Tour de Aisle

Steve Puppe

There’s a phrase posted on my office wall: “You can have anything you want in life as long as you’re willing to get it yourself.”

That was a mantra I repeated as I drove over to Trader Joe’s on three separate occasions.

I figured if I could get a parking place it would be an omen that I was meant to go in and see what all the hubbub was about.

Actually, the first time was on opening day. Call me crazy but I actually thought I could get in since I have parking karma.


My second attempt failed again even though I went at an odd hour, 4 p.m. on a weekday.

Third time was the charm.

I parked over by Sullivan’s. Again, it was an obscure hour on a weekday, but I was determined.

Like salmon swimming upstream, I jumped into the fray and was swept inside.

The scene: mild pandemonium.

Bolstered by the mob of people—all of whom seemed to know what they were doing—I felt like a misfit. I didn’t have a clue, perhaps because I’m of a subset that has never been to any of the 378 nationwide Trader Joe’s—all the better to be objective.

You have to understand, I don’t just dislike grocery stores, I hate them. It’s a chore, like the laundry that I hope will become automated by some robot.

Until that happens in another galaxy, I’m the robot.


One potato, two potato

The Trader Joe’s in Leawood, much like its Missouri counterpart in the Ward Parkway Center, has been greatly anticipated and I wanted in on the flurry.

Apparently the concept started way back in the 1950s as a convenience store and morphed into this octopus now with hundreds of stores. The parent company, Aldi, has no resemblance to this offspring.

On first glance, Trader Joe’s is bright and cheerful, dotted with red carts and gaily-colored murals depicting scenes around Kansas City. The crew wears Hawaiian shirts and seems industrious amidst a backbeat of reggae and Jimmy Buffet.

I blended into a line forming on the left and proceeded to see which mood came first: annoyed or buoyed.

Perked by rows of cut flowers, it was a good start. “And so cheap,” I thought compared to other stems around town.

Tootling along, I conjured up a previous stop at a friend’s house and asked why she was so enamored with this brand.

“Well, take a look at the prices,” she proclaimed reaching in her freezer pulling out Trader Joe’s own delights from berries to flatbread, eggplant to stir fry. “And here’s the dried mango and boy, you gotta try this…Wasabi Wow, a hefty bag of trail mix filled with the sweet/sour flavors of dried cranberries, roasted peanuts and spicy wasabi peas.”

This neighborhood Joe prides itself on selling unique products of about 4,000 private label items then selling them cheaper than most anyone else. One of the First Mates (fancy name for store manager) told me that they even have sandwiches, wraps and salads. Alas, there’s nowhere to sit and eat.

Keeping all of these delectables in mind, I trolled around the aisles filled with Trader Joe’s organic, non-GMO and specialty sourced items.

I grabbed some peach salsa, veggie chips, bananas and slews of frozen entrees that I thought looked tempting. Oh, and the fish: frozen, but only species that are sustainable and not on the Monterrey Bay Seafood Watch, are available. Downright commendable.


Emphatically modern, Deliciously simple

Maybe it’s a sign of the times, but I soon noticed that the aisles were bogging down. That’s because everyone within eyeshot was parked askew, intently reading labels. So modern.

And if you get into a jam, the colorfully clad crew will be delighted to help.

Disdaining the typical loudspeaker system, Trader Joe’s opts for a simpler method. Occasionally you’ll hear a loud bell ring for a price check. I admire this low-tech approach.

There’s something very comforting about this place. It’s not overwhelming like some other specialty stores. Trader Joe’s wants to be your friend. I like that.

The rows of product aren’t too high or too deep. The results: they tend to run out of things to keep the stock moving so you’ve got to go for the grab. Above all else, the price is right.

Sooner, rather than later, the parking will ease. I’ll be able to run in and out without a hassle and this neighborhood grocer will be part of my routine.

Welcome to the hood, Joe.

Shop happy and remember…you and I are just cheeseburgers in paradise.


Trader Joe’s

One Nineteen Center

4201 W 119th St.,Leawood

(913) 327-7209


Categories: Food