If you’ve ever shopped at a Trader Joe’s, we bet you’ve at least pondered whether or not Trader Joe is an actual person. The answer is yes: It was founded by a man named Joe Coulombe, who was born in San Diego in 1930 and is still alive.
Coulombe received his MBA from Stanford in 1954, and after graduating he took a job with Rexall, a then-popular pharmacy chain. In 1958 Rexall launched a line of six convenience stores in Los Angeles called Pronto Markets, and Coulombe was tasked with running them.
They were intended to compete with 7-Eleven, but didn’t fare so well, so Rexall asked Coulombe to shut them down.
Instead of closing them, however, he bought them from Rexall and decided to go it alone.
After spending nearly a decade studying the competition and refining his concept, he decided to rebrand his stores.
The Tiki trend was in full-swing, so in 1967 he opened the first Trader Joe’s, a play on the name of popular Tiki restaurant chain Trader Vic’s, in Pasadena.
By 1972, Coulombe knew that the average American was traveling more and developing tastes for foods that were impossible to find at the average supermarket, so along with cedar-planked walls and Hawaiian shirt-wearing employees, he rolled out granola, the first in a line of foods under the Trader Joe’s private label.
Coulombe was also a big fan of California wines, and the original Trader Joe’s (which still exists in Pasadena) sold literally every California wine that was available, helping put California wines on the map.
Trader Joe’s was an immediate smash, and in 1979 Coulombe sold the company to German billionaire Theo Albrecht, one of the co-founders of the popular German discount grocer Aldi; Albrecht’s family still owns the company today. Coulombe stayed onboard as Trader Joe’s chief executive until retiring in 1988. Find 20 more fascinating facts about Trader Joe’s here.