Get a first look at Whole Foods’ impressive new Midtown outpost

By any measure, Houston’s newest Whole Foods Market boasts some impressive stats. The 40,000-square-foot store offers 334 parking spaces, employs 145 full and part-time “team members,” and offers over 150 hot and cold ready-to-eat, prepared food items — including stations serving pizza, tacos, and sandwiches. The bulk section alone contains 230 different nuts, seeds, granola, grains, dried fruit, and candy.

CultureMap received a preview tour of the new store, which opened Thursday, November 7 at 515 Elgin St. It will celebrate its grand opening on November 14 by donating 5 percent of that day’s net sales to local non-profit Urban Harvest.

Overall, the store is bright, colorful, and easy to navigate. At a time when more people than ever are choosing to have their groceries delivered, the new Whole Foods features a number of amenities designed to lure patrons to come inside.

Beyond the prepared items, a grab-and-go section offers a wide selection of beverages. All of them can be consumed on-site in the 90-seat, mezzanine level that features plenty of plugs and complimentary wifi.

Shoppers will find garage access on both Smith and Brazos streets. Once inside, they’ll see the floral and produce departments near the entrance. Fruits and vegetables are stacked with conventionally farmed items on the bottom and organic on top.

Locally sourced items are present throughout the store. Examples include breads from Bread Man Bread Co in the bakery, ice cream from Sweet Cup Gelato and Cloud 10 Creamery in the freezer case, Malk nut milks in the dairy department, mushrooms from Kitchen Pride Mushroom Farm, and skincare products from Oriya Organics, Enfusia, and Bossman Brands.

Not only do team members only work in their specific departments, which helps them learn the nuances of the products they sell, but they’re also authorized to open boxes to give customers a taste. Don’t commit to that new, organic cereal without getting a sample.

That expertise extends throughout the store. Two Cicerones work at the store to help shoppers navigate the 260 different beers — including lots of options from local breweries. An American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional oversees the cheese counter. Whole Foods corporate master sommelier chooses the 1,400 wine selections.

Concerned about sustainability and animal welfare? The store makes knowing what to buy easy. Seafood rates either green or yellow by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, which avoids overfished species such as orange roughy. Meats are rated using the Global Animal Partnership 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating, a third party verification system that tracks how animals are raised and fed. All eggs are cage-free at a minimum.

This new location contains outposts of two independent businesses, starting with the fourth Houston-area location of Austin-based juice bar Juiceland. The more unusual installation is a Briggo coffee robot.

The Austin-based firm has brought IOT technology to coffee. Customers order from a screen or via an app, choosing a hot or iced beverage, syrups, the number of espresso shots, etc; the machine sends a text when the order is ready for pickup. CEO Kevin Nater tells CultureMap that the machine will make up to 100 drinks an hour, meaning it replaces two baristas and a cashier in a tidy 40 square feet.

Distinguishing this Whole Foods from those opened prior to its acquisition by Amazon are subtle. Amazon lockers near the entrance allow shoppers to pick up products without the fear of porch pirates. Prime members will notice discounts available across multiple product categories.

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