Sneak peek inside Whole Foods on Hennepin

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September 17, 2013 // UPDATED 9:15 pm - September 23, 2013
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie
Upscale grocery chain unveils new downtown market Sept. 25

Downtown Minneapolis will welcome its biggest full-service grocery store to date when Whole Foods opens its doors at Hennepin & Washington on Sept. 25.

The 37,000-square-foot market — the second biggest Whole Foods location in the state  — is tucked below the new 222 Hennepin building, a 286-unit upscale apartment development.

There are now three major grocery stores in the downtown area. Lunds opened its 26,000-square-foot Northeast location at Central & University avenues in 2006, and then opened another 20,000-square-foot grocery store at 12th & Hennepin a year ago.

The downtown Whole Foods will be the Austin-based grocer’s sixth Minnesota location.

The expectations are high for the downtown Whole Foods with management anticipating the store to have sales comparable to the Lake Calhoun location, said Bob Eisenbise, the store’s team leader.

The Lake Calhoun Whole Foods is the largest and highest sales performer among the Whole Foods markets currently open in the state. The upscale chain also has locations in Edina, Minnetonka, Maple Grove and St. Paul.

Aaron Sorenson, a spokesman for Lund Food Holding, which owns the Lunds and Byerly’s grocery stores, said the company embraces the competition from Whole Foods.

“[The competition] keeps all of us sharp and focused and, more importantly, it gives consumers options,” he said. “When any grocery retailer opens a store near one of ours, we will experience a sales impact just as the new retailer will be impacted by our presence in the community. Regardless of who enters or exits this market, our primary focus will continue to be providing our customers high quality foods and high levels of service and expertise.”

One of the tricky things about opening a grocery store downtown is dealing with parking. The Hennepin Whole Foods will have about 150 free parking spots with a two-hour limit in an underground parking ramp, Eisenbise said.

The market will have an expansive prepared foods section for the weekday lunch crowd, which Eisenbise is expecting to be a big slice of the market’s business. How sales on the weekend will pan out is harder to predict.

The grocery store is on the edge of the North Loop neighborhood, which is one of the city’s fastest growing neighborhoods. Several new apartment buildings have opened nearby in addition to the 222 Hennepin, and many more will be open within the next year.

Overall, downtown-area neighborhoods have an estimated 35,000 residents, and downtown community leaders are working on doubling that to 70,000 by 2025. 

City Council Member Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) pushed hard for Lunds to come downtown and is happy to see Whole Foods opening as well. 

"[It's] proof if we increase the residential population downtown services will be happy to come and meet the demand for all sorts of basic needs," she said.

Besides several grab-and-go and takeout options, other market highlights include a bakery with made-from-scratch items (a unique amenity among Minnesota Whole Foods markets); a large beer, wine and spirits store; an extensive seafood department; in-house gelato; a coffee bar; three aisles of frozen foods; Neapolitan-style pizzas that cook under five minutes; and a meat department that Eisenbise is particularly excited about (he recommends trying the ribeye steaks.)

The store has gone through a $2 million buildout that includes eye-catching décor paying tribute to Minnesota and downtown neighborhoods. Trivia about the Warehouse District and the city’s milling past line the walls and a clever Minnesota-themed art mobile hangs in the store’s entrance.

Lauren Kebschull, who handles marketing and community relations for the Hennepin Whole Foods, said the store has incorporated many recycled materials from the old Jaguar dealership that once called the corner home, including cement pillars and flooring from the old auto showroom.

The team working on the store has worked to keep things simple to reduce the amount of raw materials used to furnish the market. The store has an industrial look with much of the concrete left unfinished and ductwork exposed.

Construction crews also recycled about 65 percent of the construction waste when building the grocery store, according to a handout on the market’s green features.

The Hennepin store also has a community room, which will feature cooking classes, wine tastings and workshops on a variety of wellness topics.

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Whole Foods Hennepin grand opening

When: Sept. 25, 9 a.m.

Where: 222 Hennepin Ave. S.

Store hours after grand opening: 7 a.m.–9 p.m.,

www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/hennepin