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Audacious with Chion Wolf: Transcript for Conversations with Trader Joe's and Costco Aficionados

Audacious with Chion Wolf
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Chion Wolf  00:04

From Aisle 3 of Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford, this is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. You know the feeling when you go to the grocery store, it's just something you got to do. Another chore, you go in, you get out, you put your cart away, and head on home. And you don't really think about doing it again until the onions are about to run out. I'm just gonna take myself off this intercom. But for the people you'll meet on this show today, shopping is anything but a chore. It's a passion. It's a thrill. It's an adventure that takes them all around the country and the world. They're among the biggest fans of Costco and Trader Joe's. Hear about how Natasha Fisher went from being an everyday TJ's enthusiast to having more than 2 million people following her reviews of their products on social media. Find out what percentage of her obituary she would like filled with references to TJ's get her reactions to my favorite TJ's products. Hint they involve onions and find out why she doesn't call it TJ's. The first two people who love Costco so much, they wrote a book about it. Now a quick disclaimer before I start getting emails. Costco is technically not a grocery store. It's a membership-only big box warehouse club retail store and it's one of the largest retailers in the world. People have met and gotten married at Costco, music videos have been filmed there. You can even book a cruise, get gas, or at some locations, you can even buy a car. With all this, it's no surprise that Susan and David Schwartz wrote a book about it, a book informed not only by their childlike curiosity and delight, but also trips to more than 250 Costco warehouses in 13 countries spanning 220,000 miles. So okay, clearly, there's a lot to love. But what is it about Costco that has them so totally devoted?

David Schwartz  02:12

Okay? The quality of the items is just spectacular. And they're very carefully curated, you know, they pick 3800 items, and to stock a warehouse, versus let's say, 40,000, for your typical supermarket, or 140,000, for Walmart. So it's a very tight curation, the buyers are extremely focused on quality. Number two, the price, the prices are fantastic. They're just, they're, you know, between 15 and 20, 30%, lower than you would find at most retailers. And the reason for that is not because they discount, they're not a discount store, what they do is they take the cost of an item and add 14% onto it, at most. And sometimes it's 10%, sometimes it's 7%. So you're paying much less for the items. But for me, the most important thing is you never know what you're going to find when you walk into a Costco. You know, it's a treasure, that's why we called it 'A treasure hunt from A to Z'. Because the Costco experience is one where you just if you walk down the aisles, you're bound to find something you didn't expect to find. And many times it's a wow item that makes you think, wow, how did they do that? Or, wow, would you have thought of that? Pickle flavored cashew nuts, for example, or everything, everything bagel flavored cashew nuts,

Chion Wolf  03:34

Okay, I can get with that.

David Schwartz  03:35

They have that kind of stuff all the time. The 3800 serves as a ceiling for the number of items. So if they want to put a new item in, they usually have to take something out. And so they're constantly rotating, constantly keeping things fresh. And we love that about it.

Susan Schwartz  03:53

I mean, for me, it's also the ethic of the company, like do the right thing when no one's looking. Who does that in this day and age?

Chion Wolf  03:59

That's their motto, yeah?

Susan Schwartz  04:01

It's a 19-word code of ethics. Obey the law, respect your members, respect your employees, respect your vendors. And if you do all that, the shareholders will be okay. They laid nobody off during COVID. Nobody. People our age or older, got full pay to stay home. And other people who went to work got time and a half. That it just is decent. We've actually been in management meetings where we've heard that somebody said, "No, don't take the price up $1. It's okay not to make as much money." That's just unheard of. It builds a trust. Also, when you walk in, it's a high ceiling, it's bright white, the employees are happy. After one year of employment, the turnover rate is less than 9%. That's a happy place to be. That's why I call it my happy place.

Chion Wolf  04:41

When you go into any Costco that you choose, whether it's a regular Costco near you, or one of the ones are visiting, what's the dynamic like - and I ask that because for me, when I walk into a Costco, it's like, oh, cool, Costco. Gotta get my stuff. You know, my heart's not racing. I'm not sweating. I'm not feeling the same feelings you are. So when you walk in and you're like, "oh, behold," and everybody else is like, "yeah, yeah, where's the, I know where the eggs are, I'm gonna get some eggs" like, what? Could you talk about that dynamic?

Susan Schwartz  05:15

I'm sorry to say that you're a unique species.

David Schwartz  05:19

There, there have been times in this journey, where either Susan or I are a little down and a little depressed because one thing hasn't gone right or another thing. We go to Costco, we feel much better. And when we say it's our happy place, we mean that literally,

Chion Wolf  05:38

I'm going to ask a difficult question. Of all the Costcos you've been to, you know what's coming...

David Schwartz  05:46

Let her ask the questions. Let her ask the question.

Chion Wolf  05:50

Which one was the best?

Susan Schwartz  05:52

You know, do you have a favorite child? Everyone does, but no one says it out loud. It's really rude. So yes, we do have a favorite.

