Whole Foods Market opens at Lansdowne

By Ashwin Shingadia

Whole Foods Market Opening Ceremony. PHOTO: SOO HUM

Whole Foods Market Opening Ceremony. PHOTO: SOO HUM

The opening ceremonies took place outside in the cold at 9 a.m. on November 19 with a “breaking of bread.” Around 300 people waited in line, some as early as 6 a.m. The first 500 customers received a gift card. Lisa Slater, Store Team Leader, thanked all who were there, including her team, and mentioned local causes supported by Whole Foods – Big Brothers, Ottawa School Breakfast Program, Ecology Ottawa, The Distress Centre, The Youville Centre and Operation Come Home. Michael Bashaw from Chicago, president of Whole Foods’ Midwest Region, said, “This is our coldest opening day, but we are here to stay.” Mayor Jim Watson congratulated Whole Foods for “investing in the city and giving back to the community.”

Why Ottawa?

The day before the opening, as I sat chatting about Whole Foods, I asked Lisa Slater, “Why Ottawa?” Slater said the company had done market research to find the right location for expansion before settling on Ottawa. “It was a combination of landlord and market.” Ottawa’s population is well educated and has a reasonably high income; Ottawa has three universities, two colleges and more in Gatineau. Now, people are more aware of the connection between food, health and the total well-being of a person. Said Michael Bashaw, “We have never closed a store.”

The Whole Foods Store

Inside Whole Foods Market. PHOTO: SOO HUM

Inside Whole Foods Market. PHOTO: SOO HUM

The shop at Lansdowne is 41,000 square feet, occupying nearly half a block on the east side of Bank beside the new LCBO outlet, with which it shares some 230 customer parking spots. The entrance is at street level, where a coffee shop is tucked away beside an escalator that carries customers to the main floor with its many departments – areas for local farmers’ products, cheese, baked goods, fresh produce, meats, etc. The store carries over 100 products from 50 Ontario and Quebec suppliers, but also many more from international sources. It has a restaurant, three well-known Ottawa chefs and a “community room” where local non-profit groups can meet. The design, unique to the Glebe and Ottawa, was ready two years ago, and incorporates the rich history of the neighbourhood.

Of the 165 full- and part-time staff, 15 come from other parts of Canada and 150 from Ottawa-Gatineau. In addition, company managers and workers from Ontario, B.C. and the U.S. came for the opening. Walter Robb, a co-founder from Austin, Texas, said the company believes in a direct relationship with its employees, not through a third party. Their benefits include a store discount, health, vision and stock options. The company is an excellent employer and turnover is less than 10 per cent. The organization is “flat” with store team leaders, associates and members. Slater has an open door policy: “Anyone can come and talk to me.”

Lisa Slater, Whole Foods Store Team Leader, has years of experience in the food industry and was recently elected to the Board of the Glebe BIA. PHOTO: SOO HUM

Lisa Slater, Whole Foods Store Team Leader, has years of experience in the food industry and was recently elected to the Board of the Glebe BIA.
PHOTO: SOO HUM

Slater has a lot of experience. Born into a business family, she owned a coffee wholesaler, a restaurant and a bakery. For the past 13 years, she worked at Whole Foods in Yorkville (Toronto), Oakville, and Square One (Toronto) before coming to Ottawa. She is newly elected to the Board of the Glebe BIA and she loves to cook, bake, cycle, hike and practise yoga.

I talked to customers and staff on opening day. Customers Renee and Stephanie Decary from Lowertown and Vanier commented, “Very good variety – there is no equivalent store in Ottawa.” Lisa Zografos, a staff member in the Fromagerie, said their cheese comes from all over the world – Italy, France, U.S., U.K. – as well as locally. Ben Smith, Assistant Manager, Meat, who moved to Ottawa, explained the rule of no antibiotics or hormones and the five-step animal comfort standards adhered to by suppliers.

The company

Founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market (www.wholefoodsmarket.com) has 10 stores in Canada, eight in the U.K. and 382 in the U.S., accounting for some $12.9 billion in sales in 2013. The aim of the company, “to do well while doing good,” is the essence of Conscious Capitalism, a book written by company co-founder John Mackey. In 1992, the company stock stood at $2.17 per share, rising to a high of $79 in 2005. It plunged after the financial crisis of 2008, but more recently has soared again to $95. The company “averaged same store growth of about 8 per cent for 25 years through all types of economic environments,” according to Conscious Capitalism.

Whole Foods and Lansdowne

Michael Bashaw acknowledged, “There are passionate feelings about [Lansdowne] development” but is convinced that, for Whole Foods, “results will be good over a long period.” Said Slater, “We want to be here for a long time and grow deep roots.”

Ashwin Shingadia is a Glebe resident and regular contributor to the Glebe Report.

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