Trader Joe’s Has Tiki Roots

Trader Joe’s vintage exterior and sign. | Ken Wolter

After all, we know Trader Joe’s is completely unique. I remember the first time I went to Trader Joe’s was when my daughters were in college in California and we went to the store. Wow! Being from Kansas, I had never seen anything like it. So many varied types of foods and different cuisines that only were available at Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s store located in Palo Alto Town & Country Village shopping center | Michael Vi

Trader Joe’s began where Tiki pop culture simmered down. The first Trader Joe’s opened up in Pasadena, California in 1967. By 1967, Tiki establishments across the mainland USA were in full swing, and now here was this new grocery store where the employees wore Khaki shorts and flowered, Hawaiian shirts. Cedar planked lined walls, and the entire store had a tropical feel. It became cool and trendy to shop at Trader Joe’s. And California put Trader Joe’s on the map.

The history of Trader Joe’s dates back a little further. A man named Joe Coulombe started a chain of convenience stores in 1958 in Los Angeles called Pronto Market. Fearing a loss to 7-11, Joe decided he had to make a fast change. He rebooted and took advantage of the Tiki fad and started the grocery chain, named Trader Joe’s, playing on the name, Trader Vic, of the restaurant chain, Trader Vic’s.

Edina, MN – Interior of the fruit and dairy section of a Trader Joe’s grocery store | Jeff Bukowski

Joe Coulombe began selling groceries that were different from any other grocery store in California. He knew that with increased air travel, people were visiting places outside of their local regions. They were tasting new foods and then coming home and wanting to have these foods in their own kitchens. He first introduced granola in his Pasadena Trader Joe’s in 1972. This became a first of many new foods under the Trader Joe’s personal label. He had a knack for figuring out what people wanted and then putting it on the shelves.

Photo by Kristi Blokhin

Coulombe also bought wine from every California vineyard he was able, and sold the wine at bulk prices. This not only drove up sales, but helped to put small California wineries on the map. Eventually, Joe Coulombe sold the market to a German entrepreneur who had big plans for Trader Joe’s. The new owner, Theo Albrecht, expanded Trader Joe’s into Northern California, then Arizona, and finally further east. We finally got two Trader Joe’s in the Kansas City Metropolitan area after a tremendous petition drive aimed toward the company. The stores in Kansas City are always crowded!  

Bethesda, MD – Daffodils for sale at Trader Joe’s grocery store chain off of Wisconsin Avenue. | Nicole S Glass

Trader Joe’s has become very well liked because of the prices, the friendly atmosphere, products, and packaging. Some of the Trader Joe labeled wine used to be called Two Buck Chuck and it was sold for $2.00. Now this same bottle sells for $2.00. There is a desert aisle that is unbeatable and if you like unique chocolate, Trader Joe’s has so many ways to package chocolate. They still have granola and power bars, fresh fruit and veggies, and many delightful precooked meals with whole food ingredients. In parts of the store, there are samples for customers to try. Fresh flowers are cut and brought in every day, and are reasonably priced as well. This may sound like an ad for Trader Joe’s, but if you want to shop at a healthy grocery store and get a slice of Tiki, seek out a Trader Joe’s.

Source: The Daily Meal