David Schwartz  05:57

But I'll tell you, there's some special ones that people should be aware of. One of the ones overseas, there's one that's very special. It's perched on a gorge just outside of Mexico City, in a town called Santa Fe, Mexico. It's spectacular. One of the things that makes it most spectacular is that the rooftop is covered with a contemplative garden, a paddle ball court, a skateboarding park and a soccer field. And it is open to the community. It's one of the given takes that Costco was happy to do to get that spectacular site overlooking a gorge which is actually part of a national park system in Mexico. Another one, Iceland, is a beautiful one. It has a grass-cut rooftop, which which was suggested by the mayor of the town to make it consistent with traditional Icelandic architecture which has grass on top of the typical home. But the other thing is that it it serves as the front lawn to a condo complex that's built above the warehouse. So at least people are looking out not on a Costco roof but they're looking out on a grass lawn.

Susan Schwartz  07:12

The closer to home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. There's horse and buggy parking for the Amish people. That's a scream. And then in Japan, we were lucky enough to get it behind the scenes tour of sushi being freshly made, which is on the shelves for only two hours. I mean, this is pretty good. So around the world. There's different items, different styles. The smallest warehouse is in Juneau, Alaska. And it's really tiny. It's cute, it's indoor. Who shrunk my Costco? And the biggest now is in Salt Lake City. But it's going to be dethroned in the next year or so by something out in California. But right now, it's pretty big in Salt Lake City. It's like many, many football fields.

David Schwartz  07:46

It's so big that when you walk in, they will hand you a map of the place so that you can get around.

Chion Wolf  07:53

Is there like a holy grail Costco, a Costco to rule them all?

David Schwartz  07:59

Oh, okay. So I would guess Seattle 01, the first Costco built was on Fourth Street South or South Fourth Street in Seattle. And that was the first one and the building itself has been knocked down and replaced since it opened. But that is really the holy grail if you want to, for people like us. That one. The other one is in San Diego on Morena Boulevard, which is the first Price Club and Price Club was the predecessor of Costco. The two of them competed for a while and then they merged but I mean the idea for, you know, a low margin members-only warehouse club was first rolled out on Morena Boulevard in in San Diego.

Susan Schwartz  08:47

We were just there a few days ago. Two other ones for quick mention: One is in Marché-Central in Montreal, that's where the first Costco famous rotisserie chicken was sold. People don't know that, that's in the book. And then another one that's really worth a mention. We're getting in the weeds here, I'm sorry, is 02 in Portland. It's the second warehouse ever opened, the one by the airport in Portland. And that's where the first hotdog and soda combination was sold.

Chion Wolf  08:48

Hey, I want to jump in and let you know that one thing I do know about Costco hotdogs is that they have diced onions and I am a massive onion fan. And I understand there was a time in which they weren't offering them and now they are again, much to the delight of the onion lovers Subreddit, which is how I learned about it.

Susan Schwartz  09:30

I share your passion I get my Peruvian sweet onions at Costco only. They're fantastic and they're in almost everything I cook. And in Korea, the locals make something called kimchi out of the chopped onions, the ketchup and the mustard and they put it on their hotdogs but that's not the only variation of their hot dogs. In Mexico they have jalapeno peppers you can put on and in Iceland they sell - they don't sell but they offer - the crispy onions that go in the green bean casserole you can put those in your hot dogs. And speaking of hot dogs, Costco sells seven times more than all major league baseball stadiums combined. Oh my god.

David Schwartz  10:05

They sell a heck of a lot of hotdogs.

Susan Schwartz  10:08

And the price has never changed. It's always been and always will be $1.50 for a hotdog and a soda and a drink combo, and people mistakenly think that's a loss leader. It's not, Costco simply found a way to continue to cut costs and increase quality and keep the price where they think it should be. Same thing with rotisserie chicken, they now produce those in-house so they can control the quality and the cost.

Chion Wolf  10:30

Because Costco sells a bit of everything, you find a lot of everything. What have you found at a Costco that really surprised you?

Susan Schwartz  10:40

Well, surprise, but my hearing is, you know, people don't like to brag, they have hearing aids, but I've got hearing aids, they're from Costco, had them since 2019. And they were $1,500. They would have been $10,000 elsewhere, okay. And you do not need to be a member to get a free hearing test, you simply need an appointment. And this is really important because not only can I eavesdrop in another state, and it makes birdwatching easier, because we're avid birdwatchers, but it slows down the rate of cognitive decline. David might say it hasn't had that impact on me but it does.

David Schwartz  11:10

It has.

Susan Schwartz  11:10

It improves your social interaction. And you know, you do need to remember to buy hearing aids but that's an amazing value. And it's an example of how there's a category where people could be taken advantage of. They will not sell you hearing aids if you don't need them.

David Schwartz  11:25

We saw motorcycles for sale in Mexico, motorcycles for sale. We saw coffins and caskets. You have to buy them online so you don't walk into a warehouse and see coffins and caskets, unless you happen to be in Australia where they have a wall that has mock mock-ups of caskets, not full size, partial, so you can see what styles they are. That's a surprise. A third surprise, I happen to like watches, and you know, they usually have very nice watches in the jewelry section in the United States. But in Korea, they have, you know, they have IWC watches which are at the very high end of the watches you can buy. They have, these are, you know, 15,000, $20,000 watches. Also, you know occasionally you'll see in the jewelry department, something that is spectacularly beautiful and expensive. We've seen half a million dollar diamond rings in some of these warehouses.

