The Interesting Connection Between Trader Joe's And Crab Rangoon

If you're old enough — or fan enough — to remember Elvis Presley singing "Rock-a-Hula Baby" in the 1961 movie "Blue Hawaii" you probably know a thing or two about tiki-bar culture. Umbrella drinks. Palm fronds. Panama Hats. And platters of just-right bites, like crab rangoon, perfect for nibbling from one hand while balancing a Mai Tai in the other. But while tiki bars, crab rangoon, and Mai Tai's call to mind scenes of laid-back indulgence in exotic island locales, all three are as American as apple pie.

"Tiki bars started in America — they do not emanate from bars in the South Pacific or the Caribbean," Martin Cate, author of "Smuggler's Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki," told Men's Journal. "They were an attempt to re-create the sense of escape and paradise of the islands on American soil."

According to Men's Journal, we owe tiki bars as we know them today to Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt (A.K.A. Don the Beachcomber). An adventurous spirit, Gantt cut quite a figure island-hopping around the South Pacific in the early 20th century, doing odd jobs and a bit of bootlegging (via Difford's Guide). By the early 1930s, his swashbuckling good looks landed him in Hollywood where he continued to roll from one job to another, occasionally picking up a small part in the burgeoning movie industry.

Trader Joe's link to the tiki motif and food

When Prohibition ended in 1934, Gantt's wanderlust came full circle. Inspired by memories of the South Pacific, he opened a Polynesian-themed bar, Don the Beachcomber's. A stone's throw from Hollywood Boulevard, the hole-in-the-wall joint caught the eye of Hollywood glitterati, per Difford's Guide, drawing crowds with fruity rum-based drinks and faux Chinese food (fried wontons and egg rolls, according to Martin Turnbull).

Imitators noticed. According to US Magazine, Victor Bergeron opened a tiki bar, Hinky Dinks, in 1934. The San Francisco Bay area watering hole was the precursor to Trader Vic's. Bergeron took the tiki torch and ran with it, doubling down on the motif and the faux Chinese food connection by taking, for example, wontons and creating fried dumplings stuffed with crab and cream cheese (via Taste Atlas). That's right — Trader Vic's is widely acknowledged as the birthplace of the crab rangoon.

But what about Trader Joe's? It's pretty simple, really. According to The Daily Meal, Joe Coulombe, the founder of Trader Joe's, initially named his California convenience store brand Pronto Market but quickly realized he was losing ground to a growing competitor — 7-Eleven. At the time, tiki culture was booming and Trader Vic's was leading the pack. Coulombe decided to adopt the theme, changing the name of his brand to Trader Joe's, a play on Trader Vic's, and retrofitting his stores in a tiki motif. And the rest, as they say, is history.