For more than a year the message from both Chesapeake, developer of Classen Curve, and Whole Foods has been the same – there is no news to share yet about a potential deal for the upscale grocer to open its first Oklahoma City store.
And yet the talk continues unabated. Two different local television news stations have reported a deal was imminent, only to be followed by more silence by both companies.
Visit the Whole Foods store in Tulsa and cashiers there report their regional manager has told them an Oklahoma City store is set to open within two years.
Speculation on a store grew even more when Chesapeake bought and razed the former Hahn-Cook, Street & Draper funeral home northeast of Classen Curve, leaving a large empty lot waiting to be developed. I’ve heard from several reputable sources the retailer has signed a letter of intent to open an Oklahoma City store within 18 months – a development neither confirmed or denied by Aubrey McClendon, chief executive officer of Chesapeake Energy.
“We too have heard rumors about Whole Foods coming to Oklahoma City and we hope they are true,” McClendon said when asked if negotiations have taken place. “It is testament to where our city has come in the past decade to be mentioned in the same sentence with Whole Foods.”
And so the discussion continues as Chesapeake Energy, which has previously shied away from publicity for Classen Curve, is now cranking it up to full speed. This push has resulted in a package appearing in the Sunday Oklahoman, and more coverage Wednesday by Oklahoman Food Editor Dave Cathey.
Participants on both local message boards and a forum hosted by Whole Foods are pleading with the retailer to open an Oklahoma City store. A Facebook page created by Duncan resident Paula Morrison to petition Whole Foods for an Oklahoma City store has 8,317 followers. She pledges to bring the petition to Whole Foods’ corporate office in Austin, Texas, when the petition hits 10,000.
“Um, Tulsa has a Whole Foods Market and OKC doesn’t,” Morrison explains on the Facebook page. “I’m not sure why, since we’re bigger than Tulsa, but whatever. We deserve a ridiculous produce selection, organic beauty products and the best salad bar ever.”
Since starting the page, Morrison has moved to Duncan. But her pledge remains intact – though she admits she would now prefer to see the store in Norman to shorten the drive. Morrison discovered Whole Foods during a trip to New York City.
“I stumbled upon a Whole Foods on Columbus Circle in New York City,” Morrison said. “I had heard so much about it, I anted to check it out … and they had all this great, ready-made food, and if you don’t want to cook, you can get something healthy and not have to go through the drive-thru at Taco Bell. I felt healthy just being there.”
Two of the Classen Curve’s newest tenants, Bob Benham, whose legendary Balliet’s will open in September, and Keith Paul, who is opening Republic Gastropub this weekend, both say a Whole Foods would be a boon to the area.
“I expect it would be quite a magnet if it happens,” Benham said.
“I’d love to see it happen,” Paul said. “Not just a Whole Foods, but any grocery of that caliber going into this area would be a positive for everyone. It (talk of a Whole Foods opening across from Classen Curve) had nothing to do without decision to do Republic, but if it happens, it would make feel even better about everything. There’s a lot of talk on all this, but that’s all I hear.”
Whole Foods started in 1980 with one store in Austin, Texas and has grown to 270 stores in North America and the United Kingdom.
Whole Foods has only one Oklahoma store – a location acquired through the company’s purchase of rival Wild Oats. The Whole Foods website lists the following criteria for considering a new location:
- 200,000 people or more living within a 20-minute drive time.
- A store between 40,000 and 75,000 square feet.
- Large number of college-educated residents.
- Abundant parking.
- Stand-alone site preferred.
- Easy access from roadway, lighted intersection.
- Excellent visibility, directly off of the street.
- Must be located in a high traffic area.