By Scott Mechura EBS Food Columnist
One of my favorite movies for a number of reasons, The Matrix, has a scene in which a villain has the protagonist in a compromising position. He delivers the line, “that is the sound of inevitability.”
And when you hear the first nail hammered, backhoe digging, or beeping of a truck delivering lumber to build the forthcoming Whole Foods in west Bozeman, that will be the sound of inevitability for our state and valley.
Do I like Whole Foods? Or as Austinites began calling it years ago, Whole Paycheck. You bet I do.
Addressed smack dab in the heart of downtown, I spent three years patronizing the Austin location in Texas, which incidentally is one of the city’s most popular grocery stores. Sounds silly I know, but you have to remember that the Austin Whole Foods is the mothership. The original.
One foot inside on one of those 105 F, humid July days, when the boat or lake aren’t an option and the instantly refreshing air conditioning, along with the spectacle laid out before you makes you think you’ve just entered the hip, hemp, and healthy version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
I hope Montana’s first will have the restaurants, bar, music, courtyard, and fountain and displays that Austin’s does. But it’s still a Whole Foods, nonetheless.
While this marks familiarity and comfort for some who’ve moved here from other locations, it invokes, “I remember when this town” for others. It all comes down to this: Bozeman is cementing itself as another micropolitan city, while trying to hold onto the notion of a small town with a big city identity.
Every phase of growth in Bozeman, from six floor hotels, box stores, and talented chefs to an ice garden and golf courses years ago, all speak to inevitable and predictable growth. Growth to feel like we belong, like we matter, like we don’t have to travel to other larger cities for what urban residents walk down the block for. To say “hey, we aren’t a one-horse agriculture town,” which we were as recently as 25 years ago.
But Whole Foods is different. It speaks to lifestyle rather than just life. It speaks to transplants yearning for something they moved away from yet want where they have now planted and fertilized new roots.
For example, when a Walmart opens in a rural or urban community, it figuratively shouts from the rooftops of buildings in super-sized fashion that it has arrived with prices and merchandise you no longer have to worry about.
Whole Foods, now owned by the logistical and merchandizing blitzkrieg that is Amazon, brings with it a certain mindset. It comes with a built in following who’s loyalists rival those of Trader Joes.
Generally speaking, the Gallatin Valley is active. We recreate 12 months out of the year, fill our gyms and mostly try to eat healthy. It not only physically feels good, but it makes us feel whole (pun intended) as fellow shoppers to give our cart a nano second review as they pass in the aisle. We fill our shopping carts with Fit Wine, kale, almond milk, Greek yogurt, grass fed beef and any number of raw nuts and seeds because we can and now, we’ll soon have access to the healthy, hip shopping equivalent to the promised land.
In other words, we’ll have a Whole Foods.
But a word of caution. Whole Foods earned its nicknames, such as “whole paycheck”, or “whole foods markup” for items such as the notorious six dollar head of cauliflower. With COVID-19 making our food banks more important than ever, can our valley afford it?
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and executive chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.