September 30, 2007

UPDATED! Whole Foods Coral Gables: Store Review and Gluten Free Assessment

You might have heard that the Whole Foods in Coral Gables finally opened. I've actually been there twice, but the first time I wasn't thinking about writing a review.

Tere has published her review, and a few others have also published their reviews. The other reviews tend to be about the selection of organic goods, or 'green' products, and the amenities of the store. I'll mention the store's physical plant, too, but my primary reason for shopping there is to fulfill my special dietary needs. And that's how my review is skewed.

I suffer from celiac disease. It's an inherited condition; basically, I can't tolerate a protein called 'gluten', which is found in wheat, barley, and rye. There is only one treatment option: a diet excluding those grains, and derivatives of those grains. The good news is that there are lot of foods I can eat; the bad news is that wheat is often added to them. I read a lot of labels.

I still do most of my shopping at Publix; rice and potatoes are GF. Fresh vegetables, most frozen ones. Meat, chicken and seafood are fine, as are most dairy products. Lots of staples, and even Publix is adding more GF products to its shelves all the time.

But there are some GF foods that I have to travel to get; GF breads, pastas, snacks and prepared frozen dinners. I can get a few items at Healthland on Miracle Mile (and do!) and I can find a few more at Wild Oats. But the best selection until now was the Whole Foods in Aventura. I've been waiting for the San Remo store for a long time.


The first thing I have to comment on is parking: or rather, FINDING it. All the signs for their parking garage are found on the side of the building the parking entrance is actually ON. There's nothing in front of the store (where there is a valet parking service) or the other side that tells you that there is a garage. Once you find it, it's Exceedingly Well Managed. There were at least a half dozen employees direct traffic up there. It won't last, of course. That's a lot of traffic management, and I consider this a design flaw of the store. You shouldn't need that much manpower to manage traffic flow for a supermarket.

I found a spot - not really that difficult despite the number of cars up there - and headed for the Garage entrance to the store. There are two decent sized elevators down, but no stairs or escalators going down. There is an escalator going UP, and it's along side an ingenious rail system to bring your grocery cart up. Unfortunately, they have to use one of the two elevators to bring the carts back DOWN. I consider this to be another notable design flaw in the store. Elevators can only hold so many people, and you inevitably end up with a bottle neck. The design should have included a staircase or escalator down into the store.

But things pick up once you're in the store: you have a choice in carts: of course you have the traditional carry basket and standard rolling cart, but you have a THIRD choice: comething like a large carry basked, but on wheels with a handle to pull it. And there's a fourth design that is two metal baskets stacked over each other on four wheels. Oh, and the motorized things for people who need them.

My last comments on the plant: the beer case isn't well located, and again this is just poor design, and the express lanes are in the middle of the other lanes, making them hard to find and hard to get through. There's a reason they are placed at then ends of the cashiers in virtually every other store in the country. I'm not impressed with the layout of the store overall. Traffic flow is hampered by the transitions between the traditional aisles in the center of the store and the produce section on one end and, all the other stuff at the other. What stuff? The bakery, the wine department, the deli, the cheese shop, the coffee shop, the a la carte counters, and the Sushi Maki concession. That's right, they don't simply serve sushi, they have Sushi Maki doing it.


As expected, the store has a wide variety of GF foods spread throughout the store. But lack of clear labeling makes them difficult to find unless you already know what you want. Wild Oats has a GF tag that is very obvious, and they simply tag the shelf next to the product's SKU label. Another chain goes a step further, using color code in addition to the big "GF".

They have all the pastas you'd expect, and the best selection of GF flours and baking mixes I have ever seen. Mixes for cookies, cakes of all flavors, breads and muffins - there are a lot of choices from a lot of manufacturers.

They have a good selection of GF pizzas, but they only carry one brand of frozen crust, and it's not the best one by a long shot. Guess I'm still trekking to Wild Oats in Pinecrest for that. Similarly, there wasn't a lot of selection of frozen bagels.

They do have a freezer case of their own GF product line, and the cakes, scones, cookies and pies are pretty good; the breads, on the other hand, are very dense and crumbly, and not like anything that I call bread. But if you like pie, you're in business.

They had some GF meals from Glutino that I haven't seen before, and they are quite good. With the GF selections from Amy's, the Tandoor Chef, and the Ethnic Kitchen, I now have a tasty selection to pop in my microwave when I get home from a long day at work.

They also had some GF corn dogs; I LOVE corn dogs, and the ones at the regular markets add wheat flour to the batter. I can't wait to pop these in the oven.

