Grocery Guide

Trader Joe's: Texas's Newest Sensation

What do you get when you take a grocery store with a jazillion specialty products, organic produce and flavorful freezer food and intertwine it with low prices throughout, then sprinkle it with a laid-back Hawaiian vibe? Trader Joe's. The specialty store, whose roots lie in the small town of Monrovia, California -- something I share with the booming national retailer -- is Texas's newest sensation.

The trading at Joe's commenced in Texas with the opening of its Woodlands and Fort Worth locations on the same date: June 15. Not only did the opening of the two stores mark a milestone in its local communities, it marked the specialty grocery store's much-anticipated Lone Star State arrival. Lines that wrapped around the building, abuzz with excited chatter, characterized Trader Joe's Texas debut.

If I were to take a wild guess, I would predict that the same excitement will surround the 2012 opening of Trader Joe's two Houston stores, along with its San Antonio, Dallas and Plano locations -- not to mention its second Dallas store opening, slated for 2013, and its 2014 Austin opening (assuming the hipsters can wait that long).

Devoted fans of Trader Joe's, such as my dad, have been waiting years for it to make the move to Texas. Upon my family's relocation to Texas in 1997, one of the first things he did was call the Trader Joe's headquarters.

"When the heck are you opening up a Woodlands store?" he asked the employee who happened to take his call. "Your audience is here; this would be the perfect spot for you guys."

"Thank you for your suggestion," was the response from the Trader Joe's representative. "We have been conducting market research for expansion. We appreciate your call and your interest in having a Trader Joe's opened in your area."

Fifteen years later, now that Trader Joe's has expanded into the Texas market, my father is perhaps a bit resentful that it took them so long, but excited that it finally happened.

Truth be told, Trader Joe's is a sensation. What makes it so? Lots of things. Most prominently: its wide selection of unique edibles -- many "ready-to-eat" or "ready-to-cook" -- stamped with Trader Joe's private label.

Examples include cookie butter, s'more chocolate bars and ice cream sandwiches, chocolate-covered frozen bananas, and frozen mandarin orange chicken created by "the chef that originally created mandarin orange chicken," according to a Trader Joe's employee who I chatted with. (That description was a little iffy, but we'll roll with it.) Best of all, every Trader Joe's-stamped product promises "no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, MSG, genetically modified ingredients or trans fats." Not too shabby, right?

For those looking for more traditional foods like produce, baked goods and meats, Trader Joe's offers all of this -- for the most part at very reasonable prices. And many times, in organic varieties. Of course, pretty much any grocery store you walk into can offer such things. What sets Trader Joe's apart from the others is the quality of what they offer at the disproportionately good prices.

And let's not forget Trader Joe's adult beverage selection, most famously Charles Shaw's red blend, otherwise known as "Two Buck Chuck." The California red blend, originally priced at $2, now costs $2.99 due to inflation. Its quality is a tad questionable, yet the product is perfect for putting into sangria or calimochos. You can also get a bottle of bubbly or Moscato for less than $6. Come on, don't even try to hide the fact that cheap alcohol is your guilty pleasure.

Finally, Trader Joe's is known for its excellent customer service. Upon entering the store, you'll be greeted by cheerful employees who actually seem to like their job. That cheerfulness rubs off on you by the end of your grocery shopping experience.

Does Trader Joe's fill your heart with enthusiasm? Or are you indifferent? I'd love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments section below.

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Carla Soriano