16 Fearless-Flyer Facts About Trader Joe’s

In a supermarket industry that thrives on selling you the same brands of chips, cereal, candy and soda wherever you shop, Trader Joe’s is the wacky outlier. It’s the only place where you can buy a jar of Cookie Butter to go along with your Horseradish Chips and Uncured Bacon Ganache Chocolate Bar—where employees go by maritime titles like “mate” and “captain,” wear Hawaiian shirts and cheerfully ring bells rather than use intercoms. The grocer's quirky, foodie-pleasing ways have garnered legions of fans, even in cities that don’t have a TJ’s. But it’s worth looking past the company’s carefree attitude to see just what makes this ship float.

1. The founder envisioned a market for “overeducated, underpaid” shoppers.

Joe Raedle// Getty

No, Trader Joe is not an eccentric world traveler in a safari hat. He’s Joe Coulombe, a Stanford business school grad who made some savvy decisions back in the company’s early days. In an interview with Entrepreneur, Coulombe says he noticed a significant trend in the early ‘60s: salaries for college grads were falling. So he slashed prices on products throughout his stores, then known as Pronto Markets, and loaded up on something else his well-educated customer base could appreciate: booze. “We essentially married the health food store to the liquor store,” he said in the interview. Smart man, that Joe Coulombe.

2. Trader Joe's is now owned by a reclusive, mega-rich German family.

Coulombe renamed his stores “Trader Joe’s” in 1967, then sold the company to German billionaire Theo Albrecht in 1979. Albrecht, who died in 2010, owned (along with his brother, Karl) the discount chain Aldi, which is currently one of the fastest-growing supermarkets in the U.S. Both brothers were intensely private, which is understandable, really, considering that in 1971 Theo was kidnapped and held for ransom for 17 days (the family negotiated the release, and the kidnapper, a small-time crook, was nabbed shortly after). Trader Joe’s is currently owned by the Albrecht family trust.

3. Granola was their first store-brand product.

About 80 percent of Trader Joe’s products are its own kitschy brands, from Trader Jose salsa to Pilgrim Joe clam chowder. And it all started with granola, back in 1972.

4. National brands make their products.

It’s the secret Trader Joe’s would rather you not know: Well-known manufacturers make its products, then sell them under the company’s sub brands at a significant discount. Why? Because they want to be in Trader Joe’s, and they’re willing to play along to do so. TJ’s doesn’t publicize its vendor relationships, and manufacturers are sworn to secrecy, so enterprising food journalists have run taste tests to connect the dots. That white cheddar mac and cheese you love? It’s probably made by Annie's Homegrown.

5. They’re ruthlessly efficient.

Joe Raedle // Getty

In addition to secretly contracting brand-name suppliers, Trader Joe’s does a few other things most supermarkets don’t. They don’t accept slotting fees, which manufacturers pay retailers in return for shelf real estate (ever wonder why Pepsi and Coke have the soda aisle locked down?), and which increase prices. They also cut out distributors, often receiving products directly from suppliers. And as you’ve likely noticed if you shop there, they don’t offer coupons or special discounts. Because everything’s already dirt-cheap.

6. They really do send buyers all over the world.

The company employs a small, elite band of senior buyers to scour the globe for new products. They’re like the SEAL Team 6 of specialty grocery. As one former buyer told Fortune magazine, going to industry trade shows is “for rookies.”

7. They’re not like Whole Foods—well, mostly.

Although Trader Joe’s doesn’t position itself as a health food store, it still adheres to guidelines that include no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives in any of its products, and no GMOs. Kind of like a certain higher-priced competitor, no?

8. You can try pretty much any product before you buy.

If you’re not sure about those chocolate-covered potato chips (though why wouldn’t you be?), ask a store employee for a sample. You can try pretty much anything before you buy, with the exception of foods that need to be prepared (pasta, cake mix, frozen meals), and liquor. Wine sampling, meanwhile, varies from state to state.

