerings of culinary and prepared food offerings.
What are some of the exclusive product offerings in the Bryant Park store?
We worked with Maria Loi who owns a fantastic Greek restaurant in town. We’ve been selling her dried pasta items for a number of years. She recently launched a line of fresh dips, those are launching here for the first time. There are great offerings in the seafood department — seafood salads, smoked salmon from Daniel Boulud, caviar. Our bakery department is a new model of bakery for us — there is a whole bread wall that has a library ladder. We’re going to feature some great breads — some we will bake in-house, and some will be done by some of the best bakeries in New York. A new one — Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central, Claus Meyer’s great, Nordic, high-hydration bread that they do, we will be offering that here as well.