There are no Trader Joe's stores in Canada, but there are, apparently, an awful lot of Canadians who love the unique grocery store's Mac & Cheese Bites and lemonade and pasta sauce so much so that they will cross the border just to shop at the nearest store location in Washington. Or, if you're Vancouver resident Michael Hallatt, you cross the border every week or so, spend a few thousand dollars on as many Trader Joe's products as you can pack in your van, then go back across the border and resell the booty at your own store that you've named Pirate Joe's.
Maybe unsurprisingly, Trader Joe's isn't too happy about Pirate Joe's and wants it to essentially walk the plank: According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Trader Joe's recently filed a federal lawsuit against Hallatt, alleging, among other claims, trademark infringement; false advertising; deceptive business practices and unfair competition.
According to the article, Hallatt spends between $4,000 and $5,000 on his weekly shopping runs, though there are, as one can imagine, all sorts of occupational hazards. Melting chocolates, for one. And being recognized: Because most Trader Joe's stores in the Pacific Northwest ask him to leave when they see him, he once tried pulling a Ruth Reichl, stopping in the parking lot of a Rite-Aid to don a disguise (leopard muumuu, earrings, nail polish, flowered flip-flops). Maybe revealing more about those on this side of the border than about Hallatt, his plan was foiled "when somebody called the police, figuring he was going to rob the drugstore."
When Hallatt does successfully haul back the groceries, Pirate Joe's website explains that "Canadian compliant ingredient and nutrition facts labels" are added to the products; the Chronicle says the products are then sold at a small markup (between $2 and $3) to account for "the cost of gas, goods, duty, rent and salaries for employees and 'shopping helpers.'" In total, Hallatt stocks some 1,000 Trader Joe's products at his store (Trader Joe's complaint claims Hallatt resells, among other items, its Charmingly Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips, Gluten Free Rice Pasta, Tea Tree Tingle Conditioner and olive oil).
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
Since the lawsuit, Hallatt has changed the name of his store from Pirate Joe's to Irate Joe's ("This is a little bit David versus Goliath and a little bit Occupy Grocery," he told the Chronicle). He's also filed a motion to dismiss Trader Joe's complaint based on a lack of jurisdiction. You can read the motion, along with the original complaint, on (P)irate Joe's website.
And then you can thank your lucky stars that you're able to get yourself a box of Joe-Joe's or a jar of Speculoos without ever needing a passport. Or a muumuu.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. And follow the author on Twitter, too.