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Customer Comments

Vegans at Willy North

To Whom it May Concern,

I was probably the most excited about this location opening. We moved to the North side about a year ago to be able to find a house & fenced in yard in our price range to accommodate our needs. We weren’t thrilled about the location due to the lack of vegan food, restaurants, proper grocers, etc. in the neighborhood. So boy, were we ELATED to hear the news that we would be getting a Co Op! Unfortunately, it’s opening brought tremendous let down. No juice/coffee bar, no sandwiches, pizzas, or any of the other amazing things offered at East/West. Just a less than sub par hot case.

We are vegan and as you can guess, the north side isn’t exactly the easiest place to grab some food on the go. The hot case at this location is LITERALLY the only option we have. So imagine how disappointing it is to go in and find hardly anything vegan on there. One day I went in and there wasn’t anything! Especially in the morning, no vegan breakfast sandwiches? No granola bar? I’ve been in at all times of day and have yet to see fresh hot case items... either vegan or non vegan. Being the newest location, we assumed it would be the best yet. Somehow it’s managed to be opposite.

Another issue we have found is going online to check the menu items of the day and North isn’t even listed. Some days it is, some days it isn’t. Would love to see more consistency in that area.

We would give a lot of business to this location if it were the same as East. I feel like we got the shaft, big time. I know we aren’t the only people who feel this way. Seriously, is there any hope you can give us that the amenities of East & West that make our Co Op above others will be added to the North side? Or should we continue to give our business to Pick N Save & Woodmans?

A: Thank you for your feedback. I am sorry that you have been dissatisfied with our Willy North location thus far. I want to assure you that we are striving to serve our Owners and community to the best of our ability. Feedback like yours is helpful because it shows us where we can improve. Please allow me to address some of your comments one by one.

Juice Bar:

Based on the premises as well as temporal and financial constraints, there was no way we could have a Juice Bar at the time of our opening. However, there are already preliminary plans to undertake a massive remodel of this site. Construction of a Juice Bar will take place at that time. We will have to be patient, though, because a remodel will not happen for at least two to three years. In the meantime, we offer many excellent bottled juices as well as self-serve coffee.


The only sandwiches we currently offer are pre-made ones that come from our off-site production kitchen. Recently, we have moved production of these sandwiches to the retail locations. It is our hope that we can expand on that sandwich production and beginto offer made-to-order sandwiches soon thereafter.


Our East side location is the only site that has a hearth-style pizza oven. There are no plans at this time to get a pizza oven at North, but you might find pizza on the Hot Bar from time to time.

Vegan Food:

We attempt to make at least half of the Hot Bar offerings vegan or vegetarian on a daily basis. We want to give our customers and Owners the foods they are looking for. Frankly, there is more of a demand at the North location for traditional dishes. Nevertheless, we want to cater to our vegan clientele also, so we will make a more concerted effort to have more vegan offerings. In the meantime, if you would like assistance finding vegan options please do not hesitate to let us know and we will be happy to help.

Vegan Breakfast Sandwich:

We have a vegan breakfast sandwich in the works. It will likely consist of a vegan soy sausage patty and Daiya cheese on an English muffin. It is going through the new product process at this time, but it should be available within the next few weeks.

Daily Hot Bar Menu Online:

We typically have our Hot Bar menu posted online everyday by mid-morning. Sometimes it gets overlooked or might get posted late. I apologize for the inconvenience that has caused for you. We will try harder to get it done consistently and on time. Feel free to give us a call anytime and ask for the Deli and we will be more than happy to let you know what is being served.

Willy North is a unique location compared to our other stores. We opened this store under an extremely expedited timeline and that may have resulted in some things being less than perfect. It is still a work in progress in many ways, but we will continue to work hard to make sure we reach our full potential. We are here to serve our Owners, and with thoughtful and detailed comments like yours, we will continue to improve. 

