Naree Knows Trader Joe’s

In 1994, Naree Viner was a new intern at the Getty Museum. Her family was back in Indiana, so her colleague Madeleine invited Naree to her parents’ home in Pasadena for Thanksgiving.

“You’re going to Trader Joe’s house!” her co-workers exclaimed.

Naree had no idea what they were talking about.

Joe Coulombe and his wife Alice welcomed Naree with a flute of champagne. Each course had a different wine, which Joe described. The Coulombes were Francophiles so the main dish was goose, not turkey.

Joe and Alice Coulombe

It was a delightful day. And — as Naree learned — Joe Coulombe was also known as Trader Joe.

The Trader Joe.

A Stanford Business School graduate and serial entrepreneur, in 1967 he’d turned a poorly performing Pasadena 7-Eleven into a new kind of grocery store.

The target market was “people with bachelor’s and master’s degrees who made teacher’s salaries,” Naree says.

The concept caught on. By the time of that Thanksgiving dinner, there were Trader Joe’s — the store’s name — across California. Joe Coulombe had already sold the company to German conglomerate Aldi.

Last year, Joe Coulombe celebrated the 50th anniversary of Trader Joe’s with his son Joe Jr., and 2 employees.

In 2012 Naree and her husband moved to Westport. After leaving the Getty — armed with a master’s in art history — she became a headhunter. Specializing in museum directors, she’s worked with institutions like the Smithsonian and Yale Art Gallery.

She’s still friends with Madeleine. And Naree has never forgotten that Thanksgiving as an intern.

She marvels at what Joe developed. He thought of tropical costumes for employees, and created a corporate culture that celebrates smiles and good fellowship.

As she studies organizational culture for work, Naree is amazed that the now-national grocery chain has managed to maintain so much of its original charm.

Naree Viner

Today Naree lives just a mile from the Westport Trader Joe’s. She loves finding new items there, and is not disappointed when favorites (like mango lemonade) disappear. One of the keys to Trader Joe’s success, after all, is low inventory.

Naree has told a few of the very cheery Westport crew that she knows the real Trader Joe — and that at 87 he’s alive and well, still painting and gardening.

“They’re amazed and amused,” she says of the local store staff.

Still, Naree wondered, why did I think this would make a great “06880” story?

“It’s fun and quirky,” I said.

Just like Trader Joe’s.

16 responses to “Naree Knows Trader Joe’s

  1. Maggie Moffitt Rahe

    Great story! I have someone, my Mom Butzi Moffitt (formerly Butzi Beach) who founded Pack Roads and The Separate Shop and The original Ice Cream Parlor where Chez Pierre’s Once was on Main Street. My mother is about to be 90. She has original sales receipts, photos taken by Life Magazine photographer and stories about Marilyn Monroe who bought her first cashimere sweater at the Separate Shop. Fondly, Maggie Moffitt Call Butzi at 203-259-3200 She loves to talk! No email for her, but you can use mine!

    • Fred Cantor

      Maggie, the Westport Historical Society might be interested in some of your mom’s stuff. The Westport Library has—or else had—some wonderful photo and newspaper clip archives which might have been transferred recently to the WHS. In those files, I remember seeing a very nice photo story on the Ice Cream Parlor shortly after its opening that was published in I believe an area newspaper—perhaps the then Bridgeport Post. The original ICP, which had moved to the Compo Shopping Center by the time I arrived in Westport, looked in those photos like something out of a vintage Jimmy Stewart movie.

  2. We are fortunate to have a Trader Joe’s in Wilmington, NC, just 40 minutes from where we live in Southport. We have found that the customer IS always right there.

  3. Mike Boyle

    Loved it Dan! Great one! ❤️ Mike

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  4. Great story. The employees there are always cheerful and smiling. Not easy considering some of the demanding clientele. Always feel happier going out than I did going in.

  5. Michael Calise

    A smart grocer knows that being at the register when the customer is ready to checkout is the most important part of customer service. Trader Joe’s unlike most Westport groceries excels in this very important part of customer service.

  6. Rosalie J.. Wolf

    I love Tjs but it was sold long ago to a German company who is very smart about running and growing it.

    Sent from my phone

    Rosalie J. Wolf
    Botanica Capital Partners LLC
    646 837 9663 tel
    212 922 9305 fax
    917 215 4247 cell
    Rwolf@botanicacap.com
    750 Third Avenue, Suite 3360
    New York, NY. 10017

  7. Fred Cantor

    “…and created a corporate culture that celebrates smiles and good fellowship.”—I would love to know more specifics about both their hiring and training processes because, no matter which TJ store I’ve been to, there has always been the most helpful customer service. And people seem happy to be working there.

    Very cool to learn about the original Trader Joe. And, yes, Maggie’s mom seems like should we be a fascinating subject for an “06880” story.

  8. Fred Cantor

    That should read “like she would”

  9. Suzan Murphy

    Maggie, Recently your mom made a visit to the Westport Woman’s Club Curio Cottage with Sefra Levin. Volunteers working in the shop that day were fascinated by your mother’s stories of old Westport in the days of the Ice Cream Parlor and Pack Roads. Happy Birthday wishes to your mom on her special day.

  10. Hanne Jeppesen

    My understanding is that in my area (San Francisco Bay Area) Trader Joe’s pay about $18.00 an hour, and for full time employee’s benefits. Actually the $18.00 I heard was a few years ago, it could be more now. The job market in this area is tight, specially Silicone Valley) and MacDonald”s always have signs in their window starting salary $14.00, and I recently saw a sign saying they hire 14 year old. I work for Macy’s in the same area, and I believe they also start their new employees at about $14.00 and we hire 16 year olds. When I started at Macy’s 8 years ago the starting salary was $9:50 an hour, (I have since gotten several raises and have other income as well). However, my point is that Trader Joe’s pay more than your average retail job, and this could be why the employee’s is always smiling, but I have worked in enough mid to big companies, to know each company has a culture so to speak, so I assume that has something to do with the smiles you see at Trader Joe’s. By the way I love Trader Joe’s and although I don’t shop there exclusively I do shop their regularly. When my relatives was visiting from Denmark a few years back, they were very impressed with Trader Joe’s, and they also like Starbucks a lot.

  11. Sabra Gallo

    Great story, I love Trader Joe’s! If you’re interested to learn more, check out the free Inside Trader Joe’s podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/inside-trader-joes/id1375630453?mt=2
    I’m one episode in and enjoying it.

  12. Dan Lasley (Laz)

    We lived near the original in Pasadena from 1983-86. It was cool then, but somewhat of a local secret. We were very happy when they came to the East Coast.

  13. Jacqueline Stewart

    Love love Trader Joe’s!! I shop exclusively there. Excellent customer service. Love the sampling of
    Foods and the coffee.
    Nothing else beats it!!