A man built an entire counterfeit Trader Joe’s in Canada by shopping in drag

Unaffiliated. Unauthorized. Unafraid.
Unaffiliated. Unauthorized. Unafraid.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking
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If supermarket historians remember Mike Hallatt’s name, it will be for his peculiar shopping methods.

Before setting out on a spree, Hallatt donned fake mustaches, wigs, and sometimes dressed in full drag. He commanded a small army of secret shoppers. He didn’t do this for fun. He did it out of necessity, lest he be caught and forced to leave the one chain at which he obsessively shopped.

Trader Joe’s filed a lawsuit against Hallatt in 2013, taking him to court alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition, false designation or origin, and false advertising—a word soup of accusations intended to put him out of business, according to The New York Times. For years, Hallatt, a Canadian, had made a name for himself by driving three hours south to Seattle, Washington, buying in bulk items from Traders Joe’s, driving the groceries back to his shop in Vancouver, and selling the goods at an inflated price.

The success of his store, Pirate Joe’s, pays homage to the intense loyalty that Trade Joe’s enjoys from its most faithful shoppers in the US. Customers flock to Trader Joe’s more than 450 locations for cheap and reliable food with a quality that often stacks up against that of big box grocery stores, even as smaller stores geared to millennial shoppers gain traction.

Still, Trader Joe’s currently has no stores in Canada. Starting this week, Vancouver residents will no longer be able to stop by Pirate Joe’s to get their fix.

Hallatt’s run ended at 12:01am Thursday after a prolonged and personally expensive legal fight with Trader Joe’s led to a settlement between the two. Under terms of the settlement the company agreed to drop the lawsuit and Hallatt agreed to shut down Pirate Joe’s. Over the years, Trader Joe’s had officially banned Hallatt from its stores, which is why he took to hiring secret shoppers and wearing costumes. At one point, Hallatt dropped the ‘P’ from his stores name, so it read “Irate Joe’s.”

“Thank you to everyone who has ever supported us,” a message reads on the Pirate Joe’s Facebook page. “We are sad that it had to come to this, but hey, at least we had some fun while we were at it right?!”