We just learned that our close friend, Visa Lam, the owner and chef of Deli V in Upland, passed away. Hundreds of other people, I'm sure, have uttered those same words during the past month. She was that kind of person with all of her customers.
Deli V was the first pure restaurant discovery of ours (as opposed to places we tried on Alan Borgen's recommendation) when arriving in Rancho Cucamonga 6+ years ago. My wife was struck by its name in a newspaper restaurant listing. We almost gave up looking for it, so hidden it was from the main street in Upland.
Thankfully we did find it, for Deli V served some of the best panini's, the best cookies, the best brownies, the best soups, the best pies, and the best cake (and the best tuna melt, but that might be just me) in the Inland Empire.
And it had Visa. While she exuded love for her food, and wasn't shy about telling everyone how good it was. Unbridled affection for her customers was her dominant trait. As far as we could tell (to be fair, we never actually went to Deli V during peak times, so it was never particularly crowded while we were there), Visa visited every customer personally. At least, every customer who wanted to became a friend.
Visa was the kind of person who would