One month after her husband died, Theary Chem is carrying on the family business, Bagel Café on Main Street near Stanley. I heard about how much people enjoyed visiting the place -- for the fresh food but also for interactions with Theary and her husband, Sothy "Rocky" Sao.
Then in January, Rocky became ill, and he died of cancer May 24 at the age of 49. A niece set up a GoFundMe page to help with medical expenses, and now donations also will be used for funeral costs.
I talked to Theary on June 24, one month after she lost Rocky.
"He did everything for me, and now he is gone," she said, sadly.
She told me they were married for 10 years but had known each other much longer. They are both from Cambodia, and he moved here in the 1980s in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge devastation. But he continued to travel back to Cambodia, where they met.
"He saw me, and we married each other and came here," Theary said, succinctly summing up their love story and her life-changing move.
They settled in Oakland. She worked at her aunt's doughnut shop, learning how to run a business, he worked as a driver for an armored car company, and they saved their money. They had two children, Ken, now 9, and Socheata, 2.
Theary told me they opened the Bagel Café in Pleasanton one year and two months ago, their dream come true. It sells breakfast and lunch, and she makes gourmet sandwiches and salads, and carries a yummy assortment of baked goods.
"I love my job, and I love to make the food for my customers and their families," Theary said. "I make the sandwiches from my heart."
She now runs the cafe herself, with the help of her sister and her niece when trade is brisk or when she needs to run to the bank or tend to other business.
"This week has been a little bit quiet, everybody is ready for vacation," she told me. "I stayed open. I tried my best."
The GoFundMe campaign (search "Funeral for Sothy Sao") has a goal of $20,000, and as of Thursday had raised $12,086. Donors have commented on the warmness of the couple and how they have gone the extra mile in their service.
"They are the sweetest, most genuine couple," one commenter wrote.
Customer Yen Lee emailed me: "It is an Amador student favorite. Their food is good, well-priced and served with a warm, genuine smile. Being a teenager is sometimes very difficult. Sothy and Theary always welcomed the kids with a kind heart and warm smile."
Theary said she has customers from Foothill High as well as Amador Valley, and she likes them because they are always smiling.
I said the teens must also bring good appetites, and Theary laughed and agreed, yes, that is also good.
She noted she also enjoys her customers because she learns more English from them every day.
Theary's positive attitude has indeed continued, throughout her husband's illness and dying, and COVID-19 business hardships, as well as raising the children.
She wears a mask these days, of course, but her eyes are smiling and welcoming. Oh, and her sandwiches are delicious.
Editor's note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is Tri-Valley Life editor for the Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, "Valley Views," appears in the paper on the second and fourth Fridays of the month.