Spicy Shrimp Inari from the OSU Whole Foods, fka Wild Oats
It's probably common knowledge by now that the Wild Oats chain of earth-friendly groceries was purchased by Whole Foods. The Columbus Wild Oats store is located far more conveniently to my domicile, so this was good news. Mostly. I have to admit that I had mixed feelings about Wild Oats, stemming from one incident years ago, when I was just a poor recent college graduate. I had the idea I would make a red cabbage salad, and stopped by Wild Oats to pick up a few ingredients for it. When I got to the register, the medium sized head of red cabbage was $11. I was completely shocked. An eleven dollar cabbage?
So, over the years, I have tried to forgive them.
The transition from Wild Oats is a work in progress; you can see evidence of Whole Foods throughout the store, but there is still a bit of W.O. left - such as the sign out front.
Here is where I have a little concern for the WO store and those who loved it just as it was. You see, although I do enjoy Whole Foods, and think their store brand products (365) are some of the best value brands around, Whole Foods has always seemed a little too slick, a little too perfect, a little too pretty to be an organic store. Maybe it's because I'm used to stores like the Clintonville Co-op, which has that small, earnest, hippy-love thing going on which I associate with organic stores. And it's about the only place in Columbus where they don't look at you like you have 4 heads when you deny a bag and volunteer to carry your oranges and avocados out of the store in your own 2 hands.
Wild Oats always seemed to bridge the gap pretty nicely - they had a great café area which was always full, they had a coffee and smoothie bar, and a salad, soup and prepared foods area, and their sushi was beyond compare, for grocery store sushi in Columbus Ohio. I thought they had way too much in the way of natural health and beauty products, but they always had a nice selection of beer and wine, and the bulk section was also great.
Wild Oats also seems to have really great social events - most of which are free, unlike the WF events. They have events for singles, outdoor clambakes, and lots of free seminars in the café for everything from laughter therapy to getting in your whole grains.
The good parts of Whole Foods have migrated - the pizza, for one thing, and that's something everyone can rejoice about, the 365 brand, and the great WF cheese selection, along with the super cheap cheese ends basket, where once can purchase a tiny chunk of some sort of raw milk extra aged this-or-that for far less than its typical $22/pound price tag. I didn't sample any of the prepared foods (and I am not a fan of WF's prepared foods - the chefs at WO had more freedom, I believe, to adjust the flavoring of their dishes); but it appeared to be a mix of WO & WF usuals. There is still a large bulk selection, and the two giant aisles of beauty and health products.
My concern is that Whole Foods will assume their way is the better way, in all things. I fear for those who loved the old curried turkey salad with raisins at Wild Oats; that it will be replaced with the corporate-approved Whole Foods recipe, which in my experience in other WF prepared foods certainly haven't been as good. I did try the sushi; it is the same company which supplies the Whole Foods in Dublin; the spicy shrimp inari (pictured) were good, but the eel & avocado rolls were very lackluster. I'll just keep getting those from Tensuke.
It seemed as though the meat counter had transitioned, and the fish appeared to be a work in progress. I would like to see some more of the specialty produce Whole Foods carries, particularly in the mushroom and egg areas; while WF carries a large variety of locally-produced eggs (from 2 Silos) & mushrooms (from Mushroom Harvest), I couldn't find anything comparable on my trip to Wild Oats. I couldn't find very many local products at all at WO, actually, which was kind of a surprise. I can only hope it changes as we get closer to the growing season.
All in all, I am happy with the transition as it stands. I hope Whole Foods will allow Wild Oats some autonomy as they go forward, to please both the Wild Oats lovers and those of us closer to downtown who are happy we might not have to drive 25 minutes away for our favorite yogurt.