The Founder Of Trader Joe's, The Wildly Popular Grocery Chain, Has Died

Joe Coulombe, the founder of the wildly popular Trader Joe’s supermarket chain, has died at 89, the company confirmed in a statement.

Coulombe died in his Pasadena, California home on Friday after a long illness, the New York Times reported.

Born on June 3, 1930, Coulombe was raised on an avocado ranch near San Diego. He served in the Air Force before getting a bachelor’s degree in economics, and later, a master’s in business administration from Stanford University.

In 1967, Coulombe opened the first Trader Joe’s in Pasadena. Known for its selection of international food and wines (including the $1.99 Charles Shaw wines, aka the Two Buck Chuck), and the general affordability of its items, Trader Joe’s has grown into a national retail giant in the decades since it opened.

Coulombe told the Los Angeles Times in a 2014 interview that the store was meant for “overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists — that’s why we’ve always had good press, frankly.”

Today, Trader Joe’s is a widely beloved brand, complete with Instagram fan accounts and a subreddit dedicated to discussing the store’s items.

The supermarket is also consistently ranked as one of the best places to work, with solid hourly wages and benefits, and overall high morale among staffers.

News of his death led to an outpour of condolences on Twitter on Saturday. Many thanked Coulombe for making healthy foods accessible, and posted photos of their favorite Trader Joe’s items.

Coulombe sold Trader Joe’s to German retail chain Aldi in 1979, and remained its CEO for the next nine years.

“Joe was the perfect person at the right time for Trader Joe’s,” Dan Bane, the company’s CEO, said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. “He was a brilliant thinker with a mesmerizing personality that simply galvanized all with whom he worked.”

Up until his retirement, Coulombe and his staff sampled all food and wine products before buying them.

”I used to feel I shouldn’t be doing this, that I should be delegating it to someone else,” he told the New York Times at the time. ”Then I learned that the head buyer of Bloomingdale’s tastes everything. I must sample about 4,000 wines a year.”

Coulombe is survived by his wife, Alice, daughters Charlotte Schoenmann and Madeleine Coulombe, son Joseph, and six grandchildren.

  • Clarissa-Jan Lim is a reporter and editor at BuzzFeed News. She is based in New York.

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