Susan Schwartz  12:25

We do wanna mention on that point that when you see that, that's a replica, that's not the real ones. So don't go in there and smash the case. That's a replica.

David Schwartz  12:31

Smash and grab won't help you. Japan has the largest Western-style bakeries in the entire Costco system. They also are the biggest consumer of hotdogs. The Shinmisato warehouse sells more hotdogs than any other warehouse, at least usually it does.

Susan Schwartz  12:49

And if you're not a Costco fan like us, you still might enjoy the book because it talks about for example, how cashews are harvested. Costco sells half the world's cashews, and I had no idea how cashews got to the store. Same thing with pineapples. Did you know that a pineapple plant bears only one fruit? That's it. So how are they selling that for 2.99? I don't know.

Chion Wolf  13:07

There's something else I'm wondering about. You live in a 450 square foot apartment in New York. Where do you put the stuff you buy from Costco?

Susan Schwartz  13:19

We have a storage unit in the building elsewhere. Most people do. It's not that big. But I'll be honest right now, it does look a little bit like a Costco hoarders episode because when we travel far away, if we see something really cool, we'll ship it home and I'm so yeah, it's yeah, but it's cozy. I've lived here for almost 40 years. David's lived here for 20. If you think of it like a sailboat, it's not that small.

Chion Wolf  13:43

That was Susan Schwartz. She and her husband David are the authors of 'The Joy of Costco: A Treasure Hunt from A to Z'. When we get back, if they had to get tattoos, what tattoos would they get?

David Schwartz  13:57

Well, I think it'd be obvious, the Costco logo.

Susan Schwartz  14:00

I'm a little bit more of a brand loyalist. Mine would say Kirkland Signature.

Chion Wolf  14:03

Plus, a Trader Joe's superfan throws down against their competitors.

Natasha Fischer  14:08

Whenever I go into a Whole Foods now, I feel like I'm in some automated soul-less warehouse. You want to get in and you want to get out, whereas Trader Joe's you go in and there's a soul and an energy and a warmth.

Chion Wolf  14:21

I'm Chion Wolf. This is Audacious. Stay with me. This is Audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. Today we're hearing about Trader Joe's and Costco super fans. And I don't mean like that's where they happen to shop sometimes and they really like it. I mean, like millions of people following your social media videos of visits to and reviews of Trader Joe's, like Natasha Fisher does. Or writing a whole book about Costco like Susan and David Schwartz did. They're the authors of 'The Joy of Costco: A Treasure Hunt from A to Z'. And they've made it a mission to visit as many Costco locations in the world as they can. Currently they are at more than 250. Let's get back to our conversation. Do you have any tattoos?

David Schwartz  15:22


Chion Wolf  15:24

If you had to get a tattoo, like to save all the cost codes from exploding or something, so like you were gonna save the Costco world by getting a tattoo just off the top of your head, what do you think that tattoo would be?

David Schwartz  15:38

Well, I think it'd be obvious the Costco logo. On one of my shoulder blades.

Susan Schwartz  15:42

I'm a little bit more of a brand loyalist. I would say Kirkland Signature. Kirkland Signature sells 1000 items, 1000. And most of them are kosher. If there's a choice they'll be kosher and if not, they're kosher.

Chion Wolf  15:53

I think about how the things we love about other people, is often the thing that we love about our own selves. Like if you value that someone's really compassionate, and you say, "I love how compassionate you are." You're also recognizing the compassion within yourself. So in that spirit, what does what you love about Costco say about what you love in yourself?

David Schwartz  16:23

That's, uh, you know, no one has ever asked us that question. I think the first thing I think of is something that Charlie Munger said to us. Charlie Munger, who is Warren Buffett's partner at Berkshire Hathaway, one of the founders of Berkshire Hathaway, and also on the Costco Board, and he's a huge Costco fan. He has said that Costco has improved the lives of more people than any non-for-profit, charitable organization. I don't know whether that's actually true. But I know what he's talking about, which is that for a family of four or five with young kids who are, you know, maybe the parents each have a job and they're struggling to make ends meet, Costco is a fantastic way for them to be able to shop and provide good quality items for the family at an affordable price and they can save money. They save money on gasoline, they save money on lots of things, insurance. So it's done a lot of good for people. And I think I love that aspect of it. And maybe it's because I'd like to think that there's a part of me that wants to help people and, you know, make their lives better in some way or another. So I think that's something that strikes me is the answer to your question. What about you?

Susan Schwartz  17:39

I think, remember, we're, we're both Jewish and in Judaism, charity is supposed to be anonymous. So and Costco is very, very quiet about the kind of good works they do. In the book, we really had a hard time writing about it carefully because they're so modest. So for example, the Maui fires, Costco is in there donating generators, water, wherever there's a disaster, Costco is there helping out.

David Schwartz  18:00

Well, they have an annual campaign for the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, that you know, they always raise a lot of money from, from their employees and from their members for CMNH.