9. People in cities without a store absolutely PINE for one.

There aren’t many grocery stores that inspire mass campaigns to bring them to town. Residents of Memphis, Green Bay, Lancaster, Penn., and other cities have set up dedicated Facebook pages displaying their loyalty to the company and begging them to drop anchor. Commenters often recount the days, months and even years since they last stepped foot in a store.

10. They have a Canadian bootlegger.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t operate in Canada, but that doesn’t stop the good people of Vancouver from buying Trader Joe’s products. How’s that possible? A store called Pirate Joe’s, which isn’t affiliated with Trader Joe’s in any way, sells TJ’s goods that have been trucked up (read: bootlegged) from stores in Washington state. Owner Mike Hallatt, who holds the illustrious distinction of having been thrown out of multiple Trader Joe’s, employs a team of shoppers who buy products in bulk, then load them into a big white van headed north. It all sounds highly illegal, but when Trader Joe’s sued Hallatt, they lost.

11. Their New York City stores are madness, simply madness.

Michael Nagle // Getty

Go to the Union Square, Chelsea or Upper West Side locations during rush hour and you’ll likely find a line snaking through the entire store. There are sign-toting employees at the middle and end of the line, offering a semblance of order amidst the chaos. Experienced shoppers know how to save time by shopping while they’re in line, which is so New York.

12. Every store has a plastic lobster hiding in it.

Or so the company claims. See if you can find it—and try not to knock over any garlic pita chip displays in the process.

13. They’ve sold more than 800 million bottles of Two-Buck Chuck.

It’s more like Three-Buck Chuck these days, but that hasn’t slowed sales, which have gone gangbusters since Charles Shaw wine first arrived en-masse to Trader Joe’s shelves in 2002. The Bronco Wine Company, which makes the stuff and is owned by the Franzia family (sound familiar?), employs clever cost-saving measures much like Trader Joe’s. It grows grapes on inexpensive land in California’s San Joaquin Valley, ages the wine with oak chips instead of in barrels, and uses ultra-lightweight bottles and boxes for shipping. All in the name of getting Americans the cheap booze they crave.

14. They stopped selling pantyhose in 1978.

TJ’s clearly saw the writing on the wall decades ahead of time, considering sales of pantyhose have plummeted over the past 15 years. Or, as Trader Joe’s puts it: “The unencumbered freedom is glorious.”

15. Each store has its own artist.

To give its stores a neighborhood market feel, Trader Joe’s posts chalkboard signs drawn by an in-house artist (a “crew member,” officially). The results are eye-catching and often quite clever.

16. They inspired a really catchy tribute song.

Apologies in advance for getting this stuck in your head.

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


Getty Images

Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


Getty Images

Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

5 Facts About Edgar Allan Poe

You’ve read Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories. You can quote "The Raven." But how well do you know the writer’s quirky sense of humor and code-cracking abilities? Let’s take a look at a few things you might not know about the acclaimed author, who was born on January 19, 1809.

1. Edgar Allan Poe was the original Balloon Boy.

You probably remember 2009’s infamous “Balloon Boy” hoax. Turns out the Heene family that perpetrated that fraud weren’t even being entirely original in their attempt at attention-grabbing. They were actually cribbing from Poe.

In 1844 Poe cooked up a similar aviation hoax in the pages of the New York Sun. The horror master cranked out a phony news item describing how a Mr. Monck Mason had flown a balloon flying machine called Victoria from England to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina in just 75 hours. According to Poe’s story, the balloon had also hauled seven passengers across the ocean.

No balloonist had ever crossed the Atlantic before, so this story quickly became a huge deal. Complete transatlantic travel in just three days? How exciting! Readers actually queued up outside the Sun’s headquarters to get their mitts on a copy of the day’s historic paper.

Poe’s report on the balloon was chock full of technical details. He devoted a whole paragraph to explaining how the balloon was filled with coal gas rather than “the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen.” He listed the balloon’s equipment, which included “cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so.” He also included hundreds of words of excerpts from the passengers’ journals.

