Trader Joe’s: Founder of Brand Markets. Joe Coulombe, Dies at 89

February 28, 2020–Joe Coulombe, who opened the first Trader Joe’s markets and pioneered their unique branding strategy, died Friday in Pasadena, California. He was 89.

His son, Joe Jr., said that he died after a long illness. After earning his MBA at Stanford, Coulombe worked for Owl-Rexall, which owned Pronto markets, a small Los Angeles chain. When the owners decided to close some of the markets in 1962, he raised the money to buy them himself, and opened the Arroyo Parkway Pasadena location in 1967 as the first one called Trader Joe’s.

He described his ideal customer as “the over-educated and the underpaid,” and the stores stocked bargain-priced imported cheeses, nuts, wine and numerous other gourmet products that allowed teachers and others who earned moderate salaries to enjoy extra virgin olive oil, Italian pasta and premium chocolates.