Food blog

The Revolutionary Journey of Trader Joe’s Founder Joe Coulombe

The Untold Truth About Trader Joe’s Founder Joe Coulombe

If there was one store in America where the cuisines of the world could stop in, say hello, and leave the best parts of themselves for the locals to taste and fall in love with, it would most likely be Trader Joe’s. And those of us who love food have Joe Coulombe to thank for having the audacity to create a new hybrid grocery store where, according to Los Angeles Magazine, he has “grafted the gourmet store onto the convenience store, the health food store onto the liquor store.
Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s, passed away on February 28, 2020 at his home in Pasadena, California at the age of 89 after a long illness. He is survived by his wife, three children and six grandchildren.

Childhood influences

Joe Coulombe grew up experiencing the flavors of two cuisines. His paternal grandmother served New England-style boiled dinners, while his mother cooked what she considered traditional Tennessee food. Coulombe remembered his mother’s cooking as “Southern suicide food,” with lots of bacon fat poured over greens. It seems that this combination of culinary influences strongly influenced him later in life.

Discovering Exotic Foods

It wasn’t until Coulombe left San Diego for Stanford University that he first encountered meals that included Dungeness crab, sourdough bread, steamed wine, and olive oil. This introduction to “exotic” foods occurred at the home of a girl named Alice Steere, whose father was a Stanford professor. Coulombe and Alice married in 1952, and he went to work for Rexall, a drugstore chain, which hired him to develop a chain of convenience stores.
Coulombe spent time driving around Los Angeles and its surrounding neighborhoods to understand the area’s demographics and identify potential store locations. He then launched a chain of stores called Pronto Market. When Rexall decided to get out of the convenience store business, Coulombe bought out the company and took over management of the stores. By the time he reached 18 stores, however, he faced a new threat from a Texas upstart called 7-Eleven.

A new approach to grocery retailing

It was at this point that Coulombe decided to revolutionize food retailing by targeting educated and sophisticated shoppers who might not have a lot of money to spend. He predicted that with the introduction of Boeing’s new 747 jet, there would be a group of consumers interested in traveling and exploring the flavors of different cultures. Coulombe infused his store concept with personality, epitomized by the company’s newsletter, “The Fearless Flyer.
The first Trader Joe’s store opened in 1967 in Pasadena, California. The company described Coulombe as an “extraordinarily bright and savvy entrepreneur” who brought something different to grocery retailing. His engaging personality inspired everyone he worked with.

Trader Joe’s Today

Coulombe sold Trader Joe’s to Aldi Nord in 1979, but remained CEO of the company until his retirement in 1988. Today, Trader Joe’s stores still reflect Coulombe’s vision. Store interiors are inspired by a book called “White Shadows in the South Seas” and the Jungle Cruise attraction at Disneyland. Store employees, known as crew members, wear tropical-themed shirts and refer to themselves as “merchants on the culinary seas.
To experience Trader Joe’s as Coulombe envisioned it, visit the original store in Pasadena, California, which still stands proudly.
Joe Coulombe’s innovative approach to grocery retailing has left an indelible mark on the industry. Trader Joe’s continues to be a popular destination for food lovers seeking unique and affordable products from around the world.


Joe Coulombe was inspired to create Trader Joe’s by his belief that there was a niche market of educated and sophisticated shoppers interested in trying flavors from different cultures, combined with the anticipation of increased travel due to the introduction of Boeing’s new 747 jet.

How did Joe Coulombe revolutionize the grocery business?

Joe Coulombe revolutionized food retailing by combining elements of gourmet, convenience, health food and liquor stores into a hybrid concept. He created a unique shopping experience with a strong focus on affordable and diverse food products.

What was the significance of The Fearless Flyer newsletter?

“The Fearless Flyer newsletter was an integral part of Trader Joe’s marketing strategy. It informed customers about new products, featured recipes and highlighted the cultural origins of various foods. The newsletter helped create a sense of community and adventure among Trader Joe’s customers.

What is Joe Coulombe’s legacy in Trader Joe’s stores today?

Joe Coulombe’s legacy can still be seen in Trader Joe’s stores today. The tropical-themed store interiors, the friendly and knowledgeable associates known as “crew members,” and the focus on offering unique, affordable and quality products all reflect his original vision for the company.

Did Joe Coulombe make any other significant contributions to the industry?

In addition to founding Trader Joe’s, Joe Coulombe made significant contributions to the food retail industry. His innovative approach to retailing and emphasis on the customer experience influenced the way many other grocery stores operate today. His entrepreneurial spirit and vision continue to inspire others in the industry.

Where can I visit an original Trader Joe’s store?

The original Trader Joe’s store, opened by Joe Coulombe in 1967, is located in Pasadena, California. It is still standing today and offers visitors a glimpse into the early days of the store and the foundation of Joe Coulombe’s vision.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *