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Caliwala Grocery Market & Deli: The newest storefront in Santa Margarita is a natural foods store with a 'come on in' welcome mat

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Caliwala Community Food Market and Deli, Santa Margarita's long-awaited new natural foods store, is an inviting space, with its natural shelves and green-and-white street signs on bare wood walls. Stylish lighting under exposed beams is a refreshing touch to the 100-year-old former Dunbar Brewing location.

The place, located at the end of the main drag, has been experiencing a series of firsts. The first of December marked its soft opening. And now Kyle Hunsicker, a chef from Wyoming who came over from the Blue Sky Cafe in SLO, is launching the grab-and-go part of the operation. Locals and those passing through can order custom sandwiches made with local meats and fresh bread, plus seasonal soups, sides like mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, and, as of mid-December, fresh-brewed coffee.

The proprietor, Erin Inglish, waves, welcoming me instantly. She then helps me locate what I need, which only happens in small neighborhood shops. This is part of the grand vision. Inglish's place is all about community. The mission is to prioritize and balance health, quality, and cost. Inglish wants to treat her employees well and bring together all that is local and mostly organic: cottage foods, local baked goods, ranch meats, and fresh and local produce.

TAKE YOUR PICK The local harvests in Caliwala's bins make a pretty sight. It's helpful to see which are California Certified Organic and which are local, organically grown. - PHOTOS BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photos By Beth Giuffre
  • TAKE YOUR PICK The local harvests in Caliwala's bins make a pretty sight. It's helpful to see which are California Certified Organic and which are local, organically grown.

On this December day, Inglish—who you may have already (literally) heard playing banjo and singing in her groovy, jazzy, "existential trance blues-grass" music band: the Erin Inglish Band—is meeting with new local vendors. As she talks with a vegan, plant-based cupcake baker and a low-key guy with a box of wine, Inglish checks out a label and laughs a lot.

She calls herself a "banjengineer," perfectly describing the girl who thrives on figuring out difficult problems and who loves to sing and connect with people through her songwriting. She has a degree in mechanical engineering from UC Berkeley, and the years she hasn't been traveling the country, living out of her van as a musician, she's worked as a sustainability consultant and energy efficiency and green building specialist.

Inglish says that before she opened Caliwala she spent about five years researching the food economy.

"Really, just out of curiosity," she says with a laugh. "Here we have a county that grows so much food, and we have so many incredible mad-scientist chefs who are all artists and are just making delicious food out of it, but it's hard to find it all in one place so that you can actually shop local.

"You can go to the farmers' markets," she continues. "You can go to the specialty shops. You can go to your favorite restaurants. But you do have to drive quite a bit to accomplish a comprehensive grocery experience that includes as much local food as possible. So basically I want to have a seven-day-a-week farmers' market here that includes produce and the best of SLO County as makes sense," she says. "Sustainable, financially viable, and logical."

Inglish says she's always been interested in what is possible in a community and is in the process of making more local contacts and connections.

"My mom reminded me the other day that even as a young girl I used to always say, 'Well what can we do?'" Inglish says.

"I know for a lot of people, having access to fresh, local food was a really big part of their childhood here, or raising their kids here," she adds, saying the community needed and kept talking about a market after the mercantile closed down about seven years ago.

So when she heard the Dunbar building was available, she said again, "Well, what can we do?"

DELICIOUS AND NUTRITIOUS Caliwala's wood shelves are neatly stocked with organic and paleo staples. - PHOTOS BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photos By Beth Giuffre
  • DELICIOUS AND NUTRITIOUS Caliwala's wood shelves are neatly stocked with organic and paleo staples.

Inglish is a local gal through and through—a graduate of Santa Margarita Elementary, Atascadero Junior High, and Atascadero High School. She fondly recalls how she used to ride her horse from Garden Farms up to the old mercantile for sandwiches.

And here we are, in her very own Santa Margarita market. While Inglish apologizes for some crates out in the wide pretty space, a slender gentleman is doing some hammering. Her pioneering spirit and the shop's altogether newness are why Inglish has a couple of suggestion boxes by the register so that community members can put in their two cents.

One suggestion reads: "Frontier Coffee" with a star and a happy face.

Another asks for "Estancia brand dry polenta ... organic," which means someone has really good taste in polenta, as the De la Estancia family grows their polenta in the Andes Mountains in Argentina.

Further down in the stack of requests, gluten-free wishes are alive and well, and two others ask for favorite cereals—one says "Gorilla Munch" and another wants "Cheerios."

Inglish fully intends to honor those requests and told me she personally reviews each one before her next distribution order.

Caliwala's gorgeous local produce section—with organic persimmons, baby pomegranates, napa cabbage, and garlic—is already set up. The fridge is full of dairy and non-dairy products and organic, free-range eggs. Next to the counter of organic baked goods, including Clementine's cupcakes and cookies, is a selection of bakery breads from Back Porch.

YOUR STORE Caliwala Market's owner, Erin Inglish, invites Santa Margarita residents to make their needs and wants known through the store's suggestion box. - PHOTOS BY BETH GIUFFRE
  • Photos By Beth Giuffre
  • YOUR STORE Caliwala Market's owner, Erin Inglish, invites Santa Margarita residents to make their needs and wants known through the store's suggestion box.

With continued community input, Inglish's store will no doubt grow up quickly. She says chef Hunsicker has been thinking about vegan and non-vegan sushi, spring rolls, and other specialty items. And the proprietor also established an artisan corner featuring homemade earrings—she says more will be coming from local artists.

"We just brewed our first pot of coffee today," Inglish says after helping a customer find what they needed on the shelf. "We want this to be a space where people come in and feel welcome. In my heart I want it to be a community space where meaningful conversations can happen. You know, the stop and chat with your neighbor. And the food is just a way of creating that space." Δ

Flavor writer Beth Giuffre loves checking out the organic, local produce. Send your favorite food ideas to bgiuffre@newtimesslo.com.

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