Celebrity chefs Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson have opened a third location of their “revolutionary fast food” venture Locol today in San Jose, not in a food desert like its counterparts in West Oakland and Watts, but amid the bounty of a Whole Foods Market. The latest restaurant, at 777 The Alameda, debuts as the other two return from an extended holiday break with updated menus focused on burgers and “foldies,” sandwiches folded and grilled like quesadillas. Those items, as Choi puts it, are “the hits.”
Whole Foods announced the partnership with Locol at their San Jose store earlier this month. The market already operates a juice bar and a brewery taproom on premises, and the new Locol location occupies a corner of its building and a portion of its kitchen space. Starting today, Locol will serve food for pick-up inside the market and to customers outside through a take-out window.
The partnership between Whole Foods, known for its affluent clientele, and Locol, which aspires to a “revolutionary fast food” mission, might appear unlikely. But that could be a good thing for both parties, Choi suggests to Eater SF.
“It brings our audience into their stores, and exposes their audience to our culture,” says Choi. “If, in five years, this relationship creates a bridge where Whole Foods can open in Watts or West Oakland or the Tenderloin, that creates a situation where those neighborhoods who don’t normally have access to healthy food can have it.” To do that, Whole Foods would have to adjust its prices or offerings as it does at its lower-priced 365 stores. The first Whole Foods 365 in the Bay Area opened in Concord in December.
In its first two years, Locol has struggled to grow beyond its initial two locations. Another explanation for the partnership is that Whole Foods can help Locol to build its audience.
“The goal is for us to continue to grow,” says Choi, “[and] this is just another bridge to what we’re trying to do: Make food more accessible and affordable. This partnership with Whole Foods could allow us to grow at a pace we maybe couldn’t otherwise.”
Working with Whole Foods, say Choi, “we could grow into many cities without having to put up a lot of capital.” In San Jose, for example, Whole Foods helped with Locol’s buildout and marketing.
But will Locol adjust its focus to Whole Foods clientele and markets only? Choi says no. “We’re not gonna abandon Locol in Oakland just cause we opened in Whole Foods in San Jose,” he says. “Locol’s for everyone.”
“We’re not political,” he adds. “We just try to grow and continue to feed people, and sometimes those paths present themselves in ways you didn’t see.”