Thanks again! Sincerely, Jeff Dempsey, Assistant Store Manager—North

buying in bulk

Q: Thank you for taking my question. Is there a way to quickly see the discounted price of buying certain items in large quantities? I may be missing it on the website. Thank you for your time,

A: Thanks for asking. In order to ensure I send this to the right department, please clarify for me: Are you asking about the price for purchasing items at volume by the case? We do not have that kind of information on our website, but if there is a specific item you are considering purchasing at case volume, I can point you in the right direction. The majority of items that Owners can purchase by the case are 10% off shelf price. A few items do not receive that discount because we may already be selling them very close to cost on the shelves. 

I look forward to your follow-up. You may also call Customer Service to get immediate assistance at the stores if you know what you would like to purchase. East is 608-251-6776, West is 608-284-7800, and North is 608-709-5445. Have a great weekend! -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services

double dollars program

Q: I just wrote to Joe Parisi who gave you the grant and told him I will also share with you. Thanks so much for the Double Food Stamps. I am very glad to be learning about more organics. Helps sickness, I noticed my bones don’t ache as bad. I hope others food stamp clients are noticing a difference to eat better. Overall your store employees are so good in answering questions and I am always satisfied with the answer. My social worker says she wishes this would happen every winter cause veggies and fruits are not grown in Wisconsin as well and I add that’s when we get sick more. I hope you put this in your paper.

A: Thanks so much for the positive feedback about the Double Dollars program. I will share it with all staff and our partners in the program and I’ll also let our Newsletter Editor know that you have asked this comment be published. We received funding from the USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant Program. The City of Madison wrote the grant, and is working with not only us but also Public Health Madison & Dane County, Community Action Coalition for South Central Wisconsin, and Centro Hispano on the project. We are thrilled to be partners in the program and to hear that it is making a difference in people’s lives. I hope we see you in the store again soon! Have a great weekend. -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services

Living wages

Q: Dear Ms. Firszt and Co-op Board Members, 

As Owners we were shocked at the comments (Reader, January 2017) related to patronage refund. The response indicated that when profits allow, Owners receive a patronage refund while entry staff at our Co-op currently receive a poorly calculated and outdated living wage of $10.69/hr! This intolerable situation needs immediate attention! Costco gives entry-level employees $11.50/hr. while Co-op staff are told to wait 2–3 years for a new living wage calculation to reach $13.62 to be achieved. How has this situation occurred under your watch?

Please, as our Co-op Board and Executive Director, address this issue in the Reader with a more acceptable solution than “our HR and Finance teams are determining a plan to get us to the new livable wage over 2–3 years’ time!” We are strong supporters of the Co-op and consider the current wages to be deplorable and offensive. How can we be expanding with a new store, and let our staff continue to receive such poorly calculated and outdated livable wages? The current Co-op wages are not in agreement with either the communal or collaborative practices that, as Owners, we support. In fact, this situation reflects a corporate model of decision-making; the very antithesis of co-operative ownership!

Admitting the current living wages for staff was poorly calculated is the first step toward developing a plan to improve all wages and account for compression and yearly wage increases as well. This is the transparency our Co-op embraces. Following through now with interim measures to correct this admission and grievous error to our staff is crucial. Please explore and generate suggestions toward implementing immediate solutions, by considering:

• Raising the staff discount as an immediate supplement to current wages.

•  Polling staff regarding perks that they would find meaningful while wages are being increased.

•   Awarding all staff patronage rebates whether or not they shop at the Co-op. Maybe some staff cannot afford to shop at the Co-op due to their poor wages!

•Polling Owners regarding forgoing or rescinding the patronage refund rebate program in favor of using these funds to support staff living wage increases. 

Thank you for your immediate attention to this very problematic situation. The economic wellbeing of our hard working and skilled staff, who are friendly, personable, warm and attentive employees, is crucial to sustaining a fair and respectful Co-op community. Perhaps we need a paradigm shift from terms like “Owners and staff” to everyone as “participants?” If the prices of Co-op products need to be raised to give staff a fair and respectful living wage, please do so. We cannot keep the Co-op afloat to the detriment of our staff!

