There may be, as my rose-colored colleague puts it, a hint of “institutional fun” about Trader Joe's, the happy Hawaiian-themed grocer that opens its first Nashville store in Green Hills tomorrow. And the oversized album covers, Hatch Show Print-style graphics and tiki-tinged guitars that now adorn the former Wild Oats space do look a little like the stage set for a community-theater double-feature of Oklahoma and South Pacific. But after a recent tour with store “captain” John Uebbing, I'm sold on the fun, institutional or otherwise.
Let's just say Captain Uebbing had me at “open sampling policy.” As we passed a particularly caloric and intriguing aisle loaded with peanut butter cups, dark chocolate-coated edmame and all-natural fruit leathers, the Captain reached for a bag of dried hibiscus flowers and asked if I'd like to taste one. He quickly assured me that he was not just currying favor with the media, but that he would make the same offer to any customer who was curious about an item.
“What will you do with the rest of the hibiscus?” I asked, assuming no one would need more than one of the dessicated blooms, which look like a cross between a baby octopus and a dried cherry and taste a lot like the latter.
“I'll walk around and offer them to other customers,” he explained, adding that the company learned early on that it would more than make its money back on such giveaways. (Indeed, I am now awaiting the opening of the store so I can buy my own bag of $1.99 dried hibiscus and a boatload of 49-cent fruit leathers.)
The same marketing logic drives the sampling station in the back left-hand corner of the store, where there's a veritable buffet of freebies, from soup samples to carrot cake and artichoke dip with crackers. So you're almost guaranteed a free meal at TJ's.
While the majority of the items in the store are private labeled, making it hard to compare prices with other retailers, prices seemed reasonable across the board. A few examples:
Handmade chicken burritos, frozen: $2.49
18 oz. frozen haricots verts $2.49
16 oz. shampoo $2.29
2-quart apple juice $2.99
1 gallon milk $3.49
1 gallon organic milk $5.99
Dozen large eggs $1.79
½ gallon organic not-from-concentrate orange juice $3.99
½ gallon OJ from concentrate $1.99
1 lb. dried cappellini $0.99
The fun begins Friday, Nov. 7. Trader Joe's opens at 9 a.m., and customers who get in line before 8:30 a.m. will receive goodie bags and a chance to cut the ceremonial lei.
Located at 3909 Hillsboro Pike (phone: 297-6560), Trader Joe's will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. As always, if you get there, please report back on Bites.