The man responsible for bringing a great number of very important things into my life including, but absolutely not limited to, cookie butter, Everything but the Bagel seasoning and also the yogurt dip, my favorite black licorice in the world, Philly Cheesesteak Bao Buns, and the cute man who used to bag my groceries at the 14th and U Street location in Washington, DC, has passed away at 89.
Joe Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s in Pasadena, California in 1967. In 2020, there are now over 500 locations nationwide, and all I have to say about that is thank God. Initially, Coulombe owned a different chain of convenience stores, but after 7-Elevens started moving into town he quickly rerouted and thus, Trader Joe’s was born.
“Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists,” Coulombe told the Los Angeles Times in 2011, which is a very sweet way to describe the mix of hungover college students, hungover parents, hungover people who were too lazy make something for the brunch they’re late too, and hungover me, all wandering around his stores on Sunday mornings trying to avoid making eye contact with each other.
It is certainly true that Coulombe was a visionary in his own right, pulling quirky culinary confections out of the pantheon of marked up boutique stores and making them accessible to the rest of us who would like to venture outside the realm of Wheat Thins and Cabot cheddar but would also still like to be able to make rent. Although I don’t know how Trader Joe’s maintained its low prices because I am not a genius or a scientist and my business minor is absolutely useless to me, I will forever be grateful to Coulombe, without whom my Sunday shopping would no doubt look entirely more tragic.
As you make your way through your grocery lists this weekend, go ahead and grab a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and pour one out for Joe Coulombe, whose legacy will live on in every classical musician, museum curator, and exhausted parent wandering the aisles of his stores this weekend and all others, grateful for the man who made readily available chile spiced mango not only a dream but a reality.