Food for the soul

Clean living in San Juan Bautista

COMFORTS OF HOME Natural Wonders in San Juan Bautista is a hidden treasure—a deli and health food store rolled into one. Photo: Robert Eliason

Blink, and you may miss it. Stop and go inside—and you won’t forget it.

Natural Wonders in San Juan Bautista is a hidden treasure of sorts; a deli and health food store rolled into one. Customers who stop by the establishment located at 215 Third Street may feel they’ve entered a home instead of a store.

Open its doors, and find yourself greeted with a large table set with napkins, salt and pepper shakers, and a large coffee urn. Choose to order food and dine, or walk along the treasure trove of walls filled with health-related merchandise. All the while, owner Alma Paulk will help customers or prepare dishes behind her kitchen counter.

The store promotes the practice of healthy living, serving fresh, organic and vegetarian/vegan food at its deli. It’s a lifestyle Paulk has practiced most of her life, but owning a health business or deli was never in her foresight.

“I never thought I was going to end up cooking for the public,” says the business owner. A former accountant with a master’s degree in finance from University of Phoenix in San Jose, Paulk says she was first introduced to healthy eating during elementary school in Mexico City, Mexico. “My friends were vegetarians and used to take me to their homes and introduce me to their meals,” she says. She became a vegetarian herself for more than 20 years ago, but doctors recommended she reintroduce meat back into her diet to increase her amino acids.

Later she took classes at culinary schools such as International Cooking in San Jose, California, and further learned about preparing exotic foods. “But I never really practiced it,” she continues.

She has now cooked five days a week for the eight-year-old deli.

The food is “very healthy Mexican-style,” says Paulk, who combines recipes with other South American foods. Quinoa is a staple in many dishes, and everything served is organic and vegetarian or vegan—with the exception of the turkey sandwich.

The deli’s “little, mini Whole Foods” portion of the store sells toothpastes, soaps, body lotions, shampoos, conditioners, flower-based and mineral-based make-up, multivitamins, body-building products and much more.

“It’s a specialty kind of place,” Paulk says. “A lot of people don’t know I’m here.”

But they should.

Paulk says many locals drive to larger cities to find products she already has on her shelves.   “There are alot of people who will go from Hollister all the way to Gilroy to buy their vitamins; I carry the best stuff, the stuff that really gives results,” she says.

Paulk opened the store soon after her husband, Ronald Paulk, opened his store Mission Clocks & Watches, next door at 217 Third Street, 14 years ago. Soon after, they moved from their residence in Santa Cruz to Hollister, and Paulk then realized she needed to do her own organic cooking, and even open her own business. “There were no places [in San Juan Bautista] that offered organic alternatives,” she says.

Natural Wonders serves and sells only organic and sustainable products—everything from snacks to the store merchandise fall under those standards. And though it’s technically a deli, Paulk says she conducts her business as a restaurant.

“Deli’s usually have stuff prepared and ready to go, but because the town is so small it can’t support the type of business where the food is already made,” she says. “I serve as [people] come, and people like it because it’s fresh.”

Locals and visitors share a common affinity for the food.

Geoff and Sofia Salloum, first-time visitors of San Juan Bautista, tried the vegan pozole and vegetarian burger. “This is literally the first place we came into,” says Sofia. “I’ve never had a soup like that. It’s really delicious.”

And San Juan Bautista resident Robert Eliason loves the lunch menu Natural Wonders offers. “My mom used to go to her place for lunch,” he says. “[Alma] is a great cook.”

But perhaps the luckiest customer is her husband, who happily eats there twice a day.  “Eating here is the highlight of my day,” he says.

Natural Wonders is open Thursdays through Mondays from 10am–5pm. Call 831.274.6447 for more information.

Leave your comments