October 8, 2009
What will become of Monsieur Pont and La Bonne Soupe?

As fans of the much-admired La Bonne Soupe know by now, the lunchtime legend in the making was recently shutdown by a health inspector on a minor violation that was supposed to be easy to fix.

But La Bonne Soupe's proprietor, Daniel Pont, didn't take it so easy. He fretted and fumed and, one might say, carried the weight of the world on his shoulders as he hustled to reopen.

La Bonne Soupe on 8th Street downtown is no ordinary eatery. It owns the highest rating in Sacramento's Zagat guide. Folks line up for an hour or more for the soup, salads and sandwiches.

It is a charming place, seemingly plucked from a French village and transported to Sacramento.

Pont, 70, collapsed over the weekend as he raced to clean the restaurant, address the concerns of the health inspector and be ready for a re-inspection on Monday. He didn't make it. He was rushed to hospital and, at last word, was undergoing tests.

His many admirers rose to his defense. Many offered to volunteer to help. Mop the floors, scrubs the walls, whatever it took to re-open.

The problem? Pont is stubbornly independent. He works alone. He handles the money, the ladle, the knife. He scrubs the pots. He turns out the lights at day's end.

His one-man act is part of his charm, but given the recent circumstances, it threatens to be part of his undoing.

This is not something Sacramento wants to lose. La Bonne Soupe is one of the things that distinguishes our city. It is a sandwich shop, but it's also a destination. It serves soup, but it also infuses its patrons with a special kind of warmth. Simply watching this quiet, calm and humble man at work is enough to make one smile.

It seems Pont will not be able to simply pick up where he left off. Sure, the inspector found a few roaches. What else is new? There are roaches in and around nearly every restaurant in the land, including the very best dining establishments.

After I wrote the story about the chef's collapse, readers flooded my email with offers to chip in. Perhaps our fine French chef will relent and allow these well-meaning folks to roll up their sleeves and work.

It could be a win-win. Why not set up a makeshift internship program for culinary students and avid foodies? They could work in the restaurant - collect the money, sweep the floors, peel the potatoes -- and allow Pont to focus his talent and energy on what really matters, making and serving excellent food.

Maybe it will take a village to reopen this fine little restaurant. For the good of the city, and for all the fans of La Bonne Soupe, let's hope that happens soon. For the chef, we wish him a speedy recovery.

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