The Untold Truth Of Pirate Joe's

If you've ever been to and fell in love with a Trader Joe's but don't actually have a location in your area, then we certainly understand your heartache. The chain grocer with a cult following has some items that you just cannot find anywhere else – or at least not the same quality for the dollar. Some people have even turned to Amazon for Trader Joe's products where they are sold for outrageously marked-up prices. A $1.99 bottle of Trader Joe's Everything But the Bagel seasoning can fetch over $22 on Amazon (via Refinery29). One man took buying the stores' products to an entirely new level in 2012 (via The Guardian). He opened his own store, Pirate Joe's, and filled it with Trader Joe's products (via CBS).

This wasn't just any store location though. It was located in Canada – Vancouver, British Columbia, actually. Apparently, Trader Joe's has not expanded to Canada despite the demand for the stores. So, Mike Hallatt, the pirate behind Pirate Joe's opened his store where he could easily cross the border into Washington state where he could visit a number of Trader Joe's locations in Seattle among other cities.

How Pirate Joe's acquired Trader Joe's stock

But building a knock-off Trader Joe's with marked-up items isn't as simple as shopping at a few different locations and bringing the loot back to Pirate Joe's. After shopping at Trader Joe's stores across the state and buying unusually large quantities of items like Thai green curry, store employees began to recognize not only Hallatt, but his car too. After a few runs, he realized he would have to be careful where he parked to keep the staff from seeing his van.

Even with his vehicle out of sight, Hallatt has been kicked out of some stores on more than one occasion. Sometimes he would get tossed out for buying too much of a product. Overtime, Hallatt shopped at Trader Joe's so much, he spent around $800,000 U.S. dollars. He did enjoy claiming that he was the chain's best customer, even though he was banned from shopping there.

That's when Hallatt entered his disguise phase. He would wear anything to obscure his appearance, and even donned a dress, straw hat, and painted his fingernails to carry on his business. He was determined to keep things up and running in Canada.

Trader Joe's opened a legal battle

In 2013, Trader Joe's finally sued Hallatt, but the chain lost. He had been buying his products, not stealing them. He paid duties when he carried them to Canada, and he did not make any of his own knock-off items. The court ruled in his favor because Trader Joe's doesn't do business in Canada, so they couldn't sue there either.

Hallatt continued to buy and run items back to Canada, fulfilling his store's motto of "Unaffiliated. Unauthorized. Unafraid" (via Vice). By this point, he had enlisted a few select shoppers to do his bidding too. They would collect and buy the items he needed, take them to the parking lot, and his white van would pull up for the hand-off. It reached the point that his entire van was filled with three levels of Trader Joe's paper bags stacked from floor to ceiling.

Trader Joe's filed an appeal that reached the ninth circuit court where the dueling stores met again. This time the judge did not rule in Hallatt's favor, and he changed the name of his store to "Irate Joe's" by dropping the "P."

After losing the battle, Hallatt explained that he fell in love with the quality products on a budget while living in San Francisco for three years. He wanted to bring it to Canada too. "There's obviously a market for Trader Joe's in Canada and someone like me will always come along to fill it," Hallatt said.

Pirate Joe's demise

After the ninth circuit court of appeals, the situation became clear. Trader Joe's was prepared to enter a long, drawn-out legal battle with Hallatt. "I call it the legal anvil falling from the sky. For me to challenge that required substantial means, which I do not have," Hallatt said.

For a time, he even played with the idea of using crowdfunding while he was facing the legal battle. Ultimately, Hallatt and Trader Joe's reached an agreement and he closed the doors of his store in 2017.

Though he felt relief, Hallatt also wished he could have kept his business model going. However, Hallatt also hated the uncertainty and pressure his business was under. "Many times I've thought I've got to just give this up, this is ridiculous. Then people would come up to me and thank me for doing it. That was the curse: we had so many people who love what we were up to and yet it was just so devilishly hard to do."

In the end, he felt his store had seen a "great run" and that he had proven that there is an ample market for Trader Joe's stores in Canada. Let's hope his hard work pays off one day. So far, there are still no Trader Joe's locations in the Great White North (via Chatelaine).