1069 North Collier Boulevard, #216, Marco
Naming a new business can be a daunting duty for some people, but when Chef Duban Valencia and Jessica, his wife and partner, wanted to find a name for their family-owned and operated health food market and café on Marco Island, the couple found a perfect fit when they combined two family nicknames.
“My sister Sarah was born on June 21, and her nickname was ‘Summer’ when she was in college,” Jessica Valencia explained. “My name is Jessica, but my father called me ‘JJ’ and when my sister was a baby she couldn’t say ’JJ’ so she called me ‘Day Day’ — we put the two nicknames together and came up with Summer Day — making our market and café a real family affair!”
That having been officially “weather reported,” lettuce move center stage to Summer Day Market & Café’s Chef Duban Valencia, who was born in Medellin, Colombia, a city with a current population over 5 million located in a narrow valley 5,000 feet above sea level in the Andes range.
“My father owned a sugar cane processing plant and business,” said Chef Duban, explaining that the Valencia family business was rooted in the cultivation, growing and processing of sugar cane into ‘panela’ (also known as chancaca and piloncillo). “Actually, it ends up as a big piece of brown sugar.”
“It was very labor intensive, from cutting the cane with a machete, then stripping the leaves and cleaning the cane, to feeding the cane into couple-ton presses to squeeze the juice out. The juice came out on one side into vats and the cane was pushed out on the other side. Then basically you cook the juice down and keep cooking until it’s thick enough to pour into molds,” explained Chef Duban.
“I was going to high school, but as the youngest son I was recruited to work in the family business — when you come right down to it — we were all just small farm businesses in the area, supplying the land and the labor, producing the product to be finally sold by middlemen for import by other countries.
“My friend came to visit from the United States, and told me there was a lot of opportunity for finding work in Boston where he had been working in a restaurant for six months. So I decided it was time to go. I come from a big family, three sisters and two brothers, they’re still there. I didn’t want to make panela and it did not pay well. In Hawaii (sugar cane plantations) it’s all machines. There (Medellin) it’s all human power. I applied for and had my visa when I came to America in ’97, flying in to Boston where I had friends.”
Cold, hard cash, not friends, presented hopeful applicants with the chance to apply daily for a visa at the American Embassy in Medellin, related Chef Duban. Every day, maybe 3,000 people showed up at the embassy and every person had to pay a $140 visa application fee to submit an application valid for that day only.
“Maybe only eight or 10 get a visa. I was lucky — it was like a lottery — the luck of the draw!”
“I worked in restaurants the three years I lived in Boston. I called it my apprenticeship when I worked at 29 Newbury Street, a famous Boston street and the restaurant was also famous. My friend worked there and he got me my job. Everything in America is about friends — when I arrived I soon found out how you get a job if you don’t know the language. That is where friends come in. One friend knows another and that friend, and so on. I worked in that restaurant three years in the daytime: I started as a dishwasher, working for one month until I was promoted to prep after I showed an interest in helping the prep. I worked and learned even more while I worked prep for six months.”
The Newbury Street restaurant’s executive chef noticed fledgling chef Duban. You’re doing a good job, let me teach you how to cook, he proposed. Chef Duban took him up on the offer.
“I worked there 2 1/2 years as a line cook during the day. At the same time, I worked nights in Maggiano’s Italian Restaurant, a big chain with over 20 restaurants serving Italian food family-style in major cities across the United States.
“The Boston Maggiano’s I worked in seated 400 people — that’s where I met Jessica — she had been working there as a waitress while attending college. Jessica had already graduated when we met in 2000, and even though she only spoke a little Spanish, she taught me English and was my only teacher. Her parents were retired and living on Marco Island and they welcomed me into the family when Jessica and I decided to get married in 2001,” said Chef Duban.
“We were married by Marco Island notary public Judy Gerwitz in my parents’ back yard and we bought Summer Day that same year in September. Now, Duban, our daughters, seven-year-old Isabella, 10-month-old Eliana and I live in a house two blocks from my parents’ home,” Jessica Valencia told your Marco Eagle reporter, while deftly unpacking, and simultaneously checking the invoice for a new shipment of natural, health-related supplements and vitamins, from the cartons on a table in the Summer Day Café’s dining area.
Jessica explained she became seriously interested in the holistic approach to treating illness, while living in Boston, when the young neurologist she went to suggested a holistic change in diet to obtain relief from the seemingly incurable cluster headaches she endured for years.
“It worked and it made me think I should look into this and I began by doing research on a family member’s medical problem. I would look at the effect a holistic diet would have, then I carried it even further when I enrolled in the New England School of Whole Health for two years.
“I started out with an internship in a cardiac rehab hospital out of town,” Jessica said, explaining that she couldn’t accept the internship because she had no way of commuting to the hospital from Boston, which also meant putting thoughts of earning a degree on hold if or when she could complete the internship. On the other hand, she fulfilled the practical and academic requirements to graduate from the school albeit without that piece of paper.
“You know how love is,” Jessica confided, “I don’t have any what if’s or maybe when’s — I’m truly happy with my life, my husband, and our children. Most of all, it’s really nice to be able to work together.”
Chef Duban wholeheartedly agreed “She’s been the boss, the professional and main person for the vitamins and holistic health supplements we sell in the market part of the store. Jessica is also the expert in the organic produce that we sell and I use and cook for the café part of the business ever since we opened in September 2001,” Chef Duban said proudly, noting that new customers are always asking him when Jessica will be working in the store, but the regulars know she is there from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“I’m the person in charge of the café. I’m the cook, I make the soups, the salads, everything. That’s why I come in around 7 a.m. to prep my produce and make everything fresh for that day because we open at 9 a.m. All the organic products we sell I use in the café, especially the tomatoes, and other salad vegetables. If I have fresh chicken breast I’ll make my popular chicken chili. When you use beef you get a lot of fat, but with chicken breast meat it’s healthier. Everything I do follows this philosophy.
“I use a lot of different vegetables to make my soups, sometimes carrot pepped up with fresh ginger or butternut squash with apple. There’s a reason why I use those small square containers in my salad bar: they hold enough for one day and the next day I can fill them with something new and different.”
Speaking of new and different, Chef Duban and Jessica explained how, two years ago, they decided to expand the Summer Day Market part of the business into the store next door formerly occupied by the Africa Gallery. “But we kept the restaurant in the original space just as it was when we bought the business in September 2001. When it became available, the rental agent suggested we take it— she definitely wanted us to be the tenants.” stated Chef Duban.
“Of course, after five years Summer Day was doing well, our daughter Isabella was now five years old and we were happily enjoying a good relationship with our loyal customers as well as the community in general,” Jessica explained. Chef Duban noted that another reason they decided to expand was to accommodate customers and carry a wider variety of items, like gluten-free frozen foods and organic wines, eliminating the need to drive to Naples.
“So Jessica and I talked it over and said ‘Why not?’ Now with the price of gas, it’s really a win-win situation for everyone!”
If you go
Sunny Day Market & Café
Marco Town Center, 1069 N. Collier Blvd. Suite 216.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday.