Trader Joe’s Founder Brought Exotic Foods to U.S. Shoppers

Trader Joe’s Founder Brought Exotic Foods to U.S. Shoppers

Joe Coulombe’s

ardour for promoting once-exotic meals at low costs made his grocery shops successful in California. As Dealer Joe’s, the chain helped push U.S. supermarkets to inventory a greater diversity of meals at decrease costs.

Mr. Coulombe, who died Friday at 89 years of age, began the small chain of shops that later grew to become Dealer Joe’s in Los Angeles within the 1950s. His urge for food for brand spanking new experiences—in addition to new meals and wines—drove him to inventory his shops with an unconventional mixture of merchandise unfamiliar to many patrons on the time, corresponding to Dijon mustard and granola. He minimize out distributors to promote lots of these meals at low costs.

His staff wore Hawaiian-print shirts and he adorned his shops with nautical tools—Mr. Coulombe needed consumers to really feel like they have been on a voyage. As soon as an aspiring educational, Mr. Coulombe funneled his ardour for schooling into his shops, stocking them with meals he sampled on journeys to Europe.

“I advised him, ‘You succeeded. As a substitute of a whole lot of scholars, you taught 1000’s of staff and tens of millions of individuals, so you probably did job,’” stated Leroy Watson, who was the primary worker at Dealer Joe’s and later served as a senior vp on the firm.

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Joseph Hardin Coulombe was born June 3, 1930, in San Diego. His father, Joseph Grant Coulombe, was an engineer and his mom, Carmelita Hardin, was a schoolteacher.

He graduated from Stanford College with a bachelor’s diploma in economics adopted by a grasp’s of enterprise administration in 1954. As an undergraduate, he started relationship fellow pupil Alice Steere, whom he married in 1952.

Mr. Coulombe labored for Rexall Medicine, a now-defunct chain of drugstores. He was put in control of growing a series of comfort shops. He took his household on drives round Los Angeles to scout neighborhoods the place he may open shops. His son, additionally named Joe Coulombe, realized his numbers by counting parking areas on these outings.

Mr. Coulombe opened Pronto Markets, a series of six shops, in 1958. When Rexall determined to exit from the retail enterprise, Mr. Coulombe purchased the Pronto chain.

“My primary buyer is a schoolteacher making $28,000 a 12 months. They’re on a restricted price range. Our merchandise is geared to this kind of individual,” Mr. Coulombe advised Los Angeles Occasions in 1988.

Mr. Coulombe’s first shops have been adorned with picket hatch covers from outdated boats and thick ropes. He launched a line of baking merchandise referred to as Charlotte and Madeline’s named after his two daughters. Within the early days, Dealer Joe’s carried as few as 1,500 merchandise in contrast with the array of tens of 1000’s at a typical grocery retailer.

Mr. Coulombe needed to democratize entry to meals that have been costly and arduous to search out on the time, an inventory that within the 1960s and 1970s included maple syrup and child Swiss cheese. Mr. Coulombe additionally started sourcing merchandise immediately from factories, slicing out suppliers and setting decrease costs at his shops.

A connoisseur of wine, Mr. Coulombe usually visited vineyards in Europe, the place he additionally scouted for brand spanking new meals to promote in his shops. He took his household on these wine excursions and likewise despatched three or 4 staff and their households on scouting journeys yearly.

“You could possibly point out a household occasion, and he may go across the desk and keep in mind each dish that everybody had and the wine they’d with it,” stated his son Joe Coulombe. “He had a outstanding reminiscence for these sorts of particulars.”

He was recognized for a candid management type, at all times answering his personal cellphone. Mr. Coulombe had a deep love for studying and schooling, having needed to turn out to be a professor.

Mr. Coulombe offered Dealer Joe’s to German discounter Aldi Nord in 1979. He stayed on as chief govt till 1988, when he retired. He served for some years on varied boards, together with these of connoisseur grocer Bristol Farms Inc. and attire firm True Faith Model Denims. Dealer Joe’s expanded throughout the U.S. to over 500 shops.

Mr. Coulombe died in Los Angeles after what his household described as an extended sickness. He’s survived by his spouse, three kids and 6 grandchildren.

Write to Jaewon Kang at [email protected]

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