It invaded Dallas, it conquered Houston and now at long last it comes to Austin: Trader Joe's, the specialty-foods chain from California, opened its first branch on September 20 on Bee Caves Road.
The chain is known for having a cult-like following, and on day one at the Austin store, fans were out in full force. As has become the norm at Trader Joe's openings, a line formed in anticipation of the 8 am opening time. Once the doors were open, customers were greeted festively by staffers wearing colorful leis. Lines to the checkout snaked around the store; anyone intending to shop there over the weekend is guaranteed to face a crowd.
The chain has unquestionably caught the attention of local foodies, but Austin is already the birthplace of major gourmet chains such as Central Market or Whole Foods.What does TJ's have that the others do not?
Trader Joe's is far smaller than regular grocery stores, and the Rollingwood location is even smaller than the usual TJ's: 11,000 square feet, as compared to the 45,000 square feet of a typical grocery store. But it's not crammed in; an open design and wide aisles make it feel friendly and easy to navigate.
Trader Joe's brand
Nearly everything in the store has the Trader Joe’s brand on it. The chain doesn't manufacture its own food. It goes to other suppliers, nearly all of which are top-of-the-line, and gets them to do a Trader Joe's version, usually for a far lower price.
Two Buck Chuck
One of Trader Joe's most famous products is its so-called "Two Buck Chuck" line of $2.99 discount wines. Some wine snobs turn up their nose at the line, but there aren't too many places you can get a bottle of drinkable wine for $3. All of the wines at Trader Joe's are a bargain; it's one of their best deals.
Beyond this list of the store's top 2012 sellers, there are nearly 4,000 more items to explore. Exhibit A: Did you know there's such a thing as cranberry mango blueberry muffins? Apparently it’s possible to squeeze all of those fruits into a single muffin. It's not just shopping, it's Gourmet 101.
More so than Dallas or Houston, this West Coast company seems to be a perfect match for Austin, a city full of shoppers who have champagne tastes on a beer budget. Props to TJ's for its extra efforts to fit in, including 512-themed murals around the store and burnt orange shirts.
Whether you call it cookie butter, or by its fancier name Speculoos, or just "crack in a jar," cookie butter has become Trader Joe's hottest commodity, whose allure has risen even higher after a months-long shortage. It's like peanut butter, but instead of peanuts, it's made from ground-up cookies called Speculoos, and it tastes like spreadable gingerbread. The good news is, the shortage is over, and not a moment too soon. Austin will have its cookie butter.