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Sidequest: Erewhon

Photo credit: Ava Johnson

By Bek Tan, Tilly Jones, Aashay Ghiya, and Hela Khali

May 7, 2024 9:33 p.m.

Los Angeles has a lot to offer! In this miniseries, Podcasts contributors go on adventures that are unique to LA, and then they come to the studio to discuss and review their experiences. On today’s episode, Hela Khalil, Bek Tan, Tilly Jones and Aashay Ghiya discuss their trip to LA’s most notorious supermarket, Erewhon.

Hela Khalil: Welcome to “Side Quest,” a miniseries by Daily Bruin Podcasts where we send Podcasts contributors on an adventure that is unique to Los Angeles. In each episode, the contributors come to the studio to tell us about their experiences, funny stories and reviews. This is “Side Quest.”

Bek Tan: On today’s side quests, our contributors ventured into LA’s most notorious supermarket chain Erewhon. Tune in as we discuss the vibe of the store, the employees and customers, our product reviews and our final thoughts. I’m Bek Tan.

Tilly Jones: I’m Tilly Jones.

HK: I’m Hela Khalil.

Aashay Ghiya: And I’m Aashay. Erewhon was founded by Japanese immigrants in 1966. They were macrobiotic enthusiasts. macrobiotic diets are centered around eating whole grains and vegetables. It is mostly vegan, except for small amounts of fish.

BT: First, we’ll talk about how we got to Erewhon. So Hela, can you start us off?

HK: Yeah, yeah, well, we met up at the transit loop near Ackerman and hopped on the Culver City #6 transit bus. So, it was free with our TAP cards. Unfortunately, Bek forgot his TAP card, but I think the bus driver kind of just let him on. Yeah, And then we took the 720 bus to Beverly Hills. And it was honestly so much quicker and more accessible than we thought it would be.

TJ: Yeah, it was great. It was super easy. For the past, like 20 minutes, and then we got there. And Rodeo Drive was really a surprising shift from our campus culture. There were so many people around really bougie stores. It felt very LA. And I think Bek you’d never been there before.

BT: Yeah, being there. It was like it’s my first time. It definitely felt way above my pay grade and definitely felt very out of touch to be there. Definitely saw some really interesting figures. Yeah, Rodeo Drive is definitely an experience.

HK: Remember that lady when we were trying to cross the road, she was like taking a picture of us or her camera. It was an arrow. And I was like, “Oh, we’re in the right place.”

AG: Yeah, I think the most interesting thing for me was being at Rodeo Drive in the middle of the day Monday at 4 p.m. And seeing so many people just milling about taking their photoshoots just as a reflection to that kind of commitment to the, you know, LA superficiality, so to speak.

So the store itself. The first thing I personally noticed was that there was an elevated patio with a bunch of chairs that sort of formed a bit of an alcove into the storefront itself. So my first impression was that I thought it was quite like a cafe. But ultimately, it didn’t turn out to be the case. Going into the store, I personally noticed a lot of tube lights, specifically on the ceilings and on the top of every shelf, and these are bright white, so it definitely maximized the overall vertical space, or at least the perception of vertical space in each aisle, and each shelf, and the shelves themselves were identical. And it reminded me a lot of an Amazon bookstore, small and constricted yet busy. There was no signage on the aisles, so it seemed like you had to go to ask employees as to what you wanted to look for or make a best judgment based on the very artsy brand names that you saw. So beyond the simple layout of the store, the sections are what is really the core of Erewhon. Tilly, what do you think of that?

TJ: Yeah, so you walk in and immediately like there’s just a ton of people, and they were all waiting in a line, and we clocked pretty quickly that they were that it was a classic, iconic smoothie line. And then beyond that was the hop art. But other than that there was like because they didn’t have labels to anything. It was a little hard to figure out. I think we were all struggling to figure out where everything was. There was a pretty clear produce section. You guys saw a puree shelf that you can speak on.

HK: So much sea moss galore in different colors —

BT: Rainbow-filled jars. And then there was also like a bunch of shelves of like hydrogen-filled water for like 40 bucks, and that was kind of insane or just like the Erewhon branded water —

HK: There was such a random thing that a shocking amount of so much water, a weird amount of water. And a lot of nut butters that were pushing $20 prices and different brands of like the nut butters.

TJ: And then with the aisles themselves, like we pretty immediately notice how clean and neat and organized they were, and then I remember you guys talking about how you guys went into the aisles.

