Whole Foods Playa Vista Gets in the Spirit

The new 36,000-square-foot mega-market will open on Wednesday with cocktails, made-to-order poke, a juice bar, and local products galore

Life is about balance. There are days for organic juice and salad, and days for cocktails and pub food. Sometimes, there are days for all of this at the same time, so the new Whole Foods Market opening in Playa Vista’s Runway development on Wednesday will have something no other L.A. Whole Foods has: a bar with spirits.

In addition to local craft beer—“We’re the first Whole Foods with Three Weavers,” says Kimberly E. Albright, part of a team of “local urban foragers” that scour indie purveyors, farmers’ markets, and pop-ups for new products—the Astro Pub at Whole Foods will serve cocktails that guests can pair with a food menu that includes pizza, burgers, sushi, shrimp cocktail, oysters, and a kale Caesar. There will also be skillet dishes prepared in a wood-burning oven such as herbed shrimp that chef Eric Nicewarner says is “like a play on shrimp scampi” and “poutine bulgogi” that’s made with crispy potato wedges, pork belly, cheese curds, and a miso glaze.

“It’s really quick service, everything takes about five minutes,” Nicewarner says. “We like to highlight the beer, so we do things pub-style: burgers, fish and chips.”

Plus, this is a bar and restaurant in a walkable, kid-friendly community, so parents are welcome to park their Maclarens while enjoying happy hour or dinner.

“We knew there weren’t a lot of family-friendly bars in the area,” says Erica Dubreuil, vice president of operations, Whole Foods Market Southern Pacific Region. “We were able to get the kind of license where you can drink with your kids, which is nice.”

Adjacent to Astro Pub is the Allegro coffee and tea bar. The new Whole Foods, with approximately 36,000 square feet of space, also has a juice bar by the entrance (the result of Whole Foods talking to locals about what the community could use), a smoked-meats counter, and an of-the-moment made-to-order poke station. Helmed by Mike Elsbury, who previously cut fish for the popular self-serve poke bar in a Hawaii Whole Foods, the Playa Vista poke program includes tuna, salmon, and smoked shrimp with toppings like fresh melon, pineapple, avocado, mango, cucumber, lychee, green onion, fig, green onion, habanero pepper, and more.

“We call him the poke master,” store team leader Johnny Saadeh says of Elsbury, whose nickname and smiling face is displayed on a big sign by the seafood counter. “He has street cred in Hawaii, they know who he is. When he makes the poke, he’s got to be left alone. He clears his mind and gets in the spirit of making it.”

“I went over [to Hawaii] with an open heart and open mind, and I had locals on my team, and it was a life-changing experience,” Elsbury says. “We made poke three to four times a day.”

This is the first Los Angeles Whole Foods to open since 2008, and the store aims to be a reflection of artisanal L.A.

Throughout the market, visitors will find hyper-local products, many of which start their relationship with Whole Foods in just one to five stores. There are frozen Diablo Pops from Silver Lake at Astro Pub, and Whole Foods’ foragers have also sourced items from Culver City’s Soaptopia, Santa Monica’s Not Ketchup, Malibu’s Bakeology Cookies, and Malibu Honey among many others. The Playa Vista Farmers’ Market was where one forager discovered Backshack’s kouignettes, glorious filled pastries that could be popular when the new Whole Foods opens at 9 a.m. on Wednesday.

redarrow Whole Foods Market, 12746 Jefferson Blvd., Playa Vista, 310-862-9900. The first 200 guests on Wednesday will get a free reusable Whole Foods bag, with a design unique to Playa Vista,  and a coffee mug.