Joe Coulombe, the founder of the cult phenomenon supermarket chain Trader Joe’s, has died at 89. The news, which was confirmed in a statement by the company, broke Friday and since then we’ve seen an outpouring of support for the visionary leader in the grocery category who lost a long battle with illness.
Known for its quirky staff, approachable and friendly atmosphere, and quality grocery offerings at significantly lower prices than most specialty markets, Trader Joe’s has managed to cultivate a loyal following unlike any other in the space, since its start in 1967. Coulombe is largely credited for helping grow the brand into one of the true feel-good business stories of the last several decades with over 450 current U.S. locations.
With its proprietary products like Everything But the Bagel Seasoning and a two-dollar bottle of Charles Shaw wine—colloquially known as “two-buck Chuck”—the brand became beloved for individual items as much as anything else. Not to be overshadowed, Trader Joe’s also garnered much goodwill over the years for its treatment of employees, including providing opportunities for advancement and paying above-average wages. TJ’s still ranks consistently as one of the best places to work, including last year where it took the top spot in a Forbes/Statista survey.
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Coulombe was born in San Diego in 1939 and grew up around food with his family owning a successful avocado farm. He would open his first Trader Joe’s convenience store in 1958 and then later the first Trader Joe’s supermarket in Pasadena, California in 1967. It quickly became known (and loved) for its wide selection of healthy, global foods, and good wine at affordable prices.
In 1979, Coulombe sold the then blossoming grocery brand to Aldi a German-based parent company—which had gained a cult following in its own right—but remained on as CEO until 1988 when he retired.
Coulombe is survived by his wife, Alice, daughters Charlotte Schoenmann and Madeleine Coulombe, son Joseph, and six grandchildren.
Here are just a few tributes we found online, including from Trader Joe’s own official account, honoring the business and grocery icon.
Header image courtesy of Trader Joe's.