Susan Schwartz  18:10

I think for me, it would be, I like to say they do the right thing when no one's looking. And my mom was a school teacher, I was brought up to like, you know, obey the law, my dad was little bit more larcenous, so sometimes find a way around it. But, you know, walking through the warehouse with Jim Sinegal, co founder, if Jim sees a napkin on the floor, he picks it up. When you walk through a Costco, there's nothing on the floor that shouldn't be there. And everybody does that. It starts at the top. And it's just like, no one's looking, they may or may not know, just do the right thing. And I like to think I do the right thing. Well, sometimes. I think about how you two are doing this as a couple and a lot of couples, of course, they have shared values. But oftentimes, their hobbies are different. How important is a shared love of Costco to your relationship?

David Schwartz  18:58

I think it's very important. I mean, look, we have different hobbies and different passions. And I happen to love science and mathematics. I love collecting books, I love collecting whiskey. These are things that I love that Susan doesn't have any particular interest in it. And she has hobbies that I have no particular interest in. But the fact that there are things that we are both passionate about together, strengthens the relationship and enables us to have shared experiences that strengthen our bond. A

Susan Schwartz  19:29

A lot of couples are happy to go off and have their job and be apart. We're not like that. It took me a long time to find David. And we're not looking for ways to spend less time together. We're very fortunate. We know we're not standard.

Chion Wolf  19:40

Well, I am so appreciative of your time. Is there anything that I missed anything you want to leave our listeners with today?

Susan Schwartz  19:48

Pursue your dreams. Life is just here for the living. It's really worth it to pursue doing what you love.

David Schwartz  19:54

We have loved the journey. This is hard work, but it gives our lives purpose. I think that's really the important thing, it's a project that gives our lives purpose.

Chion Wolf  20:05

Well, Susan and David Schwartz. L'chaim on your success. And thank you so much for talking with me.

David Schwartz  20:11

Oh thank you. This has been wonderful. It's just been wonderful.

Chion Wolf  20:32

You can follow Susan and David at The Joy of Costco. And we'll have a link to their book 'The Joy of Costco: A Treasure Hunt from A to Z' at ct public.org/audacious. Have you ever met someone who just freakin loves Trader Joe's? You go to their house for dinner and there's the Trader Joe's logo on nearly every label in their fridge and cupboards. And when you bring it up, they gush over each and every one of them. Now imagine if that person ran a Trader Joe's focus social media account, followed by more than 2 million people. Natasha Fisher of Santa Monica, California is that person and she didn't even know about Trader Joe's until she was in college when a friend showed her the light. She was hooked after just one visit. And in 2008 before Trader Joe's even had an Instagram page, she began hers, Trader Joe's List, and people love it. She has new product reviews, product comparisons, a walkthrough of all the goodies she brings home, recipes, of course, and she loves herself some teeny tiny products, a style Trader Joe's is known.

Natasha Fischer  21:42

Look, what I got from Trader Joe's. This is the brand new, like tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, tiny, the tiniest, tiniest chocolate chip cookie you've ever seen in your life. Look at that. How cute is that? I think that's literally the size on the bag.

Chion Wolf  21:58

Natasha's online presence is so established and massive that her followers tag her when they find cool new products so she can interpret buying trends as they ebb and flow. And the people who run Trader Joe's. Yeah, they know about Natasha Fisher. Oh, they know about Natasha Fisher. Anyway, I asked her what's so special about Trader Joe's? How does it feel different from any other grocery store?

Natasha Fischer  22:27

Well, I think the best comparison can be made whenever I go into a Whole Foods now I feel like I'm in some automated soulless warehouse. It's cold, it just doesn't feel comfortable to me. Um, you want to get in you want to get out whereas Trader Joe's, you go in and there's a soul and an energy and a warmth that is inviting. And you see a lot of the memes where people make of the crew members at Trader Joe's and they check you out. They're like, what are you doing, like, you feel like they're gonna come hang out with you, ha, sure. You don't feel that anywhere else. And I would say that's probably the biggest differentiating factor.

Chion Wolf  23:02

So it's one thing to really love Trader Joe's, like so many people do. It's a whole nother thing to start a fanpage on Instagram. Can you talk about how that happened briefly?

Natasha Fischer  23:12

Um, it was on accident. I was shopping at Trader Joe's. So I graduated college, lived with four girls in like an apartment. And they were all eating my Trader Joe's snacks because they didn't shop there. And we're living on like, like right out of college salary. Like I didn't have enough money to feed four people. So I was working to become a CPA as an accountant. And I felt I was just like dying inside, there was no creativity. And I just felt like I was missing that spark. And so I needed something to make me happy. So I started shopping at Trader Joe's but I was already shopping there. But I started blogging about it. And I thought well, who are the first people I'm going to send my blog to? And I was like it's going to be my roommates. I'll tell them what to buy so they'll stop eating my food, they'll go shop and buy their own food. So they started doing that. And it was just something I did to keep like that creative element alive. And I naturally at the time - can you believe it, there was only Facebook and Twitter. And also I was like, I'm going to make a Facebook page, I'm going to have a Twitter page. And I didn't do it every day. It was just something that when it occurred to me like 'oooh, I really liked the planta, oooh, I really liked the cookie butter'. I'm going to blog about it, I put it up. And then 2007, 2008, there's the financial crisis and I became unemployed so I didn't touch it for a while I was just out unemployed, having the time of my life. And I got another job, I logged back in when I was back at a desk job and I saw 'Oh my God, why do I have 12,000 followers?' And this was on Twitter and I realized people were using my social handles because at the time Trader Joe's had nothing social. So people grabbed on to mine and I just saw this account growing and people using my account and I thought well, wow, I could really share more products now that there's more people following me so it was just, it just kind of happened.

