Meet Chris Manca, the Cheese, Beer, Coffee, and Chocolate Buyer at Whole Foods
Yes, we understand that your feelings about Whole Foods may be somewhat confusing -- the new location in Gowanus, our staff writer Anna Merlan wrote, is great, which makes her feel somewhat terrible. One major positive: The stores really work hard to support local producers, a task that, in this area of the country, falls partially to Chris Manca.
Courtesy Whole Foods
"I manage specialty for the northeast region," Manca explains. "That's sort of an umbrella term for cheese, beer and wine, coffee and tea, olives, and chocolate." And if you've spent much time perusing these sections of the shop, you'll note that they carry products from small purveyors from our neck of the woods, whether that's chocolate made in Brooklyn or beer brewed somewhere in the city.
Manca says the road to the grocery store's shelves is relationship-based. "It's more organic than you'd think," he explains. "Our system is decentralized, and at the regional level, we're empowered to do our own thing, so I spend a long time getting to know regional vendors. A lot of them become friends."
And that's important, because the buyer only wants to put products on the shelve that his staff can fully get behind, from the quality of the item to the story. "First and foremost, it's the product," says Manca. "Everything on the shelf has to meet our quality standards. But we also look at vendors that are aligned with our core values. We have to get to know people. I try not to put products on the shelves if I don't know the producer. I love the products, and I love the people, too."
Those relationships also give way to unique partnerships. Earlier this month, for instance, we tasted a collaboration between Evil Twin and Chocopologie: Evil Twin brewed a stout with the chocolate-maker's chocolate, and the chocolatier then made a truffle with the beer. "It was a full-circle collaboration," says Manca. And if you can jump on it, it'd make a great Valentine's Day gift for a beer lover. Better act quickly, though: These one-offs are unique offerings, and when they're gone, they're gone.
As for favorite products on the shelves right now, Manca has a few recommendations: "Evil Twin is sort of our favorite brewer right now. Sixpoint has great stuff that's come recently, and so does Brooklyn Brewery. We have great local chocolate -- we're a huge fan of Liddabit Sweets and Nunu chocolates, which was one of our original partnerships. Brooklyn Brine makes a good giardiniera."
And with regards to the Super Bowl, "foodwise, my mind always goes to cheese," Manca says. "It's great for Super Bowl. You could do all New York cheeses. Otherwise, it's comfort food, like nachos and buffalo wings." Whole Foods is also stocking beers from Colorado and Washington, so you should be able to find beverages that appropriately match your team.