Food! Whether you eat to live or live to eat, it’s great to have options. Living in a small town, aside from growing your own, food choices can be limited when it comes to shopping or dining without getting into a car and driving to the “big city.” Having a variety of markets and cafes or restaurants in the business mix within walking or short driving distance has been proven to help create healthier and more vibrant communities. With more choices, locals have more reasons to walk or stop by for a bite to eat or to pick up groceries. Visitors have more reasons to come to town. Neighbors and friends have more opportunities to bump into or meet up with each other. Dollars stay local and community bonds grow stronger. These are just some of the reasons to celebrate the recent opening of Caliwala Community Food Market & Deli and J’s Country Kitchen in Santa Margarita.

When The Southern Station suddenly closed this past August, many locals and visitors lost their regular breakfast or lunch spot. Across El Camino Real from Santa Margarita Feed & Farm Supply, the location has been host to several busy American-style cafes, all serving up hearty traditional breakfasts and lunches. When the contents of the business were sold, rumors swirled that it was not to be a restaurant again. Speculation began and customers stared into the empty building, which temporarily made HOME •santa margarita• the sole business on the block. Luckily, a flurry of work soon began and J’s Country Kitchen opened for business on November 1. Locals were excited to hear that the new restaurant is the fourth business opened by Jose Garcia, owner of J’s Burgers of Paso Robles and Atascadero, and patterned after his very popular San Paso Truck Stop restaurant Jose’s Country Kitchen.

 Jose, his staff and restaurant are a welcome addition to town, currently serving up delicious, plentiful and hearty American and south-of-the-border breakfasts and lunches along with daily specials and desserts. The eatery is open daily from 6 a.m.to 2 p.m.

 Many people have fond memories of the old Santa Margarita Mercantile, the local market and deli famous in the days of Vince and Marji Trainor for their fresh-made Merc and tri-tip sandwiches, Harris Ranch meats, jars of giant pickles and assorted huge slabs of beef jerky along with grocery and household basics. Things were never the same for the Mercantile or the town after the business sold in the 90s and began its slow decline, eventually closing and leaving the building vacant. It sadly burned down in May of 2018.

 The loss of the Mercantile left Santa Margarita residents and visitors with the emergency or convenience shopping choices of the Margarita Plaza Liquor store or Pintor’s Tire & Wheel — until now.

 Caliwala may sound like a strange name for a community market and deli. It is the creation of local owner Erin Inglish who combined Cali (for California) with the Hindi word wala (meaning maker). Growing up and living in Garden Farms, Erin saw the need for a local market in town with healthier food choices and combined with the abundance of local food products available, the idea began simmering. Next, to help make it a true community market, she shared her vision and asked for input from residents on what they would like to see available. When the timing was right, and an opening at the previous Dunbar Brewing location became available, Erin seized the opportunity to start making the market a reality. She enlisted help from friend Cathy Burkhardt and Chef Kyle Hunsicker. Cathy had experience in curating and working for a natural foods store while living in Oregon and worked there with Kyle. He recently moved to the area and was working at Big Sky Cafe in SLO. 

Together the trio worked to plan, organize and curate selections of “fresh, local and natural foods and goods for day-to-day living.” Since the soft opening on December 1, Caliwala has gradually built inventory. It offers specialty gluten-free and paleo items along with household and everyday basic goods and many fresh and local offerings. Local products include produce from SLO Veg, baked goods from the Back Porch Bakery and Clementine Cupcake Company, coffee from Cacti Coffee Roasters, natural sodas from Sunshine Bottle Works and meats from J&R Natural Meat and Sausage. Chef Kyle’s experience is vast and varied, both in and out of the United States as a personal chef, caterer and creative cook. He makes fresh, seasonal grab-and-go items such as salads, soups, curries, pot pies and baked goods. Also, in case you’re wondering, yes, Caliwala will even be making fresh Merc-style deli sandwiches! 

 Be sure to attend Caliwala’s grand opening celebration beginning at 11 a.m., Sunday, January 12, 2020, and welcome them to town!

Getting through this together, Atascadero