Trader Joe’s is great. A favorite among college students, the national chain with a neighborhood heart offers tasty, relatively healthy and affordable food options. I sit down with my good friend Grace, a second-year environmental science major and spirited TJ’s employee, to hear her tips on how anyone can maximize their enjoyment of this grocery wonder.
Do: Get goodies for having a good eye.
Grace’s first recommendation for any Trader Joe’s visit is to locate the hidden stuffed animal and claim one’s bounty. Secure yourself a free lollipop and maybe some stickers.
Don’t: Try the grapes.
Grace admonishes those who go for an unoffered snack. “That’s not cool,” she says. Besides, the chain is famous for its free samples. If you must eat in the store, stick to what they offer you.
Do: Try the Sparkling Peach Tea.
Grace’s description of the beverage? “Crack.”
Don’t: Treat TJ’s as your sole produce provider.
Grace exalts the store’s aptitude for premade meals and inventive snacks, while addressing their shortcomings in produce. “What we come short on [in produce] we excel in other products,” Grace said. Instead, I recommend visiting the farmers market for excellent produce and an excellent boost to your superiority complex.
Do: Frozen and pre-prepared foods.
For the college lifestyle, Grace strongly recommends the frozen section. “You find a lot of good stuff for relatively cheap,” Grace said, “and it lasts you.” She points to the store’s refrigerated prepared foods section as a convenient way to expand one’s palette. The grab-and-go meals save shoppers the commitment of purchasing each separate ingredient, as well as the time, effort and ability needed to successfully execute a new dish.
Do: Fresh salmon.
Grace assures me preparation is simple. “Easy cook, just pop it in the oven, 425 degrees Fahrenheit, 23 minutes, throw some lemon slices, put some seasoning on there, maybe a little thing of butter and let it marinate…[into a] melt-in your-mouth type meal,” Grace said of the fish.
I remind her that salmon, prepared exactly this way, was the first thing we cooked together, and yes, it did melt in my mouth. She considers this salmon meal as an introduction to the “intimate relationship” one can have with Trader Joe’s.
This intimacy and sense of community does not exist by chance. It is the store’s mission to make customers feel that TJ’s is not only a grocery store, but “your friends down the street,” Grace said. As an employee, she knows how to make shopping at Trader Joe’s enjoyable and understands that being “a friendly face is a big part of the job.”
In addition to being friendly, the people that work at TJ’s are welcoming, knowledgeable and, more often than not, hot as fuck. The store is a vaguely Hawaiian-themed haven, with one-of-a-kind products that rotate at precisely the right speed to get you attached, heartbroken, then hooked again on the next new thing. So visit Trader Joe’s, and retreat into the illusion that life is dependable and fun is for sale. Happy shopping!