HK: And yeah, we did an experiment because right off the bat, like Tilly was saying when. Notice that these aisles looked like they had never been touched before. They were just all the gaps that were perfectly filled. Everything was brought to the front of the shelf. And it just seemed like the employees were constantly restocking these aisles. So we decided to go into the snack aisle and do a little experiment where we kind of shifted around a couple of those cracker boxes, flipped them backwards, made a couple of gaps artificially, and then, we came back 15 minutes later. And of course, it looked like we had never even been in that aisle, and it all looked perfect and put back in place.

TJ: I think that wasn’t surprising because, in every aisle, there was an employee. And they were like, continuously walking throughout and everything.

AG: So it seems on brand because something I noticed is that after we kind of messed with the first aisle and moving the snack boxes, we realized that every shelf had a majority of empty space. So every product that you see on each shelf or a given aisle, there’s only one or two of that product that you’ll see right there. And, the rest of it is just for show, which perhaps supports the overall idea that Erewhon is a bit of a cult classic and wants to create a very specific experience for you.

BT: Speaking of the really narrow rows, I think we bumped into a lot of customers while trying to find our way through. It was like a maze. Yeah, definitely had some interesting experiences, especially with this British lady who I excuse myself for and she was like, Oh, don’t worry, dear, you’re perfectly fine. Such a sweet lady. She’s like, don’t apologize and don’t move. Other than that British lady, I feel like most of the customers were either half LA native or half tourists.

HK: Yeah, it was either. To me, at least, it seemed it was either tourists or regulars. And I felt like I was in between. But we didn’t. We were journalists there. And they knew it.

TJ: They actually knew it. But because I was at the front for most of the time. And I just saw so many people walking in and taking pictures taking really long videos of their Erewhon logos. It was very clearly a tourist hub.

HK: But then the people who were regulars. You could tell because they walked in with a lot of competence. And they were like, immediately got their cart, and they immediately pushed past the tourists, and they were a little less like, welcome. I would say, yeah, for sure. And I actually got the opportunity to interview a regular. So I’ll play the interview for you right now.

What’s the craze about Erewhon?

Interviewee #1: Well, I think it’s kind of stupid. Actually. It’s really expensive. But I’m here. So, yeah, I mean, I tell you it’s from the hype. Right. But yeah, I think it’s fairly similar to a lot of things. Yeah.

HK: And what’s your favorite thing here?

Interviewee #1: The smoothies, I really like the smoothies. And, another one, the sea moss. And, yeah, like other means and things like that. Okay.

HK: Yeah. All right. Thank you so much.

AG: I also got the chance to interview a customer and ask them about their shopping cart.

So I guess I just wanted to ask if you could walk us through like your shopping cart and what you buy here normally.

Interviewee #2: Normally, we just buy the premade food. We buy pretty much everything. Vitamins. Yogurt.

AG: Yeah, no worries. So do you have a personal favorite item that you prefer buying? Or that you find that there is something specific to here that you wouldn’t find elsewhere?

Interviewee #2: I mean, obviously, this is premade food that’s all organic, and you can see exactly what’s inside of the ingredients. So then, you know, you feel good after.

AG: Yeah, sounds good. And I guess if, if you’re okay, answering this. What would the, I guess average, like cost per, I guess grocery run for up, but if you don’t want to answer that’s totally fine.

Interviewee #2: I’m just thinking. It depends. We just came back here. So right now we’re kind of buying everything. I mean, in a day, it could be anywhere from like 100 to $200. If we’re just getting premade foods, and maybe it’s like $50

AG: Awesome. All right. Thank you so much.

BT: Now, let’s talk about the employees.

HK: Okay, something I noticed straight off that the very first employee I saw in the store looked like a security guard. He was wearing all black, a hat and an earpiece. So I really thought he was a security guard. Maybe he was a bodyguard shopping there. But that kind of set the tone because I was like, Okay, maybe he’s the manager. No, I think every employee in the store was wearing something along those lines and had an earpiece.

TJ: And they were kind of weird because I didn’t notice them until you guys started pointing them out. And then I saw them everywhere. Oh, my they all had earpieces. And they felt like they were staring at us the whole time. And so it was alarming. For sure.

BT: Yeah, the way they turn the corner. It’s like they’re trying to catch you doing something you’re not supposed to.

HK: And we have a theory that they were kind of catching on to us because we would collect ourselves in the corners of the store and stand there for probably a little bit too much time in a suspicious way.