Chion Wolf  24:57

Did you ever hear from Trader Joe's about it?

Natasha Fischer  25:00

Yes once I got big enough, their lawyers sent me a wonderful piece of mail that said I had to put not affiliated with Trader Joe's on everything.

Chion Wolf  25:10

How did you feel about that?

Natasha Fischer  25:12

I mean, I understood, I was fine with it. I thought maybe like a high five would have been nice to like thanks for all the free marketing. And but I've worked in corporate businesses, so I totally understood.

Chion Wolf  25:22

How many Trader Joe's do you think you've visited in your life?

Natasha Fischer  25:27

I used to travel a lot for my job, I probably say like 45 or 50.

Chion Wolf  25:32

Now I know that they're all special, and wonderful. But where was the Trader Joe's you visited that was outstanding in some way, shape, or form?

Natasha Fischer  25:44

There was the one, it was in an old bank building. And so the ceilings were huge and vaulted. And I made a video about it on my Instagram. And it was unbelievable. They like restored the bank ceilings. So when you look up, it was like the architecture is beautiful, these huge, beautiful lights. And then on the floor, it was kind of cramped. And so you have these tiny carts that are double-deckers. And everyone's like traffic jamming around each other. They have 32 checkout lines, and a double queue because it gets so busy. So that one certainly stood out. And then another one in New York is under the Queensboro Bridge. So it's literally built under a bridge, you go in and again, the architecture is insane. You walk in, you feel like you're going to a museum. But it's a Trader Joe's store.

Chion Wolf  26:32

So in Santa Monica, California, your home base, what are some products in your local TJs? Do you call it TJs by the way, or is that like calling San Francisco San Fran? Which apparently nobody likes?

Natasha Fischer  26:44

Yeah, you know, it's funny that you say that. I feel like I use all the syllables.

Chion Wolf  26:49

Right, like they earned it, Trader Joe's.

Natasha Fischer  26:51


Chion Wolf  26:52

Let's say I'm visiting you in Santa Monica. And I've been to Trader Joe's here in Connecticut a couple times and it's cool and everything but I want you to show me like your Trader Joe's and guide me through and narrate what it is about the store you love so much. So in your imagination you and I walk through, you get that whiff of Trader Joe's air. Where are you taking me in the store and what are you showing me?

Natasha Fischer  27:16

Okay, so we're gonna walk backwards out of the door and we're gonna go look right, so we're outside again. We're gonna look at all the plants.

Chion Wolf  27:23

Yes, their plant selections. Awesome.

Natasha Fischer  27:26

Yeah, you're gonna go to Trader Joe's, I'm gonna stop you at the plants because you're going in there to buy like food and you're gonna leave with like a mini olive tree. So we're looking at the plants, that's always fun, then we're gonna go back through the door. I always took a right and all the flowers. So the plants and then the flowers. They have an amazing selection of flowers. Like I get them every single week I've, I feel like I have an education on flowers at this point. I'm over and then I start to the right and there's the produce, I usually explore that. I always pick up the dried mango, just mango slices. Those are really, really good. I check out the dips, because there's always like a new dip like a hummus. The fun sections are usually the new item and cap. So once I pass that I go over, and I look at the end cap that has new items. And mind, you you're with me, so I have my phone out the whole time and I'm taking photos and videos and people are coming up to me. But I always look at the new items. Look at that. And then I go and check out the ice cream. See what's new over there. The cheese. There's always new cheeses and then I, you know, that the outer perimeter is pretty good because you get the cheeses and then you're over in the snacks like the crunchy snack. So there's always chips, like the chip section at Trader Joe's is deadly. So we would pick up some chips. There's the new ones, the horseradish and chive chips with the ridges. Oh my god, you'll get a bag of those and you're going to eat them all at once. And I look at what new spices they have, what new pastas, pasta sauces. Check out the frozen items. See if there's like any new item I like the Brazilian cheese bread is really, really good. Grab some of those. I don't know if we're filling up your cart. Do we get a handbasket? I don't know. I always tell people don't get the hand baskets because it's gonna get really heavy and dent your arm.

Chion Wolf  29:13

Don't limit yourself too, like whenever you go grocery shopping when I go to Savers, the thrift store, just get a full cart!

Natasha Fischer  29:20

Yes, don't lie to yourself.

Chion Wolf  29:23

Here's something that I want to make clear for people who don't understand why Trader Joe's is special. Everything that you just said you could be a Stop and Shop or Big Y or any other supermarket chain. But what is it about Trader Joe's? That makes it so special? Is there a way to even answer that question?

