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A life reimagined: Summer Tarango’s dream comes full circle in Mercado Laguna

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

For Summer Tarango, owner of Summer’s Table, the journey to the launch of Mercado Laguna on May 5 involved a high degree of serendipity or fate – or whatever you would like to call it. There’s no denying that more than a few uncanny coincidences occurred as things fell into place and her vision came to fruition. 

“It’s always been my dream to have a place like this,” Tarango said a few days before the grand opening of Mercado Laguna at 912 North Coast Highway. “What makes this a unique shop is the collaboration of several creative women, all with a passion for what they do.”

a life Ed and Summer

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Summer Tarango and her longtime boyfriend Ed Benrock (a drummer for Jamestown Revival)

With this concept in mind, everything appeared to come together as if “meant to be.”

As destiny would have it, the space on North Coast Hwy became available at the same time Tarango’s new kitchen for Summer’s Table – her meal kit delivery business – in the canyon was completed, which took from February of 2021 to April of this year. 

“It was difficult to find architects, engineers and contractors, and there were so many delays, but I couldn’t do the collaboration in the shop until the kitchen was up and running,” Tarango said. “I knew I’d have to supply the market myself.”

The sous-chef from Nirvana Grille (owned by her sister Lindsay Smith) came on board as the kitchen chef which allowed Tarango more time to devote to her new project. 

“It happened pretty organically,” Tarango said. 

Chris Hitchcock, who owns Coyote Custom Woodworking in the same center as Tarango’s kitchen, was a friend of Danielle Holland who co-owns The Ritual Refill next door (900 N. Coast Highway). Hitchcock told Tarango about the available space at 912 and “that was that.” Along with some minor alterations, she painted the floors and updated the electrical system to accommodate a freezer.

“I’m really excited to be their neighbors,” Tarango said of Holland and Shannon Hall of The Ritual Refill. “It’s the perfect synergy.”

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Vintage letters from a liquor store in Mexico determined the name of the store

How the market got its name also involves another element of happenstance. Two years ago, Tarango saw the vintage letters MERCADO LAGUNA that now hang on the wall in the store. “My friend, who is obsessed with auctions, got two sets of the letters which were originally from a liquor store in Mexico. When I got this space, I asked if she still had them, and they were in Gayle’s garage. The name of the market came from seeing letters.” 

Cancer as a catalyst

Tarango’s journey to Mercado Laguna began four years ago. In a May of 2018, Stu News “Laguna Life & People” article, titled “A Life Rewritten,” Tarango explained that her devastating diagnosis of an aggressive form of breast cancer brought her future into sharper focus. 

As Tarango said in the 2018 interview, “I don’t see the point of working my way through this just to go back to a mundane life. What’s the point. This is really hard. Chemo is hard. Here’s the chance to work through relationships, create the life I want, and explore my wildest dreams. What brings me deep joy? How can I bring these experiences that I’ve had to other women? I won’t finish this and go back to life as it was. I’m already seeing glimpses of it. It already looks totally different.” 

Tarango admits that cancer was the impetus for a life reimagined. “I didn’t know what I wanted then, and if it hadn’t been for my diagnosis, my life might have not changed.” 

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Cinco de Mayo Grand Opening spread

A cherished collaboration

Prior to her cancer diagnosis, Tarango had been working with Summer Meek from Soul Project on ways to forge deeper connections with women. Now those connections have been realized in Mercado Laguna.

“I admire all of these women so much,” Tarango said. “We were always looking for excuses to get together, but we were all so busy, so I said, ‘Let’s do business together.’”

a life all ladies

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(L-R) Molly Rossettie, Embry Munsey, Summer Tarango, Gayle Jarrett, Rhianna Baker, Lan Zantil and Melissa Norton (missing from photo, Sussanna Davidson)

In partnering with the following women, Tarango brought in a variety of exceptional products and services for her customers:

For 12 years, Molly Rossettie has been the owner of Hi Sweetheart Gift Boutique in La Jolla. She has a knack for creating happy, bright spaces filled with unique gifts, greetings and party supplies. At Mercado, she shares her selection of fun and functional gifts. Rossettie also handles Mercado’s social media.

Embry Munsey, co-owner of Jedidiah Coffee, is on a mission to “Keep Laguna Caffeinated.” She’s an expert in coffee and in making people feel welcome and part of the community. She’ll be managing Mercado Laguna and sharing her experience.

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Owner and Grand Florista of French Buckets in Laguna Beach and Lido Isle, Sussanna Davidson, brings her creative eye and botanical spirit to every floral design from small bouquets to big events and now to Mercado Laguna. She provides both fresh and dried flowers for the shop.