BT: Yeah, I had a very interesting experience with an employee. She asked what we were doing, and she came around the corner and looked at me straight, and it was so random. And she put her thumbs up. She was like, “Are you okay, sir?” And I never even saw this woman, like, didn’t think she was ever gonna talk to me. And, I was like, “Yeah, I’m perfectly fine.” And then she just walks on, like walks on by, and then like, two minutes later, she comes by again, like comes around the corner the same way, “Are you sure you’re okay?” Just an interesting experience.

HK: I guess you looked upset, I guess.

BT: Yeah, I guess I have an upset face.

HK: Yeah. I mean, despite us being a little bit scared of the employees, we did find one who was very quick to say yes. When I asked him if we could interview him, and he had some really insightful things to say. So we’ll play that for you right now.

So, what is your name? And where are you from?

Interviewee #3: My name is Victor Luis, and I’m from LA.

HK: Okay. Why did you choose to work here? And, what do you like about it?

Interviewee #3: I chose to work here because I don’t know it seems like a pretty poppin’ place. I’ve got to meet, see or meet different types of people.

HK: Like what do you like about work?

Interviewee #3: Oh, oh, everybody’s so friendly. Like my coworkers are friendly. The people I meet are nice and like it’s a pretty, like, chill environment.

HK: Okay, that’s great. Have you ever seen a celebrity?

Interviewee #3: I believe? Yeah. Oh, yeah. I have seen Hailey Bieber.

HK: Oh, really?

Interviewee #3: Yeah. Like because she asked her smoothie here, right?

HK: Yeah. Okay, what does the typical day of work here look like for you?

Interviewee #3: It’s pretty chill. Pretty busy. Sometimes hectic because of the other people, but overall, it’s pretty chill.

HK: Nice. Yeah. And then what is your favorite Erewhon product, if you’ve tried any?

Interviewee #3: My favorite product probably ought to be the rice pudding. It’s pretty good.

HK: We’re gonna test like a different product.

Interviewee #3: Yeah, it’s pretty good.

HK: Okay, thank you so much.

BT: So let’s move on to our dining experience guys, our food reviews. Tilly if you can start us off.

TJ: Yeah, so when we went to Erehwon we were pretty sure we knew one thing at least we were gonna get, and that’s the Hailey Bieber smoothie. And the second we got there, it was very apparent that that’s like the most popular thing. I was in the smoothie line the whole time, and everyone in front of me ordered the Hailey Bieber’s smoothie, everyone behind me ordered a Hailey Bieber smoothie. I felt like I was selling my soul to tourism a little bit. So we got that it was $18, which is a lot for a smoothie. And, it was not even a large. And then, the employee that we interviewed, Victor, recommended the rice pudding. For a reason that remains unclear to me, but he did recommend it. But yeah, And then, the last thing we got was the overnight oats mostly because it was right next to the rice pudding. But what did you guys think of the food?

HK: Well, Bek do you want to start with the rice pudding since it was your favorite, I guess?

BT: Yeah. I’m not a big rice pudding guy. But I feel like this rice pudding was actually pretty good. Like for any other rice pudding I’ve had.

HK: I definitely think Victor recommended it because it was a really safe choice. Like, there’s no way you can go wrong with the rice pudding.

BT: Yeah, it reminded me if anyone listening has had something like horchata. Hela, can you talk about overnight oats?

HK: Oh my gosh. Of course. We got these oats. Yeah, we got the strawberry overnight oats with chia seeds in them. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since they were so good.

TJ: I will say that like all the things we got were like, I think Hela described it as just like a bunch of mush like a smoothie. And, it was like a thick smoothie. And then rice pudding, which was very much not my favorite texture. And then, overnight oats which was just like milky blue mush, so it was a choice of foods, but your smoothie itself, like I loved, I thought it was really good, but not worth $18. For sure.

HK: Yeah, I have high expectations for it, and especially reading the ingredients, I expect it to taste a lot more like avocado, dates, strawberry. But it tasted like a pretty standard smoothie.

AG: Good smoothie.

HK: Yeah. That’s why if you look at the thickness, they’re probably trying to trick you into thinking that there’s more flavor or more healthfulness than there might actually be? Yeah, and I think that was definitely the case with all three.

TJ: But yeah, it was.

HK: It was pretty, we definitely massacred it. We stuck four straws into this one small smoothie cup, and we probably looked insane.

TJ: And, we did get some employee looks during that experience. And, I think I can boil it down to the fact that there were four people drinking out of one cup. And, I don’t think they see that very often.

