- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2007

Whole Foods Market is getting into the restaurant business with a new Fair Lakes store that almost makes grocery shopping an afterthought.

The 65,000-square-foot grocery store, which opened last week at 501 Market Commons Drive off Fair Lakes Parkway in Fairfax, is nearly three times larger than the chain’s average store.

Amid the grocery store staples of milk, eggs and paper products are five restaurants serving seafood, barbecue, Italian and Asian cuisines, and cheese sandwiches and soup. During the week, customers order at the counter, but table service is available on weekends. A wine bar lets customers buy samples of one of Whole Foods’ 80 wines on tap, including a $30 sip of a $599 bottle of 1996 Echezeaux wine by Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.

“This is quite extraordinary, even for Whole Foods,” said Sarah Kenney, director of marketing for the chain’s Mid-Atlantic stores.

This store is the only Whole Foods of its size and format on the East Coast, Ms. Kenney said. A similar store opened two years ago in Austin, Texas, where the company is based.

“Not every community has the room for this kind of store,” she said. “We believe it to be a destination.”

The restaurants serve fish and chips, sushi, barbecue and sandwiches made of seven types of cheese. Children can get a whole meal for about $5, Ms.Kenney said. The restaurants seat up to about 40 people each and have the bustling atmosphere of delis.

The store also has beefed up its offerings of traditional grocery products. The seafood section sells whole fish that can be cut to order, meat is cut on site and the store employs two pastry chefs.

The restaurants-within-a-grocery-store concept is similar to the format of Wegmans Food Markets Inc., one of Whole Foods’ biggest competitors.

But as new players enter the tough grocery market, grocers find they have to keep evolving to attract and keep customers’ attention.

Ms. Kenney said the restaurants and wine bar could be placed in new stores where space and the market could support it.

In the Washington area, the chain is focusing on relocating its 15 existing stores into larger spaces, she said. The Rockville store on Halpine Road will move down Rockville Pike to a 60,000-square-foot space on Executive Drive.

In other news …

• Cultural Tourism DC, an organization of arts and heritage groups in the District, plans to hold its second annual “Warm Up to a Museum” promotion next month. The program was created to draw people to the city’s indoor activities during a cold month.

Playing on different connotations of “warm,” the event includes a lecture on the glow of light (at the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden) and an exhibit on “red” spies in the Soviet Union (at the International Spy Museum). Details are available at warmuptoamuseum.org.

“This event is designed to entice Washingtonians out of their homes and into D.C.’s welcoming museums,” said Carma Fauntleroy, interim executive director of Cultural Tourism DC. “This event demonstrates not only the high level of creativity in our museums, but also the range of cultural activities available in our nation’s capital.”

• Retail & Hospitality appears Mondays. Contact Jen Haberkorn at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-4836.

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