BY KATHY CHANG
METUCHEN — The Whole Foods Market will open in mid to late October, according to Marjorie West, northeast marketing manager for the eco-minded grocery chain with natural and organic items.
“We are very excited,” she told members of the Metuchen Area Chamber of Commerce at their quarterly membership meeting on March 22 that was held at the Old Franklin Schoolhouse. “Whole Foods is definitely coming to town. I can’t give a definitive date, but I know by the fall. As we get closer to when I know, we can put a banner of the date of when we will open.”
Dottie Winhold, president of the chamber, said she has fielded numerous inquiries about Whole Foods on whether or not they are coming and if not, is Trader Joe’s, a neighborhood grocery store, back on the table. Trader Joe’s was previously rumored to be coming into the borough.
In hopes to squash the chatter among the public, which Isaac Kremer, executive director of the Metuchen Downtown Alliance, said has been heavily discussed on social media web sites, the chamber invited the Whole Foods representative to the quarterly meeting.
West said she was surprised that people still are not sure if the Whole Foods Market is opening since the entrances with the store’s logo have been erected and she said she even saw a bike rack that was installed already.
Whole Foods Market has been in the grocery business since 1980 when its first store opened. The corporate office is in Austin, Texas.
“Metuchen’s opening will be our 18th store in New Jersey,” she said. “We just opened back to back stores in Newark (Essex County) and Bryant Park (New York City).”
West said the Metuchen location off Route 27 and Central Avenue is 44,000 square feet and will hire 170 to 200 employees, 70 percent of whom will be full-time employees. She noted that the Whole Foods Market in Clark, which is about seven miles from Metuchen, is 49,000 square feet.
She said they are looking to cater to shoppers in Edison, Woodbridge, New Brunswick, Somerset and more.
An employee must be 18 years old and the starting salary rate for an employee is $12.50 an hour. After an employee works 10 weeks with the company, they are entitled to benefits.
West said the company is very much involved with the community. Quarterly they have a five percent off day.
“All proceeds that day will go to a local non-profit organization in the area,” she said. “We give donations; we attend events and support vendors of buy local products. Our Whole Kids Foundation provides garden and salad bar grants encouraging healthy learning and eating in the schools.”
West said their entire product of meats, seafood, groceries, cheeses, olives, bakery, whole body supplements and more meets the high standards of their company, which do not include anything artificial.
She noted that their products come from local entities within 100 miles of the store in New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.
Like their other locations, West said there will be guest chef and nutrition events.
“They may demo a dish and provide a recipe,” she said. “We want to give exposure and help sell our product.”
West said for example their Clark location is having a vegan store tour and live music will be playing at the bar.
“We like to try different things to generate interest,” she said.
West said they will work with the Metuchen Farmer’s Market, which is held on Saturday mornings from mid-June to mid-November.
“Our busy days are Saturday and Sunday so we won’t be out there every Saturday,” she said. “In other towns, we may come once a month and support and complement the local farmer’s market.”
West said if someone is bringing baked goods, then they will bring their assortment of plants.
“Popular now are zoodles, so we may bring that,” she said. “We are not here to compete.”
Zoodles are alternatives to pasta, such as zucchini and butternut squash cut into noodles.
A lease for the Whole Foods Market site in Metuchen was signed in 2014. Despite some store closings, West assured chamber members that the market for a Whole Foods in the northeast is growing.
“No stores are expected to close in the north east region,” she said. “I was not involved in the selection of Metuchen, but the location was chosen based on a lot of research, the demographics, the fact that there was no supermarket and [Metuchen] is a transient town.”
West put her feelers out on rumors about the possibility of a restaurant at the Whole Foods Market.
Some members asked if it would be like the Clark Bar at the Whole Foods Market in Clark.
West said like their Clark location they will offer a bar, but in addition there will be a Tex-Mex style restaurant offering a variety of margaritas, wine as well as craft beers and IPAs catering to the younger crowd.
The Whole Foods Market will open at 8 a.m. and close at 10 p.m. West said the restaurant will also close when the store closes.
“The restaurant will probably open around 11 a.m., but it won’t be open until 2 a.m. in the morning,” she said.
A member asked if there was any truth to the restaurant being a rooftop restaurant.
West said she did not hear any plans of having a rooftop, but it is a cool rumor since their location in Brooklyn, New York has a greenhouse on top of the store.
Chamber members also relayed increased traffic concerns with West due to the opening of the Whole Foods Market.
West said they will work with the town to minimize any traffic problems. She said it is different with every town in relation to deliveries.
“Some towns allow deliveries at night and some don’t want it because of the noise so we will cater to what makes sense for each particular location,” she said.
West said she will work with the borough to allay people’s curiosity and keep the public informed on the timeframe of when the Whole Foods Market in Metuchen is expected to open.