Nearly three years ago, three waitresses cooked up an idea while passing plates.
They envisioned a farmers market filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers in Santa Ana, Orange County's largest city, which lacked the type of weekly outdoor event common to dozens of cities around Southern California.
Their dream will become reality today when the weekly Santa Ana Farmers' Market opens at 3rd and Bush streets. It ends their campaign to win over skeptical city officials, who were concerned it would turn into an unruly swap meet.
"We just wanted to create a community in Santa Ana," said Delilah Snell. "We wanted a place where people could buy fresh fruits and vegetables."
Snell, 29, met Lara Montagne, 27, and Branden Willman-Kozimor, 30, while they worked at the Gypsy Den in Costa Mesa, where they came up with the idea. The restaurant also has a location in Santa Ana, where the women have worked as well.
But city officials gave their idea a lukewarm reception.
"There was a concern ... it could turn into a general swap meet. Then you would have a swap meet competing with stores that pay rent and taxes," said Councilman Jose Solorio.
The initial site proposals were rejected. Then there was a question of how much money the city would receive for security and cleanup. At first, the city's price exceeded $40,000 a year.
After months of negotiations, the location was picked and the city's costs were whittled down to about $5,000 a year.
The women said Santa Ana's initial concerns seemed unwarranted because many cities in the area have successful farmers markets. Fullerton and Huntington Beach use theirs to attract customers to nearby stores. Santa Monica's market is a regular stop for well-known chefs and foodies looking for the best produce.
But Santa Ana's reluctance didn't deter the women. They opened an office in donated space, optimistically printed T-shirts with "Santa Ana Certified Farmers' Market" and established a website, www.grainproject.org. The women set up the market using $7,000 from a September fundraiser and their own money.
Snell went to more than 60 neighborhood association meetings in hopes of creating support. She said she cried in her car the evening she first heard the city's initial asking price for security and cleanup.
But the three continued to lobby City Council and neighborhood association members.
Their perseverance pays off today as the market opens with 20 vendors. The city plans to display promotional signs.
"Their tenacity got them to the point where people in the city would listen," said Mark Lawrence, assistant to the city manager.
He and others say the women proved themselves by being persistent and making themselves known to city officials and residents.
Snell has been writing thank-you cards to city officials. She also recruited City Manager David N. Ream to attend opening day festivities at 3 p.m. Several hundred people, including City Council members, are expected.
Councilwoman Lisa Bist, who at first opposed the market, said she changed her mind because of the women's thoroughness.
"We just wanted to make sure this would be successful," she said. "I think we know now that they really mean business."