Over in the Baker section, they have a shelf labeled "WHEAT ALTERNATIVES." They had a shelf of breads from Sami's Bakery, but beware!! Two of the choices actually are wheat breads. They shouldn't be in that section at all, and I've mentioned it to someone stocking the shelf last week, but no change has been made. Hopefully, other people with food allergies know enough to read the labels, but if they don't realize that Sami's isn't exclusively a GF vendor, there could be serious consequences.

So they had a shelf of "wheat alternative" breads that only actually had ONE type of wheat-free bread, a shelf of croutons from Sami's, and a shelf of millet snack chips from Sami's and a shelf of millet lavash from Sami's, they didn't have any hot dog or hamburger buns from Sami's. They also didn't have any of the similar products from the Deland Bakery. The Deland products are actually a little better than Sami's, but just barely. Deland makes a killer GF bagel, and this Whole Foods isn't carrying any Deland products. They really should.

Another bewildering lack: they aren't stocking Redbridge Beer. This is a gluten-free beer from Anheuser-Busch, making it the first mass-produced GF beer in general distribution. They were carrying New Grist, another GF beer, but they've priced it higher than I've seen it at other stores, and frankly, Redbridge is a better beer. The Publix on Monza carries Redbridge, so it's not a disaster for me, but it's an odd thing to skip.

The other odd thing is the location of the beer case: usually, it's adjacent to the wine section. Beer and Wine, what could be more natural? Instead, it's tucked several aisles away from Wines, as if the Wine department doesn't want to be sullied by the presence of beer. In fact, the beer section isn't near ANY of the other refrigerated cases. If you use logic to find stuff, you will be as stumped as I was. It took me fifteen minutes to find it. It's inexplicably in the coffee and tea aisle, which has its own refrigerator case for iced teas.

And do you know what's REALLY odd about that? Across the store, and adjacent to the Wine Department, they have an entire COFFEE SHOP. They not only MAKE coffee by the cup for you, they actually ROAST beans there. They have bins of fresh-roasted coffee, and bags of whole-bean and ground gourmet coffee ready to go, as well as some gourmet teas.

And it's half the store away from an aisle of coffee and tea products! It's about the most stupid thing I've ever seen, after hiding the beer in the same bizarre location.

To be fair, the fact that they roast beans fresh in the store balances the idiocy of putting coffee beans and teas in two completely different places. I like fresh coffee, I grind my own beans for every pot, and now I can get the beans fresh out of the roaster. But they'll need to stock Redbridge if they want me to quit grumbling about the beer section.

Overall, my experience at Whole Foods was a positive one. The store has been crowded both times I've been in, but the staff seems to be maintaining its cool, and they've been keeping shelves stocked and lines moving smoothly. There were lots of tasting stations, and they caused the same traffic jams they do in every store, but no worse. The store is clean, the staff is friendly and helpful, and once you know where the parking is, getting in and out is no worse than any other store. I am mildly disappointed in the GF selection, but only because it leaves me still having to visit other stores to complete my shopping. (I've only been to one store EVER that had it all: Ada's, over in Fort Meyers.)

One last note: I did want to put in a request for my "missing" products at the suggestion board by the cashiers: I've done this at the Aventure store with good results. This store has the board up, but no suggestion slips, pencils, or a box to slide them into.

Grade: B+
I emailed the store manager, and the problems with the WHEAT ALTERNATIVE shelf have finally been addressed. He also added products from the Deland Bakery to those selections.

No luck yet on bagels, pizza crusts, or RedBridge beer. Sigh.

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September 28, 2007

Good news and Bad News for the Coconut Grove Playhouse

According to this Miami Herald story, the Coconut Grove Playhouse is slooowly creeping out of debt.

Or are they?

Recently, a portion of the Grove's holdings was on the brink of foreclosure; the bankrupt company had defaulted on a mortgage on a parcel known as 'The Bike Shop.' At the last minute, the Aries Development Group stepped in and saved the property.

Kind of. What they really did was assume the mortgage; ADG now holds the mortgage instead of the prior holders. And do you know who held that mortgage, the one that was being foreclosed on?

From the Herald article:
"a group that included four former members of the Playhouse board."
I've confirmed that these four people WERE on the board when they made the original loan. And doesn't THAT stink all to high heaven? I mean, you're on the board of a theater, you help get it INTO debt, you take steps to help get it OUT of debt, and then you make sure it's back IN debt?

