I’ve long had mixed feelings about Erewhon, an upscale supermarket and food emporium with various locations in the trendiest sections around Los Angeles. The chain’s prepared foods make Whole Foods’ look like a 7-11 and I’ve long been impressed with the quality of its staff and the training of its cashiers. On several occasions I’ve taken the time to compliment the managers of the two stores I frequent most.

The downside of Erewhon it is obscenely expensive. I accept that one must pay for quality and superior service, but Erewhon charges several dollars more on some products than my local Ralph’s. Erewhon caters to celebrities and the most beautiful people in L.A., so I justify going there because of the added entertainment value. The place should be a tourist attraction.

This afternoon I had a very different Erewhon experience, one where I was essentially accused of trying to avoid paying for about $22 worth of food.

It was midafternoon when I entered the Erewhon store on Beverly Drive. I was out of sorts, distracted, and badly fatigued from lack of sleep. I also was feeling light-headed because I was dehydrated after walking several blocks in the blazing California summer sun. My plan was to get something to eat and then browse the vitamin section for a certain product.

I ordered some prepared food and while I was in the checkout line, I made an impulse purchase for some organic Keto chocolate bark (price $8.19.) Knowing that I’d be going back into the store to buy vitamins, I asked the cashier for a bag to put the bark into so it would be clear that I had already paid for it. The cashier put my prepared food in the bag, and I took it out. I explained to her that I was going to eat the prepared food immediately and why I wanted the bag. We clearly had a communication problem (English wasn’t her first language) because she put the food back in the bag. I took it out. This happened three times.

I was so hungry and thirsty after the cashier rang up the transaction, I didn’t check the receipt. I went to the counter, ate my food, and then went back in the store to find my vitamins. They had what I wanted. I went into the cashier line and put down my products. A hostile male named Kris whose ID tag said he was an assistant manager confronted me.

“Were you planning on paying for your cobbler?” I thought he said. I don’t eat cobbler, so I had no clue what he was talking about.

He repeated the line, and I still didn’t understand what he was talking about.

Then in a very accusatory tone Kris said that I had eaten and discarded my meal without paying for it. I was horrified and politely explained that I didn’t realize the cashier only charged me for the bark because that’s all I wanted in the bag.

I explained that I thought I was charged for the meal, but Kris wasn’t having it that it was an honest misunderstanding.

“If this happens again, I’m cancelling your membership,” he said with a scowl. (Erewhon has a membership that only makes sense if you spend oodles of money.)

I told Kris again it was an honest error, and that I didn’t appreciate him threatening me.

“I’m not threatening you,” he said coldly.

I insisted that threatening to cancel my membership was indeed a threat and made clear he didn’t believe my failure to pay was an honest error.

“If I was threatening you, I’d say the next I will call the police.”

Erewhon Mission

As I drove home, it occurred to me what Kris was possibly planning. Had I not gone back into the store to buy the vitamins, he would have confronted me at the exit and accused me of trying to leave without paying. He struck me as the sort of person who would enjoy that sort of confrontation.

Kris possibly might have called the police, but it would have been a waste of everyone’s time. In California, theft under $950 is a misdemeanor; I recently saw a video of someone walk into a Target store in San Francisco, pick up an assortment of goods, and leave without paying. The store clerks didn’t bother calling the police. Every day is Christmas in California if you want it to be. If the LAPD did show up, the only real punishment I would have suffered was the humiliation of being accused of stealing.

I wonder, though, how often people might get distracted and inadvertently forget to pay for something or mistakenly thought they did. Seems to me if Kris had any common sense, he would have thought it odd that I was trying to avoid paying but remained in the store and then went back in line to pay for more costly products. Somehow, I don’t think common sense is Kris’ strong suit.

Erewhon is growing quickly, so it’s hardly a surprise that it can’t maintain the management standards that made the company so popular in the first place. I’m sending the company a link to this post and will let you know how they respond. I’m anxious to learn whether a company known for its upscale products has any class.

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