Written by Robert Walch
Nanci Linares and Lonnie Wigham realized a long-cherished dream when the Corral de Tierra Marketplace opened a week ago. The two women, friends since they were young girls, had always wanted to own their own business and when the opportunity availed itself last year, they seized it.
Noticing that the building at 2 Corral de Tierra Road, a former grocery store on the corner of Highway 68, was empty, Linares approached the property's owner, whom she knew, to see if he'd be interested in opening a new store there. Although he declined, he suggested she consider leasing the site instead.
"It had always been a dream of mine to have a business like this where I could use all my prior experiences," Linares said. Why not open a restaurant closer to her Pacific Grove home rather than a deli/market?
"Location! Location! Location!" she responded, explaining that the site made the decision.
At that point Linares contacted her girlhood friend, Wigham, who was living in Scottsdale, Ariz., and managing a food store.
"When Nanci called me in Arizona to explain this opportunity, I was delighted to join her," Wigham said. "I knew the site and couldn't believe it was available.
"I had always thought that that was the ideal location for a store like ours."
As Linares' business partner, Wigham oversees
"the front of the house" — the groceries — while Linares handles the "business end" or back office part of the venture.
Getting the Corral de Tierra Marketplace off the ground was more complicated than either woman expected. They had hoped to be open by the first of the year but remodeling the interior of the building posed a number of unexpected hurdles.
The plumbing and electrical systems had to be brought up to code and a new bathroom had to be added. At times the process was a bit disheartening, but both Linares and Wigham were willing to tackle all the "surprises" that extended the remodeling process to nearly seven months.
Most frustrating of all was discovering that some people have been using the back of the lot as an impromptu dump site. Just recently, Linares said, they found a whole truckload of yard waste had been unloaded there. They hope the installation of a security camera will put a stop to that problem.
"We really appreciated the support of those in the area who continually encouraged us through the ordeal," said Wigham, now a Corral de Tierra resident. "They stood by us and gave us the strength to keep going."
With about 2,400 square feet to work with, the women have divvied up the space to fit in a deli work area as well as display shelving for grocery items, a fresh produce section, an ample wine display and refrigeration cases.
Using her experience in the grocery sector, Wigham ordered the "staples" that a person would need on a regular basis or on short notice. These items include fresh bread, dairy items, produce, some canned goods and cleaning products.
She stressed that this part of the marketplace is a work in progress. As customers tell her what they need, she'll "tweak" the offerings to reflect their requests.
The store's upscale wine collection will feature local vintages from both the Salinas and Carmel valleys as well as from other sections of the state.
Besides an espresso bar and variety of salads, cold meats and cheese, the deli will offer a daily special plus seven "house" sandwiches. The sandwiches include the Corral de Tierra (a veggie combination), the Toro Park (tuna salad with lettuce, tomato, pepperoni and jack cheese on sourdough) and the Laguna Seca (a combination of roasted turkey, ham and roast beef with cheddar, tomato, lettuce and avocado).
Linares grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, attended school in Carmel and worked in the restaurant and catering business. She was employed by Clint Eastwood at the Hog's Breath Inn for a number of years and then Toots Lagoon, another well-known Carmel watering hole.
Most recently, Linares worked for Sodexo, a large corporation that operates the food service at California State University, Monterey Bay. She was in human resources and then became the sales catering coordinator on campus.
Born and raised in Monterey, Wigham has managed grocery stores, run a café and sold real estate during a multi-faceted career.
Looking ahead to the end of the year, Linares and Wigham hope that by then they will have refined the marketplace's merchandise mix to reflect what local residents want.
Obviously, they want the Corral de Tierra Marketplace to be well on its way to becoming the preferred destination for those who live along the Highway 68 corridor and want a good sandwich, a fresh cup of coffee, or need to pick up a few items for lunch or dinner.
Linares said she's trying to find out more about the history of the building. Constructed in the 1940s and once used as a dance hall, it has been the site of two grocery stores as far as she knows.
"We'd like to learn as much as we can about how the structure was used over the years and perhaps write up a little history to post in the market," she said. "I think it would be fun to share that story."