Respectfully submitted.

A: Thank you so much for your thoughtful letter, suggestions, and heartfelt concern for our staff’s well being.

One of our goals this year was to implement a Livable Wage plan, along with a significant wage increase, which I am happy to report we have now done! 

Effective today, January 9, 2017, starting/entry-level wage increases to $11.50 an hour.  This is our first step in moving all staff to a livable wage.  Over the next two years we will continue to increase the starting wage with a goal of reaching the Madison Livable Wage by January 2019. Once we achieve a Livable Wage for all staff, our plan is to maintain this by providing pay increases when the Madison Livable Wage increases.  

If we were to immediately increase our starting wage to the Madison Livable Wage of $13.62 per hour, and make the necessary wage compression adjustments, it would cost us over $2 million annually, which we cannot currently afford. By implementing the increases over three years it gives us time to work with staff on how to pay for the increases.

I will include further updates on this initiative in the Reader

Thank you again for your feedback. –Anya Firszt, General Manager

Thank you so much

Q: One time when we were shopping at Willy North we accidentally walked off without the laundry detergent we had bought, but before we realized it we received a phone call that we had left it at the Co-op and to help arrange us picking it up. The weather was somewhat nasty so the offer for them to hold it at the service desk was especially nice (but being Wisconsinites we drove back to get it). Most stores don’t call and if you are very lucky they will have held somewhere for a couple of hours for if you go back for it. Kyle was at the register that day and also made the call. Thank you so much! Given that we didn’t start doing the wash until late evening it was nice to find this out while the store was still open. this was extra special to us as that purchase is the first cleaning product we made as part of our move to go to non-cruelty items.

A: Thanks for the positive feedback! I’m so glad to hear it and I’ve passed it on to Kyle and the management at North to enjoy. I’m also happy that you were able to come back and get what you needed to do your laundry! Have a great day! -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services

Quest cards & Double Dollars

Q: Hi there. I’m a community social worker that works on the West Side of Madison. Does the West Side store accept Quest cards and provide the Double Dollar program like the North Side store? There are plenty of community members who would be eager to have access to fresh organic produce.

A: Thanks so much for asking! We accept FoodShare/QUEST and provide Double Dollars at all three locations. 

We also have Second Harvest FoodShare Registration and Education sessions onsite each month at each location for those who may want to find out if they qualify for FoodShare and register. At West, they are on the first Wednesday of the month from 9am-1pm, which also happens to be our Wellness Wednesday, which offers an additional 10 percent off items in our Wellness Department. The next one is February 1st, and you can find details at  

Using FoodShare/QUEST also qualifies customers to become Owners of the Co-op using our Access Discount Program, meaning an Individual Ownership can be started for as little as $4 per year and allows the Owner to receive an additional 10 percent off products as long as they have a financial need. Customer Service can help people sign up for the Access Discount any time, and we also have staff available during Second Harvest FoodShare Registrations to talk about the program. 

Please let me know if there is anything else we may do for you! -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services

Country of origin

Q: Frozen mushrooms labeled org. and some logos for org “Trade assn.” and international org. assn.. How are we sure these mushrooms are really org.?

A: Both the frozen shiitake and mixed mushrooms (frozen) from Woodstock have the USDA organic seal printed on the bag, and it also states that they are certified by QAI (Quality Assurance International), which is a very reputable certification agency. In order to carry the organic USDA seal, products must meet the USDA organic standards. QAI is the agency that inspects the product and production to ensure that the organic standards are being strictly adhered to, and as I mentioned above, QAI is a very reputable certifier, and I have complete trust that these mushrooms are indeed organic. Thanks for writing! –Megan Minnick, Director of Purchasing

Tipi tatsoi

Q: Just wanted to say I was very happy to see tatsoi from Tipi Produce. Would like to see more Asian greens, too, besides bok choy. Thanks!

