Late Trader Joe’s founder publishes a memoir

The autobiographical book by Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s, known as the Original Trader Joe, was released today with a multimedia component being pitched for the screen.
Dan Ochwat
Executive Editor
Dan Ochwat profile picture
a man standing in front of a tree
Joe Coulombe

Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe’s, who passed away last year at 89, has a memoir being released today by publishing house HarperCollins.

The book titled, “Becoming Trader Joe,” is an autobiography on his entrepreneurial journey to starting the now famed discount store.

The book includes writings that had compiled several years ago and he passed away while the book was still in the publishing process. It was completed by co-author Patty Civalleri and the entrepreneur’s longtime friend and original employee, Leroy Watson.

As Civalleri describes, in 1967, Coulombe owned 16 "variety stores" in Texas when the 7-11 retail chain came to prominence. He began concepting the Trader Joe's experience from several pieces of stimuli: a popular Theme Park boat ride, movies like "Beyond the Reef" were playing in the theaters, and the fact that Trader Vic's had invented and popularized the Mai Tai drink with little umbrellas. All of these pieces came together in Joe's mind to form his final vision.

"At a time in American history when frozen dinners and processed foods were the trusted staples, Joe saw the opportunity to create a different type of grocery store for the 'over-educated and underpaid' consumer, the burgeoning middle class,” Watson said. “The book is filled with stories of brilliant marketing moves, including the story about 'Extra-large eggs' that readers will surely enjoy.”

The project has a multimedia component, with the book also pitched as a limited episode series for sale to cable and streaming platforms. "Becoming Trader Joe" will be available at several bookstores around the country and at

Today, the Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe’s is owned by the Albrecht family of Germany and is part of the Aldi Nord chain. The chain operates more than 500 stores in 40-plus states.