Sneak peek at the new Whole Foods on Hennepin [IMAGES]

Sneak peek at the new Whole Foods on Hennepin [IMAGES]

Sure, Whole Foods technically already has one location in Minneapolis. But on the west side of Lake Calhoun, that store might as well be in St. Louis Park.

When the grocer opens its downtown store on Wednesday, there will be no doubt about its presence in the city: With 37,000 sq. ft., 120-plus employees, and a location smack at the corner of Hennepin and Washington, the new Whole Foods is as visible as possible.

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Hot Dish stopped by for a preview on an afternoon the week before the store's opening, and the space was still in transformation. In the separate-entrance liquor store, the first beer shipment had just arrived. In the prepared foods section, bakers were testing scratch breads, and cooks were firing up the pizza ovens. In the long aisles, non-perishables were neatly stocked, and other spaces were clearly marked for produce to fill in over the weekend.

"What's happening?" an employee shouted as Bob Eisenbise, the store's manager, walked by. "Oh I don't know," Eisenbise replied. "Just building a grocery store."

Cases for soon-to-arrive dairy products.
Cases for soon-to-arrive dairy products.

By some accounts, this Whole Foods is seven years in the making: That's how long the company has been eying the site. The official ground-breaking came two years ago, and Eisenbise, a 17-year Whole Foods vet, came on to mastermind the opening full-time in May. He's already hired 120 employees, and is still staffing.

Inside the new store, the main entrance quickly forks: Go right for liquor, left for food. Inside the liquor shop, there are 12 feet of shelf space devoted to spirits and mixers; cases of beer ranging from PBR tall boys to local brews such as Indeed, Fulton, and Surly; and "all the wine you could ever want," says Eisenbise. In a nod to its downtown location and an effort to deter problem drinking, the store won't sell mini-bottles of liquor or accept all-change purchases.

Sneak peek at the new Whole Foods on Hennepin [IMAGES]

The store's liquor area is cozy, but its main section is cavernous. Concrete pillars stud the space, leftover from its previous life as a Jaguar dealership. (Speaking of cars: The store and apartment complex above it have separate parking garages, and Whole Foods offers free parking in its garage for the first two hours).

Sneak peek at the new Whole Foods on Hennepin [IMAGES]

Around the main floor are all the touches other Whole Foods locations offer: A bulk section; separate counters for seafood, meats, and cheese; a prepared foods area that includes bars for salads, grains, and hot food. There's a deli and a scratch bakery; a gelato bar and coffee stop. There's space downstairs with eating tables, and the store's second floor includes its offices, a break room, and a community classroom, to be used for events, group rentals, and even wine and beer samplings.

Come Wednesday, the store will mark its opening not with a ribbon-cutting, but with a bread-breaking just before 9 a.m.-- plus drinks from Peace Coffee, tunes from Hipshaker, and free gift bags for the first 100 people inside. Eisenbise, for one, is eager to unlock the doors.

"The buzz down here has been amazing as far as people wanting this store," he says. "It's nice to feel anticipated."

Sneak peek at the new Whole Foods on Hennepin [IMAGES]
Sneak peek at the new Whole Foods on Hennepin [IMAGES]
Sneak peek at the new Whole Foods on Hennepin [IMAGES]

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