It really does seem that ADG wants to get the CGP out of debt, as they have loaned $180,000 to the Playhouse to help them pay off monies owed to its former employees. Some of the money will also go to repaying mis-used grant money that the Playhouse must return to the State.

That's the good news.

The bad news? The idiot board of directors is still there. And they're still idiots. No, I'm not just being mean, or indulging in personal attacks. These people actually ARE idiots, and I can prove it.

Review the facts; the Grove gets itself in terrible debt; they failed to exercise financial oversight and the management team they hired misused funds while the theater had dropping attendance and skyrocketing budget overruns. Instead of taking advantage of its assets, such as arranging rentals or sales of its huge costume, scenery, and prop stock, they fire everyone and lock the building. They've had over a year to come up with a plan to save the theater, or at least cover its debt, and instead of coming up with a comprehensive plan, they find a savior at the eleventh hour.

After all they've been through, wouldn't you think the Grove board would make sure that it had made the best possible arrangements to save the company? I know that I would. Wouldn't you?

Well, here's the comment made by their board Chair on the loan they just received:
''Hopefully the loan agreement is a different type of an agreement than we had in the past,''
Wait a minute! "Hopefully?" "Hopefully" it's a "different type?" Shouldn't she KNOW that it's a different type? Shelly, repeat after me: "Fool me once, shame on you! Fool me TWICE, shame on ME." HOPEFULLY, you have made wise arrangements this time. HOPEFULLY, these new loans will have a better result. But hoping it's a different type of loan? You should really KNOW that before you sign the papers.

It's scary shit. Remember, these "new funds" are not investments, they are not donations, they are LOANS. LOANS have to be REPAID. The CGP got into this mess because they didn't have any funds to repay loans, and they were failing at that back when they were ACTUALLY SELLING TICKETS TO SHOWS. The CGP isn't doesn't have ANY revenue at the moment; how are they gonna repay these loans?

Don't get me wrong; I reeeeeallly want to see the CGP reopened. But I have no faith that their current board can do it.

September 22, 2007

"Dead Man" Talking

He's baaaaaack! Fidel Castro appeared on Cuban television last night.

From the Herald article:

"Castro wore his signature red, white and blue track suit and spoke of international economic issues, such as the fall of the dollar and $84-a-barrel oil prices -- illustrating that the interview was taped Friday."

A clip of the video can be seen on the WFOR website.

Maybe it's time to call in some expert help: Milla knows how to deal with dead men!

September 20, 2007

Andrew Meyer, John Kerry and Campus Security: Clusterfuck Royale.

I've seen the video. The audio quality is poor, but you can make out what's being said. Then there's all the hullabaloo: Critical Miami is horrified, Stuck on the Palmetto is torn: Alex goes one way, Rick the other.

First, it was a forum for students to ask questions of Kerry.

Andrew Meyer was standing at the microphone, and asking Kerry a question. Well, two or three questions, really. But all he was doing is what the event was specifically set up to do: allow students to ask a US Senator and major US political figure direct questions. Andrew Meyer might have been doing it badly, but he absolutely wasn't breaking any law.

Second, Andrew Meyer really sucks at asking questions.
To be fair, Andrew did have to set up some background to give his question absolute relevance. Unfortunately, in the process he got so wound up that he seemed to forget which question he actually wanted to ask. And then he kept repeating it, cutting off Kerry several times. Andrew, Andrew, Andrew; once you've ASKED a question, you have to let the guy actually ANSWER, or at least respond. Your interview technicque sucks ASS. But you didn't deserve to be manhandled by thugs and tasered.

Third, the audio engineer was asleep at the desk.
I've worked this kind of event. It's boring to run the board. There is supposed to be someone in control of the mic. The Audi Engineer should have cut Andrew's microphone the third or fourth time he cut off Kerry's response.

Fourth, who was running this event?
Where was the moderator? The moderator should have sent a monitor out to explain to Meyer that part of asking a question is letting the man answer. And there is supposed to be someone there to do just that; keep order at the microphone. That person was not evident in any of the video, and they ought to have been. Whoever was supposed to be running this event wasn't doing it. They should be fired.

Fifth, WTF was campus security thinking?
Meyers was participating in the event in the manner the event was designed for. He was passionate, and a little disorganized. The campus cops were completely out of line. The shouldn't have tried to get him away from the mic, they should not have grabbed him, and they absolutely should not have tasered him. They were out of line. WAY out of line.

