03/28/2008 02:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Trader Joe's HR Secret: Hot Employees

Captain Lance is angry at crew member Karen.

Karen Shueh, a cherubic store clerk, has arrived with the words everything will be taken away written backward on her forehead in black ink. She's participating in a public-art project. "The artist is Adrian Piper! She deals with the politics of viewing and the power of looking at people."

Lance frowns and grunts out the closest thing to a Trader Joe's reprimand: "I can't have people with words on their forehead working here!" Karen scowls and trudges toward the bread aisle.

It's early summer and I'm elbow-deep in the rye-bread drawer, midway through a 6 p.m.-to-2 a.m. shift on my new job, crew member at Trader Joe's on 14th Street, the first city outpost of the West Coast foodie retailer, which has been gridlocked with shoppers since its opening in March 2006. It serves up Tofutti bars, pappadam chips, and reams of gluten-free, dairy-free, and sodium-free organic grub on the cheap. The 14th Street store grosses over $1 million weekly; it's apparently one of the highest-grossing locations of the 285 nationwide. It is, in a sense, the poor man's Union Square Whole Foods, one fifth the size and in the armpit of the square. A second city location opened in Forest Hills on October 26; next up, one on Court Street in Cobble Hill.

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