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Committee Deadlocks on Whole Foods' Bid to Add Seating to Jamaica Plain Store

A committee of the JP Neighborhood Council split evenly on the question after hearing from local restaurant owners concerned about the competition from Whole Foods' plans to add 38 seats.

Some local restauranteurs say ' plans to add 38 seats for dining would threaten their businesses.

Listening to these and other concerns, a committee of the deadlocked 4-4 on whether to recommend approval of the license Whole Foods needs to follow through with their plan.

"I think Whole Foods should be a grocery store and I should be a restaurant," said Nobel Garcia, owner of and a longtime JP resident.

Whole Foods brought its plans to add 22 seats inside and 16 seats outside to a Tuesday night meeting of the Public Service Committee at the Cheverus Building in Hyde Square. More than 50 people attended.

The owners of expressed similar concerns to those of Garcia, that the Whole Foods seating would sap customers from their and other local restaurants.

Committee member Jeffrey Wiesner made the argument that instead of hurting local restaurants, Whole Foods could contribute to a "critical mass" of eating destinations in Hyde Square. People coming to Whole Foods, he said, could discover local restaurants nearby.

Whole Foods' representatives said there has been a groundswell of requests for seating. They said that, prompted by customer requests, they posted a petition in the store about adding seating, and that 1,000 people signed it in three and a half days.

Several audience members expressed doubt that the grocer didn't plan to add the seating all along, however. The store was able to open with a minimum of city red tape, given that it was replacing an existing grocery store. Had it sought permission to have seating before it opened, that would have triggered a public process.

Asked what future plans the store might have, Whole Foods manager, Michael Walker said, "I have no desire to come before this board."

There would be no table service for the seating and the outdoor tables would not remove any parking spaces, Walker said.

In making their pitch to the committee, Whole Foods listed their extensive charity efforts. A list in a packet given to committee members totaled $109,171 worth of donations and sponsorships the store has already given or has promised.

These efforts didn't impress resident Jen Douglas of Mozart Street.

"We don't owe you anything for your philanthropy," she said.

The meeting offered an interesting contrast, as the committee unanimously recommended a license be given to Caffe Aromi, a 45-seat coffee shop to be opened soon at 403A Centre, next door to Whole Foods.

Caffe Aromi said its investors are all local people and that the potential employees it is interviewing are all JP residents. Whole Foods, as several residents pointed out in their comments, is a large corporation.

"I don't see what the difference is," said Whole Foods attorney Mike Scott. Some in the crowd shouted "We do!" in response.

The entire Neighborhood Council could take up the Whole Foods matter at their The council is an elected, volunteer advisory board. City boards like the Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals take its recommendations into account, but are not bound by them.

Whole Foods has not made an official request for the seating with the city's Inspectional Services Department. The Neighborhood Council had asked the grocer to go through the local process first.

Dana April 06, 2012 at 03:51 PM
LJ: Blue Nile is great. But I have a gluten sensitivity, so injera isn't my jam.
Dax April 07, 2012 at 02:19 AM
Wow, more people signed the petition for Whole Foods to have seating than voted in the JPNC election. Maybe the next election should be held at Whole Foods?
steve dudley April 09, 2012 at 02:55 PM
Hi all, I have been going to WF in other towns for years mainly for lunch from their salad bars. The fresh veggies, grains and marinated meats would take me forever to make and cost a fortune, so I go there and eat and enjoy the sunshine outside. I moved near Hyde Sq in 1974, tried some restaurants then and it was miserable. I haven't been back there till WF moved in. I always felt, maybe mistakenly, that Hyde Sq and establishments were dirty and dangerous. Whole Foods brought me back to Hyde Sq and I have a new appreciation of the area.
Lisa Gallagher May 15, 2012 at 02:22 PM
I think the JP Whole Foods is a disappointment. They should be focusing on getting a meat counter and improving the quality of their produce. Right now its like an over priced Trader Joe's. I did not think it was possible for Whole Foods to do a poor job. It's obnoxious that they now want to add seating. I don't shop there anymore.
Chris Helms May 15, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Hi Lisa, thanks for your comment. You might be interested in the "Vegging Out" column I just posted in which JP's Jim Morgan is also underwhelmed with with "hit and miss" vegetarian offerings: http://patch.com/A-tns3

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