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​Pirate Joe raids Trader Joe's shelves

There is no Trader Joe’s store in Canada, so Mike Hallatt buys supplies and hauls them north to Vancouver, where he resells them at a markup at his own store, Pirate Joe’s
There is no Trader Joe’s store in Canada, s... 06:01

"I have to be careful where I park," said Mike Hallatt. "I can't park in front of the window. I don't want them to see the van."

Cruising through West Seattle in his white van, Hallatt has to be very careful.

Hallatt is shopping ... for groceries.

He pulled up front of a Trader Joe's. "Is it one you frequent?" asked correspondent Mo Rocca.

"Yeah. Well, I've been thrown out a few times," he said. "So it's a difficult play. But it's a great store, they've got a lot of stuff."

A lot of stuff that Trader Joe's doesn't want Hallatt buying, because he hauls it north to Vancouver, Canada, where he resells it at a markup at his store: Pirate Joe's.

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A hidden camera view of Mike Hallatt shopping. CBS News

You see, there is no Trader Joe's in Canada. So Vancouverites depend on Hallatt for their fix of Trader Joe's eclectic selection of quirky foodstuffs, like quinoa and black bean-infused tortilla chips ... rosemary and thyme maple toffee sunflower seeds ... soft-baked snickerdoodles, which CBS News' hidden camera captured Hallatt scoring during this Seattle run.

Afterwards, Rocca asked, "Did you get everything that you were looking for?"

"I did, yeah, it was all there," Hallatt said. "I got gluten-free granola. This is the maple. This stuff's, this is quality."

He also scored some Thai green curry: "I really wanted to grab ten of these. I grabbed four."

"If you'd cleaned them out of their Thai green curry --"

"Well, first, it would be rude," Hallatt said. "And, I'd get tossed."

And then the gold: Roasted Gorgonzola-flavored oven crisp crackers. "It doesn't get any better than this," Hallatt said.

What drives Hallatt to drive so far to satisfy the cravings of his fellow Canucks? It started when he was living in the San Francisco Bay area on a budget.

"So I'd get some tamales home, I put 'em in the microwave as instructed. Best thing I've ever had," he said. "I lived on the frozen food section at Trader Joe's for three years."

"You fell in love with Trader Joe's?" Rocca asked.

"I did, yeah!"

And he wanted to share that love.

He estimates he has spent about US$800,000 shopping at Trader Joe's.

"You're a pretty good customer," said Rocca.

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A recent haul from a U.S. Trader Joe's. Twitter

"They tell me I'm their best customer," Hallatt said.

That didn't stop Trader Joe's from banning him from some of their stores, to the point where he began wearing disguises: "I would try whatever I could to keep the business going. And in one terrible sequence of events, I ended up getting into a muumuu with a straw hat. I needed to put nail polish on, of course."

Then, in 2013 Trader Joe's sued Hallatt ... and lost.

"If you own something, you're legally entitled to do anything you want with it, including selling it to your friends in Canada," Hallatt said.

"There's no piracy; the goods here were not stolen."

"True."

"They weren't smuggled; you paid duties on them."

"Right."

"They're not counterfeit; these are not knock-off salt-and-pepper pistachios."

"No."

"So it's all above board?"

"Absolutely!"

Trader Joe's is appealing. We reached out to them for comment; they didn't respond.

In the meantime Hallatt enlists a number of U.S.-based "shoppers" to keep his pipeline flowing. Rocca met JCat (not her real name) who runs groceries for Hallatt out of Bellingham, Wash.

"Does your family know that you're a 'shopper'?" asked Rocca.

"Oh, yeah, yeah. I told them about it," she replied.

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Pirate Joe's in Vancouver. CBS News

She was picking up some cookies, some oils, dried fruits, and some crackers. Once her cart is loaded, the white van swoops in for the handoff.

Rocca asked Hallatt, "Is she one of your best shoppers?"

"She's got some style," he said. "On a performance basis, I'd say you're, like, number two. I gotta be honest, I gotta be honest!"

"Oh, man!" said a discouraged JCat.

And soon enough JCat's booty is filling the baskets of Pirate Joe's junkies.

Pirate Joe's customer Madeleine Nelson told Rocca she always shopped for their Irish breakfast tea. And her favorite item? "Oh, my God. Probably the baked cheese snacks, if the truth be known."

"Are these the gorgonzola cheese crackers?"

"No. No, no, no. It's the cheddar cheese snacks!"

Rocca asked, "Do you think that this is hurting Trader Joe's in any way?"

"Are you kidding?" she replied. "An operation of that size, I doubt it."

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Trader Joe's goods available outside the U.S., at Pirate Joe's. CBS News

Hallatt said Trader Joe's, by suing him, is missing the entire point of his store -- that he's helping spread the word about Trader Joe's in a place where there currently is no Trader Joe's: "It's a straight-up win for Trader Joe's."

"Under what circumstance would you shut this place down?" Rocca asked.

"If Trader Joe's opened in Vancouver. And happily do so."

Until then, Hallatt says he is not just making a living, he's making a point. "I don't like being pushed around," he said. "No one does."

So, has Trader Joe's suing him actually emboldened him? "Absolutely. Someone said to me, 'Did you really try?' And what they were asking was, 'Did you dress up as a woman? Did you dress up as an old man? Did you dress up as a seafarer?'"

"This sounds like a conversation with yourself," said Rocca.

"Pretty much, yeah!" he laughed.

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An apology from Mike Hallatt. CBS News

"There is a stereotype that Canadians say 'sorry' a lot. Do you want to look at the camera and send a message to Trader Joe's?"

He did: "I'm really sorry. But we have to do this. Just love your tamales. We love your chocolate. And you're just too far away from us. So we're just gonna take matters into our own hands.

"Please open in Vancouver."

And don't forget the Thai lime and chili peanuts!


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