A neighbor new to Miami from California recently stopped me and excitedly asked, "Do you know Trader Joe's is opening just a few miles away?" Giddy with the thought of once again roaming the bamboo aisles and purchasing inexpensive wine, he confessed he'd written several letters to the Monrovia, California-based company, asking it to open in Miami.
This fandom is not a one-off story. The company that started as a small convenience-store chain in 1958 has gained a loyal, if not obsessive, following -- with good reason.
Each Trader Joe's is filled with private-label merchandise at prices sometimes significantly lower than those at competing boutique market chains, such as the Fresh Market and Whole Foods. And although the company doesn't claim to be as "upscale" as the others, it does pride itself on offering antibiotic-free meat, not allowing GMOs in private-label products, and carrying sustainable seafood. In 2012, the company signed an agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which sees that Florida farm workers get a fair wage and work environment.
The first Miami-Dade location will open October 18 in Pinecrest. The shelves are up and waiting to be stocked with merchandise.
If you haven't been to a Trader Joe's, there are a few things you should know. First, it's cute. Overly cute. Sort of like shopping for produce at Disney World. There are cartoon animals on signs. The Hawaiian-shirt-clad employees are friendly and helpful. They're also empowered to open anything you want to try, so if you're on the fence about those seaweed snacks, just ask.
Then there are bells. And cheering! That's the staff communicating with one another. One bell means it's time to open another register, two bells means someone has a question that needs to be answered at the checkout, and three bells is a request for a manager.
We visited the Naples store over the weekend to investigate just why this store warms the heartstrings of so many shoppers. We walked in a skeptic and walked out a believer. Maybe they put something in the free samples. Or maybe it's the fact that we loaded up the car with five shopping bags and a case of wine for less than $150. Here are the top ten items you'll want to try when Trader Joe's comes to town:
10. Edamame Hummus
Love hummus? Trader Joe's has nearly a dozen kinds, including roasted pepper, horseradish, and edamame ($2.49). Pass the chips, please.
9. Wrapped Tomatoes
Supersweet and prepackaged so you don't have to worry about how many germ-ridden hands were squeezing your fruit.
8. Cookie Butter
Because peanut butter is so last year's lunch ($3.69).
Peruse the frozen foods and you'll find offerings like nowhere else. Forget the Lean Cuisine, and pick up a bibimbap bowl ($3.49) for a quickie lunch or a bag of pork gyoza ($3.99) for dinner.
6. Giant Vats of Cheap Olive Oil
Olive oil is freaking expensive everywhere else but here, where $7.99 buys you a vat (complete with pour spout) of extra-virgin oil, imported from Italy. Add a jug of balsamic vinegar ($2.99) and a bag of kale ($1.99), and you've got yourself a healthy lunch.
5. Doggie Treats
Forget Fido? Absolutely not! There's an entire selection of food, cookies, and chewies for your pampered pet. The chicken jerky sticks ($1.99) are Chihuahua-approved, by the way.
4. Inner Peas
Screw Bikram yoga. Here you can get your Inner Peas ($1.49) and eat 'em too.
3. Adorable Potatoes
When was the last time your potato told you it liked long walks on the beach? And you thought spuds were good only for throwing in the oven.
Trader Joe's even has its own beer. From the generic Name Tag lager ($3.99 per six pack) to Trader José beer, imported from Mexico ($7.99), there's a choice for everyone.
1. Two Buck Chuck
Charles Shaw wine is $2.99 per bottle and $35.88 per case. Available in different varietals, it's perfect for winos who go through a few bottles every night. Suggestion: Invest in a gorgeous crystal decanter, pour in the Two Buck Chuck, and serve at your next dinner party. No one would dare call you out on it.
Bonus: Happiness by the Glass
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Look at this wine. It's the happiest Syrah ever. Keep a $6.99 bottle of it on hand for when you've had a screwed-up day.