Joe Coulombe, founder of Trader Joe’s, dies at age 89. My favorite place to shop

I am a regular Trader Joe’s customer, having shopped there for years. The inventory is uniformly good and the staff are always professional and ready to help the customer.

Joe Coulombe is to be thanked for founding such a successful organization.

Associated Press 2.29.2020

LOS ANGELES — Joe Coulombe envisioned a new generation of young grocery shoppers emerging in the 1960s, one that wanted healthy, tasty, high-quality food they couldn’t find in most supermarkets and couldn’t afford to buy in the few high-end gourmet outlets.

So he found a new way to bring everything to market, from a then-exotic snack food called granola to California-produced wines that rivaled anything from France. He made shopping for them almost as much fun as sailing the high seas when he created Trader Joe’s, a quirky grocery store filled with nautical themes and staffed not by managers and clerks but by “captains and mates.”

From the time he opened his first store in Pasadena in 1967 until his death Friday at age 89, Coulombe watched his namesake business rise from a cult favorite of educated but underpaid young people — and a few hippies — to a retail giant with more than 500 outlets in over 40 states.

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A giant yes, but one that across more than half a century has never lost its reputation for friendly service from employees in goofy Hawaiian shirts, a newsletter that looks like it was published in the 1890s, and rows and rows of high-quality, moderately priced healthy food and great wine, even if you sometimes can’t ever again find exactly the same thing.

“He wanted to make sure whatever was sold in our store was of good value,” said Coulombe’s son, also named Joe, who added that his father died following a long illness. “He always did lots of taste tests. My sisters and I remember him bringing home all kinds of things for us to try. At his offices he had practically daily tastings of new products. Always the aim was to provide good food and good value to people.”

He achieved that by buying directly from wholesalers and cutting out the middleman, in many cases slapping the name Trader Joe’s on a bag of nuts, trail mix, organic dried mango, honey-oat cereal or Angus beef chili. He named several products after his daughters Charlotte and Madeleine and gave quirky names to others. Among them were Trader Darwin vitamins and a non-alcoholic sparkling juice called Eve’s Apple Sparkled by Adam.

He prided himself on checking out every vintage of wine from California’s Napa Valley, including Trader Joe’s standby, Charles Shaw, known as Two-Buck Chuck because it sold for $1.99. (It still does in the California stores, although shipping costs have increased the price in other states.)

After selling Trader Joe’s to German grocery retailer Aldi in 1979, Coulombe remained as its CEO until 1988, when he left to launch a second career as what he called a “temp,” coming in as interim CEO or consultant for several large companies in transition. He retired in 2013.

Joseph Hardin Coulombe, an only child, was born on June 3, 1930, in San Diego and lived on an avocado ranch in nearby Del Mar. After serving in the Air Force, he attended Stanford University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s in business administration. There he met his future wife, Alice.

John Rogers is an Associated Press writer.