AG: Yeah, and just to know, I mean, we spent what 30. About $36 on these three items, and they were not very big. Not big at all. So I think that speaks to, I don’t know, I thought the prices were a little bit absurd.

BT: A little bit absurd. I still die spending $18 on a whole meal.

HK: Yeah, I think at any LA cafe these three items would probably cost no more than half spended or 12 bucks. Maybe I do feel like LA itself is really expensive. Like Erewhon wasn’t any crazier, more expensive than some other places in LA, but it definitely was more expensive than the rest of the world.

TJ: Yeah, there were I mean, they had pretty standard products. The prices were expected. I wasn’t blown away by the snack aisle. Normal, almost normal. But then there were really random things like the sea moss, water, hydrogen, that just seemed really out there.

BT: So let’s unpack the packaging.

HK: I think the packaging and all the food is really cute. I think. Definitely the food we chose. It was very minimalistic.

BT: It was very clean. Very nice. Tilly, do you have any thoughts?

TJ: I totally agree. I think it was very clean. The Erewhon logo was very in-your-face, but like simplistic. And all the food, even the ones we didn’t get, the packaging itself was aesthetic and cute. They choose brands that have good packaging.

BT: I think the most notable packaging for me was definitely this bag of dried mango. His name is Señor Mango. It has this little kid drawing of this guy in a sombrero. It definitely took everything for us not to buy it. It was like $17 for an eight-pack of dried mangoes.

HK: That’s crazy.

AG: Not only were some of the names cute like Señor Mango, but they’re also kind of real like I saw vitality shots kind of neatly lined up on one of the shelves almost like they’re doing it to sell you an experience. And there was a very extensive peanut butter selection as well that I think Hela can maybe tell us more about and I noticed that one of the brand names was described as Eden, which I think sort of matches the very utopian perspective of Erewhon.

TJ: Yeah, just that I think overall it just didn’t feel real.

BT: Yeah, I felt as if I was somewhere in Roblox.

HK: Okay, tell me if I’m really far off with this. The outside patio felt like Minecraft like the bushes were perfectly squared. And I felt like I was in Minecraft or something I would build in Minecraft.

BT: It was like Supermarket Tycoon?

HK: Yeah.

TJ: We should be talking about the employees, the cherry on top of our experience was definitely our last experience with these employees. Hela I think you can talk about that.

HK: I mean, when we were outside with our food on the table because we were ready to try everything. And this is when Bek and Aashay were getting the interview. And as they were walking out to meet us, we had these two chairs at the table, and we were waiting for them to come and we had like a perfect four-person setup. And then one of the employees walks out and he super quickly sits down, and he’s like, “Do you mind if I sit here?” And we didn’t have time to say anything because he was already sitting opening his food, and we’re like, “Oh, okay,” and then they sit down and join us. And so we start really loudly like reviewing Erewhon talking about how overstimulating was talking about how we’re like being watched the whole time.

TJ: And Hela is like pointing over to the guy because he worked there, and she was saying he can hear us. And then we went inside eventually, and we started talking about him. And then this guy rolls out this big trash bin, and we could swear he was inching closer and listening to everything we were saying. So, by the end of that experience, we did feel like Erewhon has us on some list.

HK: No, because there’s the guy taking out the trash. Well of course he had his earpiece in but it was facing us and he was getting closer to us, and kept looking at us. So there are theories that he was sent there by the store to keep an eye and an ear out for us.

TJ: Yeah, they were all watching.

BT: Yeah, definitely an interesting experience. So now we’re going to close with our final remarks. I’ll start. Everything as a whole, I think, was way above my pay grade. Definitely very overrated. Definitely very overpriced. Definitely would not go again.

TJ: Yeah, I would say being in the actual market was so overstimulating because there were so many people, and I was really relieved to be out of there, but the food itself was good, but again, definitely very overpriced, but fun to go.

AG: Yeah, Erewhon is the most LA experience I’ve had so far. But it is something that is off the bucket list for good.

HK: I mean, okay, it kind of was a lot inside like Tilly said, pretty overstimulating, but I agree maybe a little overhyped, but I thought it was cool, and I think I’d go back.

BT: Thank you for listening to our first episode of “Side Quest.” In our next episodes, we’ll have contributors talk about their journey, crawling to Westwood’s coffee shops and attending a live showing of “Jeopardy.” Come back next week for more “Side Quest.”

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