Feb. 29 (UPI) -- Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe's grocery store, has died, his family announced. He was 89.
His son, also named, Joe, said in a statement his father died Friday after a long illness.
Born on June 3, 1930, Coulombe grew up on an avocado ranch in Del Mar, Calif., near San Diego. He served in the Air Force for a year and received his bachelor's degree in economics and a master's in business from Stanford University.
After taking over a small chain of convenience stores around the Los Angeles area in 1958, he came up with the idea for trading-post themed stores stocked with a global cross-section of offerings. He noticed demographics were changing with more people going to college and more likely to travel.
The first Trader Joe's opened in Pasadena, Calif., in 1967 with a nautical theme and was run by people described as "traders on the high seas," according to the company's website. Crew members at the store still describe themselves as "traders on the culinary seas," and are known for wearing bright, tropical-patterned shirts.
The inaugural store is still open.
Since its founding, it has grown from 19 California-based stores to more than 500 locations nationwide.
In 1979, Coulombe and his employees, who had a 45 percent stake in the company, sold Trader Joe's to a family trust established by Theo Albrecht, co-founder of the Germany-based discount supermarket chain Aldi's. Coulombe continued to serve as chief executive until 1989.
Coulombe established a standard in the 1970s to ensure Trader Joe's private-label offerings didn't contain artificial flavors, colors or preservatives and in 2007, the company said that it would also cut out artificial trans fats.
The grocery store introduced its private label wine in 2002, which became popular and dubbed "Two Buck Chuck," because of its cheap price.
In 2019, Consumer Reports named Trader Joe's the only national chain to earn its top overall satisfaction store.
After retirement, Coulombe anchored a "Food and Wine Minute," which aired on local radio in Los Angeles where he spoke about the world's wine regions he had visited and food trivia. He wrapped up the segments by saying, "This is Joe Coulombe of Trader Joe's. "
He and his wife, Alice, also supported the Los Angeles Opera and other cultural institutions.
Coulombe is survived by his wife, three children and six grandchildren.