Conservative detractors have wasted no time to bash Kerry for not jumping in. In fact, Kerry can be heard trying to tell the police to stop. "Please - I'm going to answer his question. Hey! Let me finish!" I think Kerry did the right thing; if he'd gotten emotionally involved in the police brutality, the crowd would have grown agitated, and then we'd have been watching video of "the ensuing riot" instead of "redneck cracker cops beating up a student for no defensible reason."

Rick at SotP felt that Meyer should have capitulated when the jackbooted thugs ordered him to "stop resisting." Rick is wrong, plain as that. While I know that law enforcement has a tough job, and that keeping the peace is a difficult task in a crowd, the public should not capitulate to illegal actions by rogue officers. These "officers" were not arresting a criminal, they were haranguing a citizen engaging in a spirited exercise of his first amendment rights. What was Meyer's crime? Being passionate? Failing to resolve all his questions down to one?

Why did Meyer resist? Because he wasn't doing anything wrong. He was fully within his rights to be there, and to be asking his questions, and he absolutely had the right to stand there and listen to Kerry's response. And Kerry wanted to answer Meyer; and he told the stormtroopers that even as they were assaulting Meyer. Meyer did what a journalist should do: make everyone pay attention.

It's this kind of lack of self control on behalf of law enforcement that lead me to think that giving all patrol officers assault weapons is A Very Bad Idea. A taser is supposed to be used against violent offenders, not students shocked that their rights are being trampled. Give these same bozos the ability to lay suppressing fire? Fuck that. I'd rather they take cover and wait for SWAT to show up, given the propensity for undue escalation.

It is chilling that anyone could defend the UF campus hoodlums. This is the worst violation of free speech and the civil rights of students since Kent State. Law enforcement needs to expel these thugs and condemn their behavior; it's "cops" like these that make the jobs of real cops that much harder.

September 14, 2007

Random Maniacism...ManiacaLism...umm... Random BS.

Interesting little plot unravelling at The Coconut Grove Grapevine . It looks like someone is trying to create a whoopla over nothing.

It starts with someone emailing the blogger and asking for help contacting the board of the beleaguered Coconut Grove Playhouse. This the email that CGGV received and posted on their blog:
"Any of you guys there no how I can get in touch with Shelly Spivack. Bank of America may be interested in getting involved in helping out the Playhouse.
Nothing about this little missive rings true: first, I can't believe that any legitimate representative of the BoA would try to contact the board via a weblog. Second, the spelling mistake is awfully noticeable, and I can't believe a legitimate BoA rep wouldn't have caught it.

But then we look into the comments section, and something truly bizarre is going on, and I'm not just referring to the fact that all the posts are from "anonymous."

The middle comment seems to be legit, it's the first and third that are funky: the first comes up with something out of the blue: "WHAT HAPPENED TO PLAYHOUSE PARKING LOT I HEAR IT WAS SOLD?"

Several years ago, the CGP did try to sell the parking lot - and very publicly did NOT do it. Never happened. The public was all over the theater's board of directors. Since last April, the theater has been closed while the board tries to figure out what they can do to save the theater. They just spent a wad of dough to prevent foreclosure on a property across the parking lot from the theater, but again, that's very obviously NOT the parking lot. (The property is referred to as "The Bike Shop," because when the Theater orignally acquired it, it was...well, I think you get it.)

So that's a weird comment, strange but innocent in and of itself.

But then, "anonymous" picks that comment and runs deep into left field with it:

"I am so disappointed that Bank of America would ..."

First, as far as we can tell, BoA hasn't done ANYTHING. We have an alleged but completely unverified person claiming to represent BoA, but no evidence that this person really does have anything to do with BoA.

But there's more:

"IF true, it is also a disappointment to learn the adjacent parking lot was sold."

Wait, one person TYPING IN ALL CAPS asks a disjointed question, and this whacko's already disappointed? We don't know that BoA is up to anything, and there is NO actual report of the parking lot being sold, "anonymous" is investing a lot in this.

BUT WAIT! He's still not finished:
"What has disappointed me more than all of the news above..."

WHAT news? There's no NEWS in there. Prior to the three comments I captured, you have one person rapping the Grapevine for being suspicious of the spelling error, and me saying the whole thing sounds suspicious.

OK, OK, OK, this poor guy is just trying to be funny. The whole thing's a joke, and the punchline is:

"...rename it the Related Group Playhouse."
Ha. Ha ha.
I think my approach was more...interesting.

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September 1, 2007

...Speaking of "Toys for Boys."

House boat: check
14 foot whaler for excursions: check
10 foot zodiac for beach fun: check
Jetski to whip around the boats at the marina: check
Seaplane: check