70 E. Kaahumanu Ave. (at the Maui Mall), Kahului
872-3310 or www.wholefoodsmarket.com
Clearly, the new Whole Foods is popular. Since the Kahului store opened late last month, the parking lot has been consistently packed, as have the aisles inside—with a combination of actual shoppers and people who seem to be simply wandering, gazing in wonder as though they’d stumbled into a museum or modern art installation.
Yet despite its popularity, there are two prevailing sentiments about the store: first, it’s a big Mainland chain; and second, it’s expensive.
To the first point, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Whole Foods is a major corporation with hundreds of locations in three countries and headquarters in Texas. Though they carry local products (for a complete list see MauiTime’s food blog, mauidish.com), most of the money you spend there won’t stay on-island.
The second point is murkier. Whole Foods definitely has a reputation for being expensive, evidenced by the nickname “Whole Paycheck.” But just how pricy is it?
The other night, with the fridge getting bare and the family battling head colds and in no mood to for a restaurant, I decided to find out. How much would it cost to feed my family with the natural, quality grinds Whole Foods has built its reputation on?
Wanting something that would require little or no preparation, I headed for the hot food and salad bars. What I found was a pleasing array of options. The salad bar features all the stuff you’d imagine and a few things you wouldn’t (the protein selections are particularly diverse, with beans, fish, grains and hard-boiled eggs alongside the usual croutons and cheese). The hot food bar changes regularly—when I went it was heavy on Indian food—but always features staple items like rice, macaroni and mashed potatoes.
Normally, food from both bars is $7.99 per pound. (That means everything—there’s no sliding price structure depending on what you get.) But on Wednesdays, that price is knocked down to $5.99 per pound. I asked if that was an introductory deal to get people in the store, but was assured the Wednesday discount will stick around.
The bars are flanked with an array of prepared and made-to-order options. The made-to-order stuff—sandwiches, pizza, burritos, Chinese and Korean food—is more expensive; not astronomically so (a burrito, for example, is about $6), but I was looking for a better deal.
I found it in a whole roasted chicken—free-range, nitrate- and antibiotic-free—for $8.99. Add two pounds of sides at $7.99 (or $5.99 on Wednesday) and you’ve got a family-sized meal for a decent price.
The kicker, though, was when I got home and actually ate the stuff: the chicken was delicious, moist and well-seasoned; the salad ingredients all tasted fresh and crispy (about half of what’s featured at the salad bar is locally grown, and Whole Foods is good about clearly labeling stuff so you know), and the Indian dishes I selected—chicken vindaloo (a mild, ginger-based curry) and saffron rice with carrots—tasted like it could have come straight from a fragrant ethnic kitchen. In all honesty, it was one of the best dinners I’ve had in a while, and it fed my family, with leftovers, for under $30.
Whole Foods isn’t what anyone would call cheap, and some of their specialty items are indeed expensive. But they also have a lot of stuff in that happy median price-range, and the bonus is you know you’re getting truly good food, free of the artificial ingredients that permeate so much of what we eat.
I imagine Whole Foods will supplant, not replace, the other places I shop and dine. I’m still committed to buying local whenever possible. But I’m also pretty certain I can walk in and come back out with my (modest) paycheck intact.