Natasha Fischer  29:46

They're constantly bringing in new items and if an item doesn't sell well, it leaves the shelves so they take a lot of pride in every single product they have. They don't create decision fatigue because they have such a narrow product scope. So you're gonna go in, you're gonna get pastries, you can choose from three or four, you want to go get an ice cream, three or four, but it's a hard decision because you want all of them, they're all really, really good. So you're not dealing with like 15, 20 options, they've narrowed it down. And the chance that you're gonna get something you don't like is very, very slim. And then they always, every single week, new items, new special items like bright orange truffle season, and it's holiday season. So it's like, it's exciting and you go in there and you think you're gonna buy just like your essentials, but then you spend two or $300 because you're buying all the new items and the snacks.

Chion Wolf  30:34

Okay, so I've brought over a few things that I love, a few condiments that I really love, and I just want your reaction to them.

Natasha Fischer  30:41


Chion Wolf  30:42

First of all, Trader Joe's ground fermented black garlic.

Natasha Fischer  30:48

Yes, but keep it in the fridge because it'll like stick together.

Chion Wolf  30:51

Yes, thank you. That happened to me once. So thank you. Trader Joe's everything but the bagel sesame seasoning

Natasha Fischer  30:58

Staple. It's like an OG that went viral when it first came out. People dress up as it for Halloween.

Chion Wolf  31:05

And then this one is my most personal favorite. I love onions and I used to have a weekly Facebook Live Show called 'It's chopped salad time with Chion Wolf' and I would make all the salads that I would eat at work for the week. And at the very end, I would make my salad dressing which is olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and many hefty shakes of Trader Joe's onion salt.

Natasha Fischer  31:27

Oh, I like that. I have the onion salt in my drawer. It is really really good. But I did not know that you can use it to make a nice like Italian chopped salad.

Chion Wolf  31:36

Coming from you, that means a lot.

Natasha Fischer  31:37

Yeah, yeah.

Chion Wolf  31:38

Also, I didn't bring the bag. But I also like Trader Joe's chicken and pork dumplings.

Natasha Fischer  31:46

I haven't had that because they're gluten.

Chion Wolf  31:49

I'll have some in your honor.

Natasha Fischer  31:50

Yeah, there's more for you to buy.

Chion Wolf  31:52

That's exactly. Do you know, it's funny. I'm so glad you responded that way. Every now and then when I talk to somebody who has who like like, I don't like fish. I wish I did. I just don't. And sometimes they'll say 'You don't like fish? Well, have you tried this? Have you tried that?' And it's like, no, I just, you can't talk me into liking fish and also the most appropriate response is 'good, more for me'. Good, if you don't like onions, I'm not gonna go 'well did you try a Vedalia?' Yeah, I'm gonna be like, 'Thank God, there's more in the world for me.' So thank you.

Natasha Fischer  32:21

You're welcome.

Chion Wolf  32:24

You're hearing my conversation with Natasha Fisher. She treats her 2 million social media followers to reviews and recipes of her favorite Trader Joe's products under the handle Trader Joe's List. After the break, what does Natasha have in common personally with Trader Joe's?

Natasha Fischer  32:41

They're always reinventing their products and trying new things. And I feel like I I see that in myself.

Chion Wolf  32:47

I'm Chion Wolf, this is Audacious. Be right back. This is audacious. I'm Chion Wolf. Do you love Trader Joe's? Like really love Trader Joe's? I'm willing to guess that few if any of you love that grocery store chain as much as the woman known as Trader Joe's fairy godmother, Natasha Fisher. Her 2 million social media followers get regular updates about the latest product releases, recipes, reviews and trends she sees at locations all around the country, more than 50 of which she's visited. Let's get back to our conversation. You were saying about how Trader Joe's had you add to your profile that you're not affiliated with them? Fine, you get it? Why aren't you Head of their marketing or social? Why, why, why aren't you an extremely highly paid employee of theirs right now?

Natasha Fischer  34:14

I could only guess it's because they don't have to pay me.

Chion Wolf  34:20

They're doing okay.

Natasha Fischer  34:21

It's free. Why pay me if I'm doing something for free?

Chion Wolf  34:25

Would you want to work for them?

Natasha Fischer  34:28

I am now self employed. So making content is what I do for a living. And I love being free to choose and make my own decisions on a daily basis. So maybe if it was like I loved everyone I could work with and it was a cool opportunity. But like I love what I do now. So I think maybe at some point in my life, I think I would have been more open to it. But now it's like, I can talk about Trader Joe's but I also talk about other products not at Trader Joe's.

Chion Wolf  34:54

So you would take the meeting?

Natasha Fischer  34:55

I would 100% take the meeting. I would go through the whole interview process just to meet everyone.

Chion Wolf  35:02

When you walk into a Trader Joe's is the magic still there for you? Because it's been a long time. But like when you walk in how, how does that feel?

Natasha Fischer  35:14

Yeah, I certainly the it's like anything that you spend a lot of time and the experience changes, but it just gets richer in a lot of ways. And the newness goes away. But the like, I go into Trader Joe's, I shop all the time. I know the employees, they come say hi, they walk me around, like, there's like a familiarity and like a family feeling to it at this point, which in the beginning, or if I go to a new store, I don't know anyone, you know, I have a different experience. But for the same stores that I go to all the time, it's just like a richer, more welcoming experience. It's like, I get high fives I say hi to people. I chat with people. So yeah, it's it's still there. It's just different.

