A Trader Joe’s location is opening in Tulsa, OK on February 26, 2016. It will be the first location in Oklahoma. Right now, our closest Trader Joe’s was about 4 hours away. (One is in Kansas, and the another is in Texas). The Tulsa Trader Joe’s will “only” be about an hour away.
I am really, really excited. Tulsa World’s Michael Overall’s wife is excited, too. It’s what she is most looking forward to in 2016. But Michael Overall isn’t excited. Currently, he makes a point to stop at Trader Joe’s when traveling to pick up sea salt caramels, Speculoos cookie butter, and triple ginger snaps. Mr. Overall is concerned that he only likes Trader Joe’s because it seems “special” and “exotic” with its out-of-state status. “When you can have it anytime you want, what’s the big deal,” he asks. And he notes that he has a track record of abandoning products he thought he loved once they are in Tulsa, like Steak n Shake and Henry Weinhard’s Root Beer.
But Mr. Overall hasn’t convinced me to temper my excitement.
First, I don’t think he appreciates Trader Joe’s as much as I do. It looks like Mr. Overall is most familiar with Trader Joe’s nonperishable snacks, which is understandable given how difficult it is to transport perishables for four hours at the end of a vacation. But Trader Joe’s is so much more than nonperishable snacks. The frozen Indian entrees (and naan)! Inexpensive, yet sustainably caught, frozen fish! Fresh ravioli that tastes like a restaurant! Whole-wheat couscous with decent fiber! Fig butter (for cheese and pizza)! Tomato paste in a tube! Sweet potato bisque (and Andouille sausage to make this soup again)! I could go on, but I won’t. My point is: if you stop shopping after the nonperishable snack aisle, you’re missing out.
Second, I don’t really trust Mr. Overall’s taste. Steak n Shake is a restaurant he sought out on vacation? If you’re going to search out fast food with frozen treats that’s not in Oklahoma, go to Culver’s. (I’m not the only one who thinks this.) And Henry Weinhard’s Root Beer? Honestly, I’ve never tried it, but it gets worse reviews on Amazon than Sprecher Root Beer, which is made with honey instead of high fructose corn syrup. It’s OK to prefer Henry Weinhard’s root beer to Sprechers. I just thank that calling it “one of the best soft drinks ever made” is going a little too far.
Not only do I question Overall’s taste in root beer, but also beer-beer. Overall closes his article with the observation that he is most looking forward to a new brewpub, a collaboration between a local brewer and a local restaurateur, set to open in Tulsa this year. (It was originally set to open in the fall of 2015.) Overall seems to think this will be really special – and that people from Oklahoma City will travel to Tulsa for it. I think he’s forgetting two things. One, Oklahoma’s liquor laws require brewpubs to only serve 3.2 beer – and it is hard to make a good tasting, innovative 3.2 beer because you can’t mask as many impurities. Two, OKC already has two different brewpubs of their own: Bricktown Brewery and Belle Island; OKC folk don’t need to travel to Tulsa for this experience. I’m glad Tulsa is getting a brewpub. And I’m glad the Tulsa state representation is working to change liquor laws. But I’m not more excited about the third brewpub in Oklahoma than I am about the first Trader Joe’s.
Third, I don’t have Overall’s track record of abandoning things once they are easily available. One of the most exciting things about moving from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Cleveland was the abundance of pierogi places. I love pierogies, and I didn’t stop loving pierogies while I lived there. (Try Perla Pierogies!) I grew up on the Iron Range, which has excellent access to pasties – and I never took them for granted… or thought that they were too easy to obtain to be special. Scott and I would buy Sprecher’s root beer when we saw it (and weren’t flying). When we moved to Stillwater, OK, we found a local grocery store that stocks it. And we still drink it. The joy, for me, isn’t in the procuring of the food; it’s in the ingesting of the food.
So, I, like Mr. Overall’s wife, am looking forward to a Trader Joe’s in Tulsa. Mr. Overall, while you enjoy your bar food and low point beer (assuming the Tulsa brewpub opens soon), I will be eating palak paneer and whole-wheat naan with my high point Marshall’s beer. Or maybe I’ll be eating some vegetable ravioli. Or some wild-caught sockeye salmon that I can actually afford. Or…