The original Trader Joe has died.
Joe Coulombe, the national supermarket chain founder, died Friday at his Pasadena, Calif. home following a long illness, his son Joseph told The Associated Press. The supermarketer was 89.
Trader Joe’s wasn’t Coulombe’s first foray into the supermarket biz. The lifelong Californian, who owned a chain of 18 convenience stores called Pronto Markets, realized his shops couldn’t compete when the better-funded 7/11 entered L.A. in 1967.
The two-time Stanford grad noted some national trends — increased education levels and interest in international foods. He also learned those with more schooling drink more booze, according to The New York Times.
Coulombe infused his Pronto Markets with the trends he saw, and Trader Joe’s was born.
“Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists,” Coloumbe told the Los Angeles Times in 2011.
He opened his first tropical-themed store in Pasadena in 1967, where he emphasized affordable, healthy foods — a legacy that lives on today in more than 500 Trader Joe’s shops spanning 40 states.
Coloumbe “did lots of taste tests … always the aim was to provide good food and good value to people,” his son said.
He was able to keep costs of high-quality goods low by buying them directly from wholesalers and putting the Trader Joe’s label on his products.
Coloumbe did extensive research on products like his infamous “Two Buck Chuck” wines, which he sourced from Napa Valley — scouring for a grape that tasted comparable to more expensive French versions.
Although Coloumbe sold Trader Joe’s to German supermarket company Aldi in 1979, he remained CEO until 1988.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years Alice, three children and six grandchildren.
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