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By Jerry HicksPublished: April 01, 2010

Founded: 1958 as Pronto Markets
Headquarters: Monrovia

If you remember Pronto Markets, you’ve been around Southern California for a long time. That was the original name of Trader Joe’s. It was switched in 1967 to honor founder Joe Coulombe – but to also give the stores a fresher image. The family owners, based then in Pasadena, were convinced that for most residents, grocery shopping was a chore, not a delight. So it started stocking hard-to-get  items – many of them gourmet foods. But it also put its employees in Hawaiian shirts – now a Trader Joe’s signature.
The company readily admits it made its first killing in a variety of wines. (Charles Shaw – commonly referred to as “Two-Buck Chuck” – remains a huge hit.) But it’s just as popular among non-drinkers looking for classy party food.
It explains on its Web site: “We wear Hawaiian shirts because we’re traders on the culinary seas, searching the world over for cool items to bring home to our customers.”
Must be working. They still wear the shirts four decades later.
The chain, now based in Monrovia, is still privately owned and is tight-lipped about its business. (A Trader Joe’s spokeswoman says company execs don’t give interviews.) It doesn’t even franchise. However, numerous Internet sources put the number of stores at just fewer than 140. While some are scattered – in 25 states plus Washington, D.C. – the bulk are in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
Reusable bags and quality wines stand out to shoppers, plus the gourmet shelf. After all, how many stores sell both curry shrimp and mangosteen? Not that all of its customers are happy. One blogger from Missouri was so annoyed by the reason Trader Joe’s gave for not opening a store that the writer posted a column and titled it “Trader Joe’s to Kansas City: Drop Dead.”
But the Most Trustworthy Brands survey for OC METRO found something most interesting: The store scored huge in all five trust categories – much higher, in fact, than the general average for similar companies in the rest of the country. Residents noted Trader Joe’s ability to deliver on a promise, and its overall food quality stood way above the national average.