Pirate Joe’s sets sail towards Alma

And perhaps another lawsuit

March 1, 2016

By Jenni Elliott / Photo: Steven Lemay

Pirate Joe’s vs. Trader Joe’s has been a long-running drama made known to Kits locals by the humorous signs posted in Mike Hallatt’s grocery store window on W. 4th. The tiny store has imported products from across the border, marked them up modestly, and sold them to Trader Joe’s fans north of the border—and fended off more than its share of law suits in the process—since 2012. But according to owner Mike Hallatt, who also founded Benny’s Bagels back in the ’80s, Pirate Joe’s is about to set sail west. That’s because the commercial block his store resides in is set for demolition in what he describes as “true Vancouver style.”

As of today, Pirate Joe’s has a lease on a new storefront at 3744 West 10th, near Alma and W. Broadway. There’s a lot to do to the new space (formerly a “failing dry cleaners”), but Hallatt is a handy kind of guy with a penchant for making both trouble and plans on how to get around it. And, he says, he’s going to introduce some new elements to the new space. “We’re going to open a café based purely on recipes from Trader Joe’s,” he says. “Everyone in L.A. is doing it. Go online now and see what nuclear creations you can make by combining T.J.’s different products—it’ll blow your mind.”

It might sound like the new business plan could add fuel to an already smoking-hot legal fire where Trader Joe’s is concerned (the U.S. chain has escalated its 2013 lawsuit against Pirate Joe’s to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, one level below the Supreme Court), but Hallatt doesn’t sound too worried about it. “I have a big-ass law firm representing me for free. One of the funnest things you can do is call Trader Joe’s and ask them about Pirate Joe’s. That poor receptionist must have been asked that a thousand times, but it’s a funny thing to do.”

The new location is just around the corner from Rufus Guitar Shop, so naturally Hallatt is putting a stage and “tons” of instruments there for locals to jam. “I’ve missed the Benny’s vibe,” he says. “I need to run more than just a grocery store with [crappy] parking. People come in and they’re all stressed out because they are parking illegally in Safeway, or their meter is running out in 15 minutes. The new location on 10th means no parallel-parking required.”

The W. 10th store is set to open some time this month (just step around the construction, he says), and parking on that block is free, which means you’ll have time to enjoy a T.J.’s veggie masala burger with South African hot sauce on a gluten-free bun made from Ethiopian teff seeds (bought from a small bakery in Portland) while you listen to some sweet, sweet tunes. Oh, and if you see a Jerry Garcia-style limo in the Safeway parking lot on W. 4th with Pirate Joe’s flags flying from the front, don’t worry about that either. That’s just Hallatt’s new car service from the old location to the new one. Feel free to jump on in and enjoy your adventure on the high seas, in the cleverly named “Arrrrrber” (like Uber—get it?) pirate car service.

Pirate Joe’s W. 4th location will close it’s doors forever tomorrow at 5p.m., but Hallatt is hopeful that we will see more T.J.’s popping up around Vancouver soon. “Canada is a free country,” he says. “Just open up a Trader Joe’s here already.”

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