Friday, March 20, 2009

Trader Joe's: The cult

Whenever I start to complain about something, I have a certain friend who interrupts to say, "That would be perfect for your blog." That's what he says. What he's thinking is, "Aw, go bother someone else about it, you boring bitch."

So I will.

I plowed through my fridge, looking for something to eat, and the only offerings were pounds and pounds of frozen Trader Joe bags -- pierogies stuffed with squid lips, pizza with tofu-roni. For my international audience (that would be Julie), TJ's is a chain of highly successful grocery stores, owned by some mysterious German family; a family that keeps a VERY low Teutonic profile but employs some brilliant marketing strategies.

For no reason at all except their disingenuous newsletter and wood walls, TJ's has a reputation as a reasonably-priced gourmet outlet with strong organic-food tendencies. What's not to trust about this newsletter: I mean, it's written on recycled paper, sprinkled with childish illustrations, and chock full of corny text. "What Ho! Shrimp for $7 a pound? Avast me hardies. Dip your paddle to Trader Joes."

The thing is, TJ's is really a 99 cent store with better packaging, where managers wear Hawaiian shirts and bumpty-bump '60's tunes blare from the speakers.

"My boyfriends back and you're gonna be in traw-bull, heyla, heyla..."

Does anyone look at the snack ingredients? Do you really believe China practices sustainable fishing? Or Malaysia can teach us a thing or two about organic rice? Or flax seed can replace tortilla chips?

Still, you see all the San Marino matrons bagging their own groceries into their own canvas sacks, thinking they're taking one for the environmental team . But taking it tastefully. Truly, you can just see it on their satisfied faces as they pack up their own trail mix produced in India and coconut-battered shrimp from the Philippines. Good work, girls.

So why do I go? For the same reason as everyone else. It's dead cheap. And their Chilean wine becomes more and more drinkable the further down the bottle you go.

Then, getting back to my frozen supplies, why so much TJ? My problem is, I usually shop when I'm hungry. So, when I visit their sampling kiosk -- fried rice on a toothpick or a piece of turkey-wiener with Thai-lime and marshmallow curry sauce -- I'm starving, and anything tastes ok at that moment.

But not at any other moment. These delicacies are bound for a destiny of freezer-burn until I finally toss them away.

To make way for others.

But score one for my side. I make them pack my groceries. Double-bagged.


  1. Any teutonic profile below middling, I think that could be quite painful. We don't have Trader Joe's but we are getting a Publix. I hate to grocery shop, except at Publix. I love Publix. I really do and don't tell me we need to break up because it's a lost cause, Publix and me.

  2. Heyla, heyla...

    I have a painful feeling Publix (PUBLIX!?) is just another pretty face. I mean, WTF is a Chicken Mini Cilantro Wanton, and what coma was I in when I bought it?

  3. There's nothing painful about Publix, we're one heart beating. (I didn't want to say anything... I'm still not used to the level of snark here...but CMCW????? OMG!!)

  4. They just dropped one of them bad boys on to a lot too small for the traffic adjoining the Grand Ave./
    Summit crowd.
    Meeting upon meeting was held, zoning was given a variance, strings were pulled, and people were mollified with the news that this new business would increase the flagging tax base. Ha!
    Every major manufacturer left town years ago; there are upwards of
    2500 vacant homes and the numbers
    are growing daily, 70% of the schoolchildren receive school lunch aid and half of those are
    homeless. Who the hell is gonna shop at this joint?
    What?! Does the mayor get cravings for tye-dyed wanton on a stick?
    I suppose its all about image, though. Need to break up the endless monotony of liquor and convenience stores. And empty buildings.
    Orfatz! I say!-with a capital O!

  5. Make them really stare and ask for plastic.

  6. I'm still at work where twelve (12) people were laid off, some were friends, some weren't but I have to say that just reading about TJ's makes me happy.

    Not too long ago I walked thru the doors and "Louie Louie" was coming thru the speakers. It was the best part of my day.

    (I'm sort of sappy, in a "Louie, Louie" kind of way.)