Chion Wolf  35:53

Considering all the products that you've reviewed and kept an eye on and enjoyed yourself, has Trader Joe's ever come out with something that really kind of surprised you? Like maybe seemed out of character?

Natasha Fischer  36:06

Ooooh, one thing they did. Well, I know they watch what I do. And I started a spatula brand, like a wooden spatula that has like a smiley face on it. And for every spatula I sell, I give one to a charity that I'm working with. And they never touched in the utensil department. So I was selling a lot of spatulas. And then they came out with their own wooden spatula. And that to me was one where I was like, huh, a bit particular, more because I felt like someone was like, 'Hey, why aren't we selling spatulas?' So then they came out with their own spatula. It's not nearly as cute as mine. That was the only instance where I was like, Oh, okay.

Chion Wolf  36:54

Did you ever see the movie UHF with Weird Al Yankovic in the 80s? But it was a ridiculous movie, of course. But there's this one commercial for a place called Spatula City. Yes, yes.

Natasha Fischer  37:05

Yes, yes, I know. I know the reference. Yes, Spatula City.

Clip  37:09

There's just one place to go for all your special needs! Spatula City, Spatula City, a giant warehouse of spatulas for every occasion, 1000s to choose from in every shape, size.

Chion Wolf  37:20

Listening to you tell that story, I feel like you have almost this flirtatious relationship with Trader Joe's like you are not of them. But you love them. And they know you're there, obviously. But I mean, is that what it feels like?

Natasha Fischer  37:34

Well, yeah, and like I I know that they discuss my posts in their weekly meetings. I know through a source. I know that my accounts are watched. I've also heard that, you know, I've never given a bad review about any of their products. I really respect how hard they choose and their process to bring in new items. Where there are other influencers now, that will trash a product they make. And my my job is never to say that my taste buds are superior. If I don't like it, you're not going to like it. I'll always share my feeling of it, but in a really tasteful way so that it's not putting down something that they've worked hard to bring in. The only thing I've ever said anything bad about was their bananas, I just don't like bananas. And then they started, they came out with like Banana Palooza Day or whatever. So that like to add on to the flirtatious relationship. They know I don't like bananas. And they've now done that they run this whole banana campaign. And people always send it to me they're like, are they? Is this? I feel like it's a weird thing that we do. And they've come out with like random banana flavored products that I'm like that shouldn't exist, that shouldn't exist. And I feel like it's almost like a fun thing.

Chion Wolf  38:49

Yeah, your most controversial review was about a banana pudding ice cream that you tested while wearing a hazmat suit. For those who haven't seen that maybe talk us through what happened.

Natasha Fischer  39:01

Yeah, so I keep bananas away from me because they take over everything. Everything will smell like a banana. And if you put a banana and a smoothie, it's a banana smoothie. It's just like a very rude fruit because it's just loud and obnoxious to your taste buds. So, and I've always had this stance, and so then Trader Joe's came out with a banana bread pudding, whatever, I was like I'm going to try this in spite of the fact that I don't like bananas because this is what I do. I try the new items and so my friend at the time was like why don't you play into this. I was like you're probably right. So like we got this like hazmat suit and like the goggles and like I used oven mitts to like pick it up like wanted nothing to do with it and I tried it. "Oh, I have to touch this. My assistant is going to come assist in opening it. Oh, I am very nervous about this. Oh god, I'm going to spontaneously combust. Oh." If you like bananas, it's actually really good. It's not too banana-y, but it's still banana.

Chion Wolf  39:04

I think sometimes how the things we love about other people is often the thing that we love about ourselves. So like, if you're, if I say, you know, what I really love about you is how generous you are. Well, that's true. You know, you're generous. I'm also like, I believe that I'm also saying, I valued my own generosity, because I see it in you. So in that spirit, what does what you love about Trader Joe's say about what you love in yourself?

Natasha Fischer  40:53

Yeah, I love that question. Wow. Um, I was born in Bakersfield, California, which is a really like small town in Central California. It's one of those cities you can grow up in. And you'll know everyone and everyone has kids and like right out of high school. And for me, that didn't, I didn't want to be in a small pond. I wanted to be a little fish in a big pond. And the reason being is I like not knowing what's around the corner. Like, I like that. Tomorrow's a new day, anything can happen. And I think when I go to Trader Joe's, I don't know what that next new item is like. It's always new. It's always different. And so I think that ability for Trader Joe's to always have like something new when they're testing new things and trying new things. And nothing's old. And it's always just like, rolling in and turning over. Like, I think that's the same elements in me that I like, like, I came from a small town. I like being here. I like traveling, I like seeing new things. I like not knowing what's around the corner, and pushing my limits. And I feel like Trader Joe's does that too. Like they're always reinventing their products and trying new things. And I feel like I I see that in myself.

Chion Wolf  42:07

Are you single?

Natasha Fischer  42:10

That is a hard question. That is a difficult question right now. It's very complicated.

Chion Wolf  42:16

Got it! Well, I asked because the other place we're covering, I'm careful not to call it a grocery store, is Costco. And I just interviewed a married couple who although they do have separate hobbies, their love, their shared love for Costco seems like an enormously important interest that they share. So with your love for Trader Joe's, how important do you think it is that the person or people that you're dating or with romantically, if that's something they're into, how important is a mutual love of Trader Joe's in that relationship? Or those relationships?

Natasha Fischer  43:02

Yeah, I think as long as they don't even need to like it a 10th as much as me, like my complicated situation. I was out of town and came back and they had gone shopping at Vons and I'm like, What the hell? Like I opened the fridge. I'm like, This is not okay. But they don't need to be as excited as I am. I think the bottom line is like you just support each other in whatever endeavors you're doing. So it's important, but it's not, it's not a make it or break it.

Chion Wolf  43:33

It would be nice though, if they had like a Trader Joe's tattoo.

Natasha Fischer  43:39

Right, right. That might be a little weird. A little much.

Chion Wolf  43:45

Do you have any tattoos?

Natasha Fischer  43:47


Chion Wolf  43:47

Zero tattoos. If you had to get a tattoo to like save the world, what are the odds you would get a Trader Joe's tattoo?

Natasha Fischer  43:57

Um, like, .0000000001. Like, unless they paid me for it.

Chion Wolf  44:08

How much?

Natasha Fischer  44:09

How much? That's good question. I'm like, in perpetuity, like five to 10,000 a month in perpetuity just for wearing because here's the thing when I go out, I am a walking Trader Joe's tattoo. Everyone that comes up to me 99% of the time "You're the Trader Joe's girl." So people don't even know my name. So like I am the Trader Joe's girl, so it's like I am the walking tattoo.

Chion Wolf  44:38

When you die how much of your obituary would you like Trader Joe's to be mentioned, like 10% of it? A brief mention, .5, or I don't know, how much of a presence do you want Trader Joe's to be in the legacy of you, Natasha Fisher?

Natasha Fischer  44:57

Yeah, I would want it to be well- balanced. I'd be okay with like 40%. 60% is the rest of me, the things I've done, how I get back, my dog's, family, and then 40% I could give to Trader Joe's.

Chion Wolf  45:13

If I were visiting you, and you're making me dinner, you don't have to worry about allergies for yourself or me, or tastes. You can even make fish I guess. What three Trader Joe's items would be mandatory in the menu?

Natasha Fischer  45:34

I think you would really like the carnitas that they make. Those are really good. So you get the Brazilian cheese bread, heat it up and then you get the carnitas that are pre-cooked for you,heat them up the microwave and you use your mixer to shred it. You got in salsa verde, put those inside the pad Acacia things. Those are really good. So we'd have those. We'd have some chips, probably if it's the season, I'd get the horseradish and chive chips. And then I probably get out like they've got some really good cheeses, like what maybe a really, really good cheese. I mean, that's like a weird meal because it's like chips.

Chion Wolf  46:11

No, it sounds great. It's right up my alley. I could

Natasha Fischer  46:14

I could also make, you like salad. So I'd probably put you on salad duty. And then that would be the meal.

Chion Wolf  46:19

I would make my salad dressing with Trader Joe's onion salt.

Natasha Fischer  46:23

Yeah, exactly.

Chion Wolf  46:26

Well, I've asked everything I planned on and I also know we could talk for about four more hours. But did I miss anything? Did I not ask a question that you really thought I was going to? And you're kind of bummed I didn't ask or is there a question that nobody asks you? And you can't believe nobody thinks to ask you, a friggin open floor.

Natasha Fischer  46:42

The only thing I would say is there is a location that always has every item in it.

Chion Wolf  46:46

What, what?!

Natasha Fischer  46:49

And it's because it's like not well known, but you can go there and find every single item and it's always stocked and it's underground in Santa Monica. So it's the Broadway location. It's like a secret. Anytime I know like a new item's out that's gonna sell out, I'll go there and I can find it.

Chion Wolf  47:06

Why? Why does it exist? How does it exist? What? It's underground. It's literally underground in Santa Monica. There's not a lot of underground restaurants or retail in Santa Monica. And there's other Trader Joe's in Santa Monica. But there's just one that's underground. No windows, fully stocked, always fully stocked. So I guess I'm going to Santa Monica, California now. Thanks.

Natasha Fischer  47:32

Yeah, yeah, let me know. Be there.

Chion Wolf  47:36

Natasha Fisher, thank you so much for talking with me.

Natasha Fischer  47:40

Thank you for having me on.

Chion Wolf  47:41

You can follow Natasha at Trader Joe's List. And her freakin' cute spatulas are at Pat the spatula. Audacious is always so lovingly produced by Jessica Severin de Martinez, Khaleel Rahman, Meg Fitzgerald, Meg Dalton and Catie Talarski at Connecticut Public Radio in Hartford. Subscribe to Audacious and scroll all the way back to the episode we did with the Cart Narc. Leave your grocery cart in the middle of the parking lot at Costco or Trader Joe's? The Cart Narc's gonna call you out. Find out why he does it and how often he's feared for his life because people do not like being called out for that. Anyway, that episode and so many more fascinating conversations are at ctpublic.org/audacious and wherever you get your podcasts. Stay in touch with me on Facebook, Instagram and Tiktok at Chion Wolf and hey, if you have a show idea that you think would be cool or thoughts on what you heard today, you can always send me an email, audacious@ctpublic.org. Thanks for listening.