There is an actual 'Joe' behind Trader Joe's — here's how he founded the grocery chain

Jessica Tyler/Business InsiderThere’s an actual ‘Joe’ behind Trader Joe’s. He opened the first store in 1967.

  • There is a real “Joe” behind the name Trader Joe’s.
  • In a podcast where Trader Joe’s employees reveal company secrets, Marketing Director Tara Miller and Vice President of Marketing Product Matt Sloan explain the story behind the first Trader Joe’s store.
  • Here’s the story of Joe Coulombe, the actual “Joe” behind Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s has been a household name for years, and it turns out there is a real “Joe” behind the beloved grocery chain.

In 1958, Joe Coulombe took over a small chain of convenience stores in the Los Angeles area called Pronto Markets. As Trader Joe’s Vice President of Marketing Product Matt Sloan put it in a podcast about the grocery chain, Pronto Markets was the 7-Eleven of its day. The stores sold everything from cosmetics to ammunition, according to the podcast.

Coulombe spent 10 years running Pronto Markets, but as time went on, he found he didn’t particularly like the convenience-store formula.

“The demographics were changing in the United States because of the GI Bill of Rights, which was the largest experiment in mass higher education in the history of the human race. And I thought that these people would want something different,” Coulombe explained in the podcast.

The GI Bill of Rights, passed in 1944, provided benefits such as grants for school tuition, job training, and hiring privileges for WWII veterans.

Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s store in Pasadena, California, in 1967. That first store is still there in the same spot, but the chain now has over 400 locations nationwide.

In 1979, Coulombe sold Trader Joe’s to Theo Albrecht. Albrecht’s company, Aldi Nord, still operates Trader Joe’s in the US. These days, Coulombe doesn’t have much involvement with the company.

The Trader Joe’s podcast is hosted by Sloan and Trader Joe’s Marketing Director Tara Miller. It covers topics like the retailer’s products and values, the history of the chain, why it calls its employees “crew members,” and its famously cheap wines.

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