  7. First, let me say I'm cracking up because I'm remembering your post about shopping and I kept talking about TJ"S (TJ MAXX) and all you California bloggers thought I was shopping for cute shirts at Trader Joe's! Lord have mercy!

    Now PJ is all about PUblix and so am I!!! Love me some Publix! Forget the sushi and all that nonsense. Bring on the Publix fried chicken! (Don 't knock it if you haven't had it.)

    I can relate to K's "Louie, Louie", but I don't think TJ's has anything I can't live without. BTW, did I tell you all about the great sandals I just got at MY TJ"S????

  8. All I know is when I started shopping there I cut my grocery bill in half. And I get a free cup of coffee while I shop. I love them. No--I LURV them.

  9. I occasionally go down to visit TJ. But I've been going to Whole Foods since it was Mrs. Gooch's.

    You can't teach this young dog new tricks, but you can feed him some treats.

  10. I just had to post because my WV is imonvin. That is, "I'm on vin." Cabernet, merlot, pinot noir ... I don't know. I just know I'm on vin!

    Speaking of which, TJ's has had a great wine by Ruston Family Vineyards called Couvee Simone. They were selling it for $20, which means it's a $30 wine. Recently, they had a sale on it for $10. Good stuff. I'm on vin!

  11. TJs has great cheap bordeaux. I lurv them, too.

    I think I need to go to bed because I read this entire thread and thought the name of the other store was Pubix. I couldn't understand what Pubix was selling ... or why they were selling it so cheap. Bad economy affects everything, I guess...

  12. Fair game. TJ's and the I Ching (the lazy way) combined. Although I think it's just a bunch of interpretive crap, the proper approach when consulting the I Ching is to have a question in mind. I didn't bother with it before you asked, but since you asked here goes... My question was: Does TJ's sell Snark. The answer was: 24. Fu / Return (The Turning Point.) I could have just walked down the hill and asked. A brand new TJ's just opened last week (just down the street from me) below the Sunset 5, next to the defunct Virgin Mega Store, which is what PA calls Mid-Town.

    WV paceari, sounds like one of your freezer burns.

    Mid-Town G

  13. From the international older-generation perspective: I did not know the expression "snark" prior to this blog. When my shoulders start to spin I know I am deep in snark and I should not comment.

    Tomorrow night I am going to a gig at Taronga Zoo: "I'm a believer" which will be full of bumpty-bump!

    Only ever ever go trolley shopping on a full stomach ... I throw stuff out too!!

  14. I don't think I'd buy a $20 wine here Earl -- that's punching above their weight, but I would get their $7 red from Sicily.

  15. My commentor "Walking with Mary" never said put it on your blog. Her solution was to murder my blog. Never turn your back on friends. Never... Do you hear that Mid-Town-G? I know where you live

    Jesus loves me this I know, for the I Ching tells me so


  16. The I Ching works for Midtown. Turning point -- TJ wine is often at the turning point.

  17. Vancouver doesn't have Trader Joe's but I've been in more than a couple of them. The only thing I can say for a fact is that I'll never set foot in one again just before dinner time. What a zoo!

  18. Squid lips. Sheesh, I haven't tried them yet. Definitely on the shopping list now. Right alongside the Marcona almonds which are half the price of Whole Foods

  19. have you seen this homemade Trader Joe's commercial?

    It's very funny if you a TJ's shopper...

  20. Surely, they habla espanol?
    It must be what welcomed them to our fair sanctuary city.

  21. Hey don't be dissing good ole TJ's! They have all kind yummy pre-seasoned stuff there for lazy people like me. Whole foods is far too expensive.

  22. That commercial is hilarious! I think I survived on TJ's wasabi peas and peanut butter filled pretzels during most of 2002.

    Apparently, none of them have enough parking. Thought mine was always the only one.

  23. I don't know, AH, you are bordering on heresy this time. What next? Attacking Julienne's or the Coffee Gallery, the veritable institutions of their respective neighborhoods. Actually, I'd like to see that. Go for it.