Customer Service at Napa Whole Foods


Corby Kummer

I thought the music was getting louder as I approached the huge wine section at the Whole Foods in downtown Napa. Nice music, too! Very pleasant light jazz and merengue. And there was a reason it was getting louder: it was live. The band had a plastic bucket for donations and cards (it's called Ezkewl, and its MySpace page is here.)

This might be what you have to do when you're next to a crowded and very well-run Trader Joe's, where I'm told Napa residents often shop in favor of Whole Foods, for the better prices. They certainly were better, on the few items I noted: huge plastic containers of figs for $4.50, compared with $5.99 a pound at Whole Foods, which did have three kinds, the large light purple, less-sweet, watery first-harvest variety called fiorone in Italy and "brown turkey" here, black figs, and big green Calimyrna.

Where to buy produce is a hot topic in Napa: the farmers' market is just on Saturday, and people object to the prices at Whole Foods. The produce department at WF is very well-maintained—but so is the one at Trader Joe's, the best I've seen, with very good bulk produce and two very knowledgeable men who went through the whole stack of avocados one by one to find us the one ripe one there. One of the men explained the policy (try to keep them a day or two from being ripe), and the other told us exactly the condition of the avocados they'd had to throw out in the morning. And at Whole Foods, every person we asked would go out of his or her way to find what I asked for. My Napa friend said innocently, when I exclaimed, "Isn't it like that where you live?" If only all shoppers had both markets next to each other!

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Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." More

Corby Kummer's work in The Atlantic has established him as one of the most widely read, authoritative, and creative food writers in the United States. The San Francisco Examiner pronounced him "a dean among food writers in America." Julia Child once said, "I think he's a very good food writer. He really does his homework. As a reporter and a writer he takes his work very seriously." Kummer's 1990 Atlantic series about coffee was heralded by foodies and the general public alike. The response to his recommendations about coffees and coffee-makers was typical--suppliers scrambled to meet the demand. As Giorgio Deluca, co-founder of New York's epicurean grocery Dean & Deluca, says: "I can tell when Corby's pieces hit; the phone doesn't stop ringing." His book, The Joy of Coffee, based on his Atlantic series, was heralded by The New York Times as "the most definitive and engagingly written book on the subject to date." In nominating his work for a National Magazine Award (for which he became a finalist), the editors wrote: "Kummer treats food as if its preparation were something of a life sport: an activity to be pursued regularly and healthfully by knowledgeable people who demand quality." Kummer's book The Pleasures of Slow Food celebrates local artisans who raise and prepare the foods of their regions with the love and expertise that come only with generations of practice. Kummer was restaurant critic of New York Magazine in 1995 and 1996 and since 1997 has served as restaurant critic for Boston Magazine. He is also a frequent food commentator on television and radio. He was educated at Yale, immediately after which he came to The Atlantic. He is the recipient of five James Beard Journalism Awards, including the MFK Fisher Distinguished Writing Award.
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