The only catch to Poe’s story was that it was entirely fictitious. The Sun’s editors quickly wised up to Poe’s hoax, and two days later they posted an understated retraction that noted, “We are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous.”

2. Edgar Allan Poe dabbled in cryptography.

If you’ve read Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” you probably know that he had a working knowledge of cryptography. But you might not know that Poe was actually a pretty darn good cryptographer in his own right.

Poe’s first notable code-cracking began in 1839. He sent out a call for readers of his Philadelphia newspaper to send him encoded messages that he could decipher. Poe would then puzzle over the secret messages for hours. He published the results of his work in a wildly popular recurring feature. Poe also liked to toss his own codes out there to keep readers busy. Some of the codes were so difficult that Poe professed utter amazement when even a single reader would crack them.

Poe was so confident in his abilities as a cryptographer that he approached the Tyler administration in 1841 with an offer to work as a government code cracker. He modestly promised, “Nothing intelligible can be written which, with time, I cannot decipher.” Apparently there weren’t any openings for him, though.

3. The "Allan" came later for Edgar Allan Poe.

It would sound odd to just say “Edgar Poe,” but the famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of the writer’s name. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to professional actors, but his early childhood was fairly rotten. When Poe was just two years old, his father abandoned the family—leaving the toddler's mother, Elizabeth, to raise Edgar and his two siblings. Not long after that, Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.

Poe actually had a little luck at that point. John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond family, took the boy in and provided for his education. Although the Allans never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own name.

Like a lot of Poe’s fiction, his story with the Allans didn't have a particularly happy ending. Poe and John Allan grew increasingly distant during the boy’s teenage years, and after Poe left for the University of Virginia, he and Allan became estranged. (Apparently the root of these problems involved Poe’s tendency to gamble away whatever money Allan sent him to subsidize his studies.)

4. Edgar Allan Poe had a nemesis.

Like a lot of writers, Poe had a rival. His was the poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold. Although Griswold had included Poe’s work in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe held an extremely low opinion of Griswold’s intellect and literary integrity. Poe published an essay blasting Griswold’s selections for the anthology, and their rivalry began.

Things really heated up when Griswold succeeded Poe as the editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe had been pulling in. Poe began publicly lambasting Griswold’s motivations; he even went so far as to claim that Griswold was something of a literary homer who puffed up New England poets.

Poe might have had a point about Griswold’s critical eye, but Griswold had the good fortune to outlive Poe. After Poe died, Griswold penned a mean-spirited obituary in which he stated that the writer’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it” and generally portrayed Poe as an unhinged maniac.

Slamming a guy in his obituary is pretty low, but Griswold was just getting warmed up. He convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to make him Poe’s literary executor. Griswold then published a biography of Poe that made him out to be a drug-addled drunk, all while keeping the profits from a posthumous edition of Poe’s work.

5. Edgar Allan Poe's death was a mystery worth of his writing.

In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond, but he never made it that far south. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Passersby rushed Poe to the hospital, but he died a few days later without being able to explain what happened to him.

Poe’s rumored causes of death were “cerebral inflammation” and “congestion of the brain,” which were polite euphemisms for alcohol poisoning. Modern scholars don’t totally buy this explanation, though. The characterization of Poe as a raging drunk mostly comes from Griswold’s posthumous smear campaign, and his incoherent state of mind may have been the result of rabies or syphilis.

Some Poe fans subscribe to a more sinister theory about the writer’s death, though. They think he may have fallen victim to “cooping,” a sordid 19th century political practice. Gangs of political thugs would round up homeless or weak men and hold them captive in a safe place called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day—and there was an election in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, the day Poe was found—the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.

This story sounds like something straight out of Poe’s own writing, but it might actually be true. Poe’s crummy physical state and delirium would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the ill-fitting clothes jibe with gangs’ practice of making their hostages change clothes so they could cast multiple votes. With no real evidence either way, though, Poe’s death remains one of literature’s most fascinating mysteries.

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