If you’ve ever shopped a Trader Joe’s grocery store, chances are you’ve asked the question, “Who is Trader Joe?” Unlike other chain supermarkets, there actually is a real Trader Joe behind these funky, fun stores—and he’s still alive today!

The man behind the mystery is Joe Coulombe, a Stanford business graduate who once worked for Rexell, a chain of American drug stores. Back in 1958, while operating six locations of Pronto Markets for his employer, he was asked to close them all down. Instead of doing so, Coulombe bought them all and turned them into what we now know today as Trader Joe’s. The rest is history!

Photo: Entrepreneur via YouTube

It took almost 10 years of running his own markets before Coulombe rebranded to what we now know as Trader Joe’s in 1967, and opened the first store in Pasadena.

Photo: Courtesy of Trader Joe’s

If you’re feeling nostalgic, you can visit the location because it’s still there––parking lot and all!

Photo: Courtesy of Trader Joe’s

Coulumbe was also the man behind the famous Hawaiian shirts and he explains in a TJ’s podcast that he was inspired by reading the novel, White Shadows in the South Seas. Coupled with a ride on Disneyland’s The Jungle Cruise, the original Trader Joe felt the look was perfect for his grocery stores.

Photo: Courtesy of Trader Joe’s

Serving as chief executive until 1988, Coulombe retired from Trader Joe’s and is alive and well at 88 years old today. Despite not being involved in the day-to-day operations anymore, we couldn’t be more grateful for Joe’s innovation, creativity and commitment to his customers that brought us our fave grocery store!

––Karly Wood

 

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