It’s lunchtime on a sunny Friday afternoon in Atascadero, and the newly opened Colony Market & Deli is buzzing. You wouldn’t know the restaurant had only been open for just two weeks at the time, spotting families and locals that work in the area happily chowing down on sandwiches at picnic tables underneath an old gas station overhang and inside, where the garage doors have been pulled up to let the breeze in.
Joanna Wemple, co-owner of the establishment, is taking orders at the register, breezing through the lunch rush with a smile on her face and a warm greeting to each customer, like a seasoned pro. Even though it’s our first-ever visit, she greets us excitedly as if we were old friends stopping by.
The concept for Colony Market & Deli was years in the making for Joanna and her husband Shane Wemple. “We wanted a place that we can go to hang out and enjoy the community and the seasons that we have here in Atascadero,” Joanna told me.
Shane, a contractor by trade, spotted the vacant gas station on a prime corner spot in the heart of downtown Atascadero and instantly knew it was the perfect location for their sandwich shop. Though the space needed a lot of work – it had never been used as a restaurant, after all – Shane had a clear vision for the space: rolling up the garage doors and having people seated in an outdoor/indoor space, stocking a mini market with local goods, and creating a chill space for people to hang out and listen to live music.
Beyond creating a community gathering place, the Wemples see themselves as a key part of the overall revitalization of the town. “Over the years [Atascadero has] been thought of as the gateway to wine country, and Atascadero wants to be more than just the gateway,” Joanna said. Businesses like Colony Market & Deli and a newly opened branch of a popular local donut shop, SloDoCo are bringing in new visitors from SLO CAL (San Luis Obispo County) and beyond and showing them what Atascadero has to offer. “We’re really blessed to be at the forefront of all of the change that’s happening,” Joanna said.
The town has been quick to throw its support behind this small business. “Atascadero has come out in full force, and they haven’t just come once, they keep coming,” Joanna said. There are even customers that come in and let her know they’re working their way through the menu. “Our menu is so different [and] people are excited to try something new,” she said.
House sandwiches that bear quirky names like The Kluck (buttermilk fried chicken, jalapeño coleslaw, brioche bun) and Bullseye (house-roasted beef, aged Cheddar, shallot marmalade, arugula pesto, sliced tomato, Colony sauce, toasted French bread) are the main draw. There are also seasonal soups and salads, shareable bites (like porchetta fritters and duck fat fries) and a carefully curated beer and wine list highlighting local makers. I paired my sandwich (the Hot Mess Reuben) with Love Child: a locally made hard cider blended with kombucha from another local company (Jean Marie Cidery and Whalebird Kombucha, respectively) that perfectly complemented the flavors of the sandwich and is in line with the restaurant’s ethos.
“We want to make comfort food that is responsible and goes a step beyond your everyday meatloaf, if you will,” Joanna said, referencing the dish that sparked her husband’s passion for and creative journey with cooking: a meatloaf from Emeril Lagasse’s cookbook. “We have things that you can’t get anywhere else: the shallot marmalade, the arugula pesto, the porchetta with walnut gremolata,” all created to bring comfort food favorites to the next level.