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Joe Coulombe, Founder of Trader Joe’s Grocery Chain, Dies at 89

The California native grew the chain to 500 outlets in 40 states

Joe Coulombe, the founder of the popular Trader Joe’s grocery chain, died Friday at age 89, according to a statement from his son, also named Joe.

Over the course of his career, Coulombe grew his retail empire from a single store in Pasadena, California, in 1967 to a national chain with more than 500 outlets in 40 states that gained a reputation for quirkiness as well as low prices and limited (or curated) options on a range of products that helped popularize once-niche products like granola.

According to the company’s website, Coulombe based the store’s nautical theme — including employees who wore Hawaiian shirts and were dubbed “captains and mates” — in part on his fondness for Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise ride.

By 1972, he introduced private label products — often high-end foods with punny names — that soon found a following among health-conscious consumers as well as a growing legion of foodies. He also offered quality but affordable wine, including the famous “Two Buck Chuck” that still sells for $1.99 in most California outlets. (Shipping costs raise the price in other states.)

“He wanted to make sure whatever was sold in our store was of good value,” the younger Joe Coulombe told the AP. “He always did lots of taste tests. My sisters and I remember him bringing home all kinds of things for us to try. At his offices he had practically daily tastings of new products.”

After selling Trader Joe’s to the German grocery retailer Aldi Nord in 1979, he remained with the company another nine years before retiring.