A: Thanks for the feedback! We’re able to offer various varieties of locally grown Asian greens throughout the local growing season, primarily in spring and fall. -Andy Johnston, Produce Manager—East

T-shirt sizes

Q: Re: the marvelous new Willy Street Co-op t-shirts. You are out of the round people sizes and I am a person with much roundness. I also was looking at the sleeveless shirts with the nice neckline and no luck.

A: We have some 2x in storage and I will get one over to North in your name if you haven’t found one already. Thanks! –Brendon Smith, Director of Communications

Anyone can shop

Q: It would be of benefit to this neighborhood (North) if you put signs outside that let folks know they don’t need a membership. I was approached on my way in by a woman who had never shopped because she thought she needed a membership card. 

A: Great idea! We are working on some additional signage now. You should see it start to pop up in the next few weeks. Thanks! –Brendon Smith, Director of Communications

Delicious hot bar

Q: The hot bar this week has been fantastic! The taco chicken, the red lentil curry, the vegan fried rice, the Thai peanut chicken, and the ‘flavor sensation’ chicken tikka masala were all divine! It was a pleasant shake-up of the usual hot bar menu and I think the customers have appreciated it as much as I have. Mmmm. Excellent.

A; Thank you for taking the time to write to us about your experience here in the West Deli. We are so glad to hear that you have been enjoying our hot bar! We have recently switched up our hot bar menu, and will be working on some specialty things for the hot bar during the holidays as well! We hope you stop and try some of the new things our Production Kitchen has been working hard to create! Thank you again, Renee Strobel, Deli Manager—West

Hot bar scale

Q: Please please find a creative way to put some kind of scale back by the hot bar and cold/salad bar! I know this has been requested several times and the response has been that it just isn’t doable. 

This response and lack of action feels a bit unbelievable considering the creative and talented staff all three co-ops employ. Please! It’s very hard to know how much it will be once at the register. 

A: Thank you for taking the time to write to us.We understand that it is often difficult to determine how much food you have put in your to-go container from our hot bar or salad bar, but you are correct that it is not very feasible for us to have a scale at the hot bar. However, I encourage you to stop up at the Deli counter right behind the salad bar and use the scale we have there. Our staff will be happy to help if you have any question in this process! Thank you again, Renee Strobel, Deli Manager—West

Cherry stems

Q: Would you consider asking the Door Co. cherry farmer to not take the stems off? The become soft when destemmed and rot easily. It’s an entryway for bacteria (see above) and could be dangerous—
e.coli other bacteria.

A: Thank you for the feedback. The reason they are without stems is that they are picked riper than more common Washington/other non-local cherries. At this level of ripeness, the stems hang on to the tree when the fruit is picked. In addition, by taking off stems from the tree, it could decrease yields the following season. I have passed these comments on to the grower, though. Best, Max Wilke, Produce Manager—West

Cold in the store

Q: Too damn cold in the store! You could try a few degrees warmer with air conditioning—still be not hot but not freezy and it would save some money.

A: I am sorry that the store temps feel chilly. In the warmer months we have to keep the temperature at 70 degrees. This helps keep the humidity level proper so we don’t put stress on the refrigeration units so they can work properly to keep our products at their proper temps. I know that it can be chilly in here, but we don’t want the products going over temp. Then we would have bad product that would need to be tossed. Thank you for writing in your concern. –Amanda Ikens, Owner Resources Coordinator—East

Thank you

Q: You all are doing a fantastic job. Thank you for bringing the co-op to the north Side. The hot bar is especially great, + the customer service totally rocks. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

A: Thank you so much for the kind words and appreciation! I’ve passed it on to our North Store Manager, Jenny Skowronek and our North Assistant Manager, Jeff Dempsey, as well as posted your positive comments for all staff to enjoy. We look forward to seeing you in the store again soon! -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services

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