Nikki Puentes

From left, Nikki Puentes and family, Hollister Puentes, Hunter Nielsen, and Greg Neilsen.

Editor's note: There’s nothing like a global pandemic to remind us of how lucky we are to live in a small, tight-knit community where no one is a stranger and everyone deserves compassion. For some Carpinterians, the COVID-19 pandemic became their Superman phone booth, the time and place to switch on their powers. We marvel at what so many community members have done to make the discomfort bearable and sometimes even beautiful. When the going gets tough, these Carpinterians get going. 

On March 13, private chef and elementary school PE coordinator Nikki Puentes discovered schools, as well as her catering jobs, were canceled. As an independent contractor, it was time to get creative about income, but grocery shopping for her family was first priority. While buying supplies at a deli she used to manage, gathering tomatoes and high-end pastas, a light went on. “I thought, I have access to get all these items that I’m buying and can get them for my friends,” Puentes says. 

With the help of a friend at a gourmet food and restaurant supply company and by using her cousin’s restaurant in Santa Barbara as a delivery zone, she put in a food order for 18 friends, transferred the goods to her garage, “and it was like a free-for-all.” After her second order, Puentes started a private Facebook group called The Secret Pantry. What began with 25 people now includes over 1,200—a fan base of Carpinterians looking for minimal contact shopping and high quality foods.

The Secret Pantry moved to Girls Inc. of Carpinteria’s industrial kitchen, which Puentes is thankful to rent for a nominal fee. Organic milk, eggs, specialty cheese and meats (sometimes Kobe steaks) and organic fruit can be found at The Secret Pantry, among others items. A true mom-and-pop shop, the Pantry benefits from Puentes’ incredible energy and the help of friends and family. “I get everything in bulk,” Puentes says, “so I’m slicing fresh 7-pound nitrate-free turkeys, 5-pound blocks of cheese, 7 pounds of pastrami, and it’s all being sliced (per order) and wrapped in wax butcher paper.” 

As a fourth generation Carpinterian, Puentes says she wants to keep the business close to home. “The Secret Pantry Carp will be a market in Carpinteria, if I am successful, when all is said and done.” For now, orders can be placed online at


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