Melissa Norton, Italian-trained cook living and working in both Laguna and Los Angeles, brings her lovingly handmade special cakes, fresh pasta and Italian delicacies to the market.

a life Jedidiah coffee

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Steve Munsey, co-owner of Jedidiah Coffee, manning a cart at the grand opening while Danielle Holland, co-owner of The Ritual Refill, waits. Umbrella by Business and Pleasure. 

Owner of a curated, online boutique for vintage clothing, Gayle Jarrett, has an incredible eye for design and a knack for sourcing vintage treasures from markets and estate sales during her travels. Her collection is available to Mercado customers. 

Rhianna Baker, a multitasking maven, will be helping out at the Summer’s Table kitchen in Laguna Canyon and at Mercado Laguna. She is merchandising manager at World Market and will share her expertise in creating an exciting and functional space. 

Mercado merchandise and much more…

 “I’m trying to be respectful of other shops and business women in town, by not bringing in the same type of merchandise and common brands,” Tarango said. “I’m trying to fill a need and not just make money.” 

Along with the incredible products from the ladies Tarango partnered with, Mercado also carries gourmet products from small organic makers such as Hayden Flour Mills’ tortilla flour blend, flour pancake mix and crackers. Tarango also brought in tortilla presses to go along with the tortilla flour, which would make great gifts. Also available are handmade Italian pasta, canned tomatoes and olives and Harry’s Berries jam from a small organic family farm in Oxnard.

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Local Hannah Mangus of Sweets by Mango with some of her hand-decorated cookie creations

“We will have artisan breads and bakery goods,” Tarango said. “Lan Zantil of Jadetiger Tea will have her exceptional teas in the store.”

In another section of the market, visitors will find chips, dried fruit and snacks. The freezer will house ice cream and popsicles, meats from various farms, sausage, chicken and frozen meals. 

The refrigerator holds ready-made salads to take to the beach (or home), and pasta sauce and pesto (to go with the handmade pasta), so customers can assemble their own meals.

There will also be a variety of other meals ready to assemble, frozen meals, enchiladas, dips, ingredients to put together a charcuterie, as well as chicken and veggie stock. 

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Every Wednesday and Thursday from 3-6 p.m., Mercado Laguna will have a pop-up farmers market with organic produce and eggs from Bluebird Canyon Farms 

As an extra added bonus, Mercado will have a small farmers market pop-up every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon from 3-6 p.m. with organic produce from Bluebird Canyon Farms in Laguna. The variety will depend on what’s in season.

What’s not sold will be repurposed at Summer’s Table or donated. “I don’t like to waste anything,” Tarango said.

They also have Business and Pleasure umbrellas and chairs for rent for hotel visitors or locals who may have family visiting.

What to expect 

Tarango has plans for some exciting workshops. “The big table that holds the produce will be pulled out into the center of the store, and we’ll have charcuterie and floral arrangement classes,” she said.

Who you’ll see when you drop in. “Gayle will be working at Mercado two days a week and Embry will work from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., and I’ll do afternoons,” Tarango said. “I have a couple of high school girls to help out and friends will do one shift a week.” 

She also has wagons onsite for customers to use to transport items to their cars.

Now that her dream has been fulfilled, Tarango’s future plans involve a larger space. “I’d like to have a (kind of) co-op, stores within a store, another collaboration to bring vendors together to create a communal space.” 

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Party goods by Hi Sweetheart and cards by Emily MacDonald

Tarango knows from experience how meaningful it is to bring meals to others, especially those going through breast cancer treatment. She has provided meals to friends and families who are experiencing it. “So they will have nutritious meals,” she said. “These are wives and mothers who previously did this for their families and now can’t shop and prepare food. It fills a need.”

Tarango added a wall of cards designed by Emily MacDonald, who went through breast cancer, and along with traditional cards, creates empathy cards for cancer patients. 

Full circle 

 “My health is good, I’m not worried, and I’ve gotten to do what I want to do,” said Tarango. “I’m working hard, but it’s a good tired. Being diagnosed with cancer forced me to reassess my life. I’m so incredibly lucky. We all (the collaborators) get to do something we’re passionate about.”

As if there weren’t already enough coincidences in her story, here’s one more: Summer and Ed found their puppy Greta on the same date that she was diagnosed with cancer four years ago. 

Mercado is closed today (Tuesday) but will open back up tomorrow. Stop in and take a look at this lovely one-stop-shop for food, flowers, gifts, party goods and collectibles. 

Mercado Laguna is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 1-6 p.m. Sunday 1-5 p.m., closed Tuesdays.

For more information, go to www.summerstable.com.

Follow Mercado on Instagram @mercado_laguna.