Biju’s Little Curry Shop is getting ready to leave its spots this fall in the Whole Foods Market stores in south Denver and Boulder, a Whole Foods spokeswoman told Denverite this week.
Chef Biju Thomas and his team are nearing the end of their six-month experiment in the two stores.
“When we first went in, the whole reason that we jumped on it was to be the first third-party vendor — or Friends of Whole Foods — to have a fixed, built space in any Whole Foods anywhere,” Thomas said. “The really cool thing for us was obviously the opportunity to do that and get in front of people … and through that relationship, I’ve been able to bring on a lot of other local vendors and restauranteurs into the Whole Foods universe.”
Biju’s at Whole Foods was never meant to be a permanent concept, but having local restaurants at Whole Foods is.
Biju’s was participating in the Friends of Whole Foods Market program, in which the Austin-based grocer provides space in its stores for restaurateurs, according to a spokeswoman for Whole Foods. Six locations in Colorado have already partnered with area restaurateurs, the latest being the recently announced partnership between Birdcall and Whole Foods at the downtown Denver store.
“Originally, the intent was to see — is it a three-month thing? Six months? A year? To see what makes sense for a customer experience,” Thomas said. “So it’s always new and interesting, and customers come to expect that at Whole Foods.”
His partnership helped pave the way for the next wave of restaurants in Whole Foods stores, which will include a Yellowbelly Chicken in Belmar and the Birdcall at Union Station.
“We are working on finalizing a partnership at the Boulder location, the Pearl Street store, with a Korean barbecue partner,” said Tom Rich, vice president of operations and merchandising at Whole Foods.
Rich didn’t say what was in store for the Whole Foods at 7400 E. Hampden Ave., but he said the supermarkets will continue to have a partnership with Thomas and his curry restaurants. Biju’s expected to hold onto its two locations for about another three weeks.
“Our partnership is going to evolve into him providing a lot of the dishes that he sells in his venues on our hot bars instead of having the walk-up customer concept,” Rich said.
Thomas said the six-month partnership was great for his growing brand, which he eventually wants to expand outside of Colorado. Keeping the Biju’s name at Whole Foods is part of that mission.
They’ll first try out the hot bar offerings at the Whole Foods on Pearl Street in Boulder. It’s not settled yet, but Thomas says the Cherry Creek Whole Foods is a candidate in Denver.
It’s a great fit, since Whole Foods already serves Indian food at its hot bars. Thomas just aims to take the options to another level, beyond common dishes like chicken tikka marsala and into things like a smoked tofu tikka or Colorado bison curry.
“He was one of the pioneers,” Rich said. “He’s always given us some great feedback throughout the partnership. I think what he discovered was that for him it was less of a long-term partnership in that space. He really wanted people to taste his concept and bring it into different communities that he’s in.
“He’s a pretty eclectic entrepreneur. He’s already doing grab-and-go foods. He wants to provide foods out of his commissary in hot bars. He’s also got a spice bar that he’s introducing. I think Biju is someone who likes to make changes and try different things and just evolve with the food culture.”
In addition to its spots within Whole Foods, Biju’s Little Curry Shop has locations in RiNo and Berekely in Denver.
Denverite business and data reporter Adrian D. Garcia contributed to this report.