In the department of unlikely books becoming hits are often those that relate somehow to a subject that has a cult following of sorts. Take Trader Joe’s, the chain of grocery stores with low prices, exotic treats and friendly employees. The store has inspired numerous fan clubs and online community pages, not to mention a business book, The Trader Joe's Adventure: Turning a Unique Approach to Business into a Retail and Cultural Phenomenon by Len Lewis (Kaplan Business, 2005). So is it any wonder that a self-published book on all the dishes you can make using Trader Joe’s products has sold 70,000 copies, spawned imitators, and inspired a sequel?
Cooking with All Things Trader Joe’s got its start when Deana Gunn, a former research scientist; and Wona Miniati, who used to work in high-tech marketing, realized they weren’t the only Trader Joe’s shoppers who were curious about using TJ products like quinoa and olive tapenade to augment homemade dinners. They developed recipes for Peanutty Sesame Noodles and All Mixed Up Margaritas, wrote Cooking with All Things, and self-published it in a Flexibind format under the name Brown Bag Publishers in December 2007. The book garnered some publicity and took hold. Soon Barnes & Noble and Borders ordered it, a few newspapers wrote about it, and the book is now distributed by Ingram, Baker & Taylor and Partners Book Distributing. In May 2008, they published it as a $29.95 hardcover, and Gunn and Miniati, who have since left their corporate jobs, just initiated another print run.
Trader Joe’s stores do not carry the book, and although Gunn and Miniati have contacted the store’s corporate offices, they haven’t had any meaningful interaction. It doesn’t seem to bother Gunn, however. “We’re thrilled with how well it’s done,” she said. She thinks the book appeals to busy people since it offers shortcuts for making dinner using Trader Joe’s products like sauces, marinades and vegetables that are already washed and cut.
This fall, Gunn and Miniati will release The Trader Joe’s Companion: A Portable Cookbook, which is a response to the many comments the authors received from readers of the first book, saying they’d bring Cooking with All Things into the store with them. With its 9"-by-4" trim size, Companion can fit in a purse or back pocket. It is a Flexibind format and costs $13.95.
Also this fall, Ulysses Press is releasing The I Love Trader Joe’s Cookbook: 150 Delicious Recipes Using Only Foods from the World's Greatest Grocery Store, a $17.95 paperback, by Cherie Mercer Twohy. Ulysses executive v-p of operations Bryce Willett said he and his colleagues generated the book idea in-house after noticing the popularity of store-focused books. “People who go to Trader Joe’s just absolutely love it. They have such a devoted fan following.” The publisher found Twohy online; she teaches popular workshops on cooking using products from Trader Joe’s. It has planned a 20,000-copy first printing.
Willett says, “I’m not too worried about having two or three Trader Joe’s books in the market—it’s not like it’s going to run dry. It’s not like the recipes are the same.” If Gunn and Miniati continue their trajectory, though, there might be four or five Trader Joe’s books available before long. “We were thinking of coming out with another one in the spring,” says Gunn. Our plan was always to regularly come out with new Trader Joe’s books. They introduce new products over the time.”
This story originally appeared in Cooking the Books, PW's e-newsletter for cookbooks.