Dear Kroger,
I am writing to tell you that you will be seeing a lot less of me come this Friday, October 28.  Bye bye to Mollie, Denise, Mikael, Bob the Butcher, the nice man who gets me my cart and wipes it down, and the nice lady in customer service who always takes my strange food requests. It has been nice.
You see, there’s a new kid in town.
Trader Joe’s opens Friday.

Heidi Potter
(yes, the Heidi Potter that is there 4-5 times a week.)

Photo taken surreptitiously with my iPhone from my side pocket.

A couple of weeks ago on Facebook, I wrote that I wanted to do a preview piece on Trader Joe’s before it opened here.  I had read StyleBlueprint Nashville’s post about when it opened there.  I read an outstanding article in Los Angeles Magazine about the background of Trader Joe’s.  I thought I had done my homework.  I had planned on taking a field trip to Cincinnati to scope it out.  I decided to open up the discussion about what everyone liked at Trader Joe’s.  To say that I was barraged with product picks would be an understatement.  Here are the compiled lists from the 34 comments, plus numerous texts, emails and phone calls: (the personal comments are the best)

Three buck chuck, cornbread mix, jarred cherries to put over ice cream, cheesecake, brownies (in a heavy cherry syrup), rosemary trees, Honey Sesame Sticks, Lemon Curd (great for crepes), frozen Key Lime Pie, Chicken Byrani bowls (they have a lot of frozen bowls of food which are great for work), 9 grain bread, . Raspberry Brie blintzes. Black pepper sauce. Just the Clusters Vanilla Almond Granola. Organic yogurt in blueberry, strawberry, banana, and vanilla. Three Layer Dip. Frozen Orange Chicken. Chocolate Lava cakes. Frozen Teriyaki chicken. Fruit bars (This strawberry walks into a bar). Vanilla bean sandwich cookies. Vietnamese chicken wraps. Arugula salad. Spinach salad. Mango tea. French market lemonade. Blueberry beer. Pumpkin beer. Almond butter. Salt and Pepper pistachios. Flaxseed tortilla chips. Tiramisu, trail mix granola bars, orange chicken, dark chocolate bars, roasted red peppers, pumpkin bread mix, organic tortillia chiips, JoJo’s cookies, Chicken Fried Rice, Cioppino Seafood Stew (as good as any restaurant’s), French-Style Yogurt (Banana/Strawberry & Vanilla), and the Dark Chocolate Covered Caramels are insane! Chocolate lava cakes, Alsatian pizza (thin crust prosciutto, caramelized onions, goat cheese), all of the frozen hors d’oeuvres, **frozen Mac-n-cheese** (yummy), Madagascar Vanilla wafers, 21 Season Salute, frozen gnocchi, frozen meatballs, mango mochi balls, freeze dried mangoes, frozen brown rice pouches, gingerbread cake mix, beer bread mix… Pumpkin bread mix. Pumpkin waffles. Turkey meatballs. Bruschetta sauce. Pico de gallo. TJs Brie. Bread. Naan. creme fraiche Trader Joes ginger snaps Thai Lime & Chili Cashews rule. Just a handful of simply almonds, cashews, and Cranberries-comes in a pack of 10 bags are another favorite. Fruity Flakes (we like the apple strawbery), Mini Ravioli, Mac and Cheese, little ice cream cones Peppermint Joe Joe’s are THE best!!! trail mixes, Pita chips and great hummus…sweet potato chips and organic chocolate covered granola bars, Freeze dried strawberries, olive tapenade, extra fiber o’s, multi grain tortilla chips, raw whole wheat pizza dough, they have too many frozen apps to name them-all yummy, light cheese puffs, flour tortillas, pecan cookies TJ Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar spinach artichoke dip (frozen) & sea salt pita chips, pimento spread & mini toasts (so cute & cheap..above the frozen food). Frozen foods: Veggie corn dogs (no one will be the wiser), mini chicken tacos, fish sticks, cod fillets, sweet italian chicken sausage, kobe beef burgers, buffalo burgers (depends on the season), roasted potatoes, lasagna (meat & meatless), mixed berries, just grilled ckn strips which you can add to their fettuccine alfredo and any of the Trader Mings stuff, Orange Cashew chicken, Mandarin Orange chicken which I throw atop of rice and their frozen veggies (asian mix). Thai rolls both coconut curry and lemon grass, Potstickers and coconut shrimp. 3 cheese spaghetti sauce, ww pasta, black beans, ABC cookies, tomato basil hummus, chocoate orange sticks, profiteroles ( spelling?), french roast coffee, brie cheese, boysenberry jam!EVOO, and pancake mix. Dried Berry Medley and the Dried Blueberries Truffle brownie mix, two buck chuck, Mac n cheese in a box, and fresh breads!!! Also dark chocolate covered pomegranate seeds.

Many of you ended your advice  in the following way:

  • “I could go on and on. “
  • “I would be happy to be a tour guide :-)”
  • “And I will gladly go with you!!!!”

or just:

  • “OMG – call me STAT.”

I jokingly offered to rent a shuttle bus and have a field trip.  Two people texted me and another replied, “Yes. Definitely. Not kidding.”  You would have thought they were giving the food away for free.  (Turns out they kind of do.)

So I think I hit a nerve here, folks.

After certain imminent corneal and cranial explosion after reading all the suggestions, I decided to wing it.  I wanted to shop at Trader Joe’s for the first time with a wide-eyed innocence; I was a Trader Joe’s virgin after all.  From the descriptions, it sounded like a Whole Foods, maybe with a twist of Fresh Market and Paul’s Fruit Market.

I’m a tactile learner, so it was time to take a field trip.  I could not get a handle on everyone’s passionate responses and almost cult-like following of this grocery store.  I went for the first time in Chicago, as part of my Eating and Shopping Maximus Tour 2011.  Trader Joe’s was my final stop.  I did enlist the help of a guide, friend Robyn Tolva, who was doing her shopping for the week as she gave me a tour.  I knew that I could not fit anything in my suitcase, as that was already full of my new clothing purchases, so I just looked.  Actually, I studied.  I memorized.  I took pictures until the third aisle, then they got wind of that and shut me down.  No pictures please.  After that I was tailed by random employees.  Here are my finds:

Beautiful flowers for nothing.  $4.99 for tulips?  Not just one tulip, the whole bunch.

Cheaper pumpkins than the pumpkin farm.

Robyn bee-lined to this bread, her favorite.

All kinds o’ shrooms.  Note the “Fearless Flyer” signage.  We’ll talk about that in a minute.

So that’s how a Brussels Sprout grows…

A Kumato tomato. Huh?  Would you pronounce that “Kuh-mah-toe  Toe-mah-toe?”

Just a smidgen of what you could have for lunch.  Wraps for $3.99.

This pizza dough was recommended no less than 5 times.  Yes that price is $1.09.

Lunchmeat for $2.99! The last thing of lunchmeat I bought was $10.

Pre-cooked Rack of Lamb and Salmon to add to pasta, salads or eat plain.

Taste testing of Rosemary Raisin Crisps and Cinnamon Toscano cheese. I had three of these.

Trader Ming’s Mandarin Chicken is the #1 seller.

All kinds of rice options for your Asian food.

Pre-marinated fish. Just a few minutes to cook and serve.

Okay that is the end of my picture taking.  I got busted.

My tour continued through the canned goods, the condiments, the seasonings, the dry goods, the meat, the dairy.  And sorry Kentucky, the wine.  Our store will not be selling wine, so I won’t even talk about it.  (But it’s amazing).  **Addendum Oct 25, 4pm**Our store WILL be selling wine next door.  I could not get this confirmed yesterday, but I have now.  REJOICE!! 

I was overwhelmed by the quality and affordability of the food.  If you play your cards right and stock up on dry goods and frozen items, you may never have to get carry-out again.  The freezer selection – a place I do not frequent in my grocery store – is outstanding. I had three people tell me that the frozen Chinese entrees at Trader Joes are better than Chinese Takeout.

Everyone needs to do a little homework before they go.  Otherwise, you will max out your credit card on your first run.
Read this:  The Fearless Flyer

The Fearless Flyer. A MUST-READ.

This newsletter guides you through the store and promotes seasonal items, best sellers and crew picks.   Signage all throughout the store will designate an item as Fearless Flyer or a Crew Pick.

Robyn got dinner and goodies for a week.  I left with nothing but two bags of nuts, which my family demolished that night.

Here is my parting shot, with my camera hidden under my coat, so it’s a little fuzzy.  I wanted to show everyone what a “Crew Pick” looked like.

My last furtive shot before almost getting my camera confiscated.

I get it now.  I get what all the fuss is about.  While I won’t be camping out there Thursday night (which I have heard happens the night before an opening), I’m definitely going to make an appearance there this weekend. 

Trader Joe’s is located in Shelbyville Road Plaza, near the St. Matthews Post Office.  It opens 8am on Friday.

I will leave you with one of my favorite facebook comments from a Cincinnati friend who said, “We bought a large freezer for our basement to house all our Trader Joe’s yum! I suggest you do the same!”