River St. Whole Foods & La Comunidad: Business Paradigm

SiroccoBlue doesn’t usually review (much less promote) large organizations, but we have found incredible customer service at the River St. Whole Foods location in Cambridgeport (the old Fourth Ward).

Especially in terms of language and receptivity, this particular branch in the Cambridgeport community offers some models for the local, family-owned operations that has been our focus since the Amherst Life Blog and Amherst Life Blog days of our youth.


Indeed, the kind, genuine, courteous, multilingual staff at the Whole Foods on River St. deserves recognition and they also provide us with some key paradigms… People who speak Portuguese and Spanish feel comfortable in a store where the employees are allowed to speak to customers in their native language(s). The same is true, both for ease of informational transfer as well as comfort, of street maps and eco-friendly information: people feel part of a community when they can work and live in their languages of choice:

Portuguese language blessing signage, near Harvard Sq.

But back to the business front: that horrific internal policy that prohibits staff from speaking in their languages to customers stigmatizes certain languages as “other” and a “threat,” and cuts off the connection between the public and the institution. It forces communication to abide by the imagined language norms of a society (and they are alleged because this is a multilingual society) and therefore the equally imagined cultural patterns and values of that society. By enforcing an English-only internal language policy the organization is enforcing, too, an English-only culture that gives no space for the co-existence of other ways of communicating and being. The message, in establishments that forbid employees to speak to each other and to customers in their languages, is clear: one language and one culture shall prevail. Simply put, that is not a friendly business atmosphere even though the supposed reason behind this type of control is to make sure that monolingual English speakers do not feel uncomfortable or feel “others” are speaking about them. (News to all: if you are annoying, people will find all kinds of ways of talking about it via metaphor, glances, looks, codified body gestures that resist intelligibility. Communication is going to happen no matter what). Again, we digress…

The point here is that the staff at River St. is a multicultural group that is extremely sensitive to the customer: they know how to engage, they know when to be a “light presence,” they can speak across all of their languages, and they know how to determine when a customer wants to branch out of the “norms” and have a conversation. That customer (customers, really, para ser correctos gramaticalmente) would be us: the SiroccoBlue team who walks through the store proudly hollering out greetings in full quisqueyaneo, “muchacho, y qué; dímelo mi reina, como tu tá” and sometimes in Portuguese, “e aí meu amigão, beleza?” and proudly receiving the response to the call, “como tu andas mi amor; pero esse muchacho, ese é un pícaro!; beleza meu rei,” among others.

Yes, sometimes folks call Whole Foods “whole paycheck.” The things are expensive, including that delicious lunch/dinner buffet. But we keep going there because of the staff and the sense of personal connnection and service that River Street is fully engaging. We throw down $15 because they people look at us in the eye and greet us, they speak to us in our languages, they don’t feel they have to hide their language use. It is a paradigm para la comunidad!

A special thanks to for your dedication to maintaining a personal and personalized connection to the people that spend their hard earned cash at Calle Río. Gloria, Johan, Dulce, Wanda, among others: te felicitamos del corazón, qué clase de trato, de caballería, qué gente más chévere. They are the front line of an organization that, in other locales and states, can come off as a bit impersonal, transactional. Certainly not the case at River Street.

See our next post as we extend this language-based paradigm to Andala Café, just up River Street in Central Square.



  1. As we wrote, the Whole Foods of River St is located in the Cambridgeport section of Cambridge is one of the city’s most culturally, linguistically, and economically diverse neighborhoods. Please stay tuned for more posts on the Cambridgeport community. We would like to start running some workshops, locally, to get families documenting the neighborhood, sharing stories, and photographing.


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