Once upon a time in a marketing class I learned how Starbucks made its big break by becoming people’s ‘third place.’ First being home, second work (sadly sometimes those get switched) and lastly, the third place–the place you want to spend all your in-betweens.
My third place is Trader Joe’s.
Maybe this is due to my lack of a coffee habit, maybe it’s because it is a five minute walk from my apartment, but maybe it’s because it is the most wonderful place on earth.
TJ’s is the closest I come to having neighbors in Los Angeles.
I walk in and am greeted by cheerful employees wearing Hawaiian patterned shirts. I pass a woman in slacks with earbuds dangling from her ears, singing Usher’s “Let it Burn” audibly. This must be her third place too.
“Are you finding everything okay?” a grocer asks as I study the marinated meats.
“Well, someone told me the Kogi beef was good but I can’t seem to find it.”
“Hmm…it should be here. Josh, do you know where the Kogi beef is?” A 20-something guy with a buzzed head comes over.
“Oh yeah. I LOVE the Kogi beef, let me grab it.” He bounds away with a spring in his step.
While he is gone she asks me if I’ve tried the Chicken Tikka Masala. She tells me exactly how she cooks it, and that she likes to sop up the extra sauce with a piece of Naan. Josh returns with my Kogi beef and tells me where I can find it next time.
These are not just grocers, they are connoisseurs, and they are my friends. We are a community–a group of people with fussy palates who like to pretend we can cook.
I love Trader Joe, in all his forms.
I love Trader Jose and Trader Giotto and Baker Josef.
I love how they let that middle aged guy play his wooden flute outside the store on Wednesday nights.
I love their $5 flower bunches and that Scott now thinks to buy them when he swings by for almond milk.
My heart sinks whenever my grocery list contains something like mascara, because it means I have to go to Ralph’s.
Bring up Trader Joe’s to any regular customer and they will burst out with an “ooh! have you tried the raisin rosemary crisps?” Or the sweet potato gnocchi? Or the mini mint mouthfuls? (they’re on the frozen aisle BTW)
The frozen aisle! Be still my heart. You know the one I mean–it’s right in the middle, with frozen food in the bins on the bottom and chocolate covered everything at eye level.
With every visit I think I am made of tough enough stuff that I can resist walking down it. But then I think, maybe we need something practical, like frozen chicken! Yes, we could use some of that. I grab a bag of frozen chicken tenders. And a tub of dark chocolate peanut butter cups.
Some assume that TJ’s is more expensive than other grocery stores, I suppose because it offers delicious, non-boring food options. Let the record state that I have shopped there for years, compared my receipts, and thoroughly debunked this myth.
I once dated a boy who said he’d tried to shop at TJ’s and “didn’t get it.” It did not work out between us.
Today someone brought up how they’d recently bought the chocolate covered Joe Joe’s (known in other circles as Oreos) with candy cane bits on top, a delicacy only available this time of the year. They’re so delicious they usually sell out by mid-December, and I cannot believe I have let 8 WHOLE DAYS PASS without purchasing them.
So now I sit at work, counting down the minutes until I can leave my second place, park at my first place, and walk straight to my favorite, my happiest, my third place.
The inimitable Trader Joe’s.
**This post was (tragically) not sponsored by Trader Joe’s. However, I will happily accept any retrospective form of payment or free merchandise.