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Food & Drink

What to expect when you’re expecting a Trader Joe’s

The cult-favorite market is set to open Friday. How should you prepare yourself?

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If you haven’t already experienced one, you might be wondering: What is the big freaking deal about Trader Joe’s anyway? Well, I’m not here to sell you on it. Frankly, every person who shrugs and says “BFD” is one less person I’ll have to fight for a parking space, and with what I know of TJ’s parking lots, that’s a good thing. But if you’re a total TJ’s noob, here’s a rundown of what you can anticipate once the 12,500-square-foot store opens at 131 N. Orlando Ave. in Winter Park at 8 a.m. on Friday, June 27.

OK but for real, what’s the deal?

Back in Orlando Weekly’s 2007 Holiday Guide issue, I wrote about how all I wanted for Christmas was a Trader Joe’s. I don’t think I’d change my description of the chain from what I wrote then: “TJ’s is where you go when you get paid peanuts, but have a taste for Marcona almonds dusted with rosemary and sea salt. … [It’s] high livin’ for broke folks.” This high-low formula is what gains Trader Joe’s its rabid following. It’s cheap, but it’s not a big-box store like Costco; it sells healthy, non-GMO foods, but it’s not a temple of high-priced purity like Whole Foods can be. In some ways it’s the best of both those worlds: gourmet goods like wild-caught salmon, burrata and organic blueberry juice at fish-stick, cheddar-slice and Cran-Apple prices.

The store has evolved over the years. Where once there were very few perishables – no produce or dairy – now there are sections stocked with organic goat kefir and big plastic clamshells full of fresh basil. However, it’s not a total one-stop shop. You’ll find cleaning supplies, personal-care items (like soaps and vitamins) and pet products, but nothing like the kind of selection you’d find at a Publix or the like. Trader Joe’s stocks about 80 percent private-label goods, so if you’re the brand-loyal sort, you won’t find your Crest, Calgon or Courry-brand cat food here.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the wine and beer selection, renowned for its cheapness. The famous Two Buck Chuck is up to $2.99 in most stores now, so we’ll have to call it Three Buck Chuck – but it’s still a hell of a buy, if perhaps not the most refined bottle. (Oenophiles should go for the Trader Joe’s Grand Reserve.)

The theme park of grocery stores

Like a theme park, TJ’s has a story and they stick to it. They’re “traders on the culinary seas,” hence the nautical-tiki decor, the Hawaiian shirts on the employees (the “crew” is divided into “mates” and “captains”) and the ship’s bell instead of a PA system.

As mentioned above, Trader Joe’s sells mostly private-label products, meaning even if the cereal is made in the same factory with the same ingredients, it’s not a box of Cheerios – it’s a box of Joe’s O’s. And unlike many store brands, which opt for a quiet, generic-lite aesthetic on their store-label goods, TJ’s goes for the zany when they name their products. Look for Trader Giotto’s spaghetti sauce, Trader José’s refried beans, Trader Ming’s chow mein and other borderline-bad-taste puns on the shelves. Sign up for the “Fearless Flyer” (a weekly email of new and featured products) to stay in the know … and experience a regular dose of TJ’s-themed humor.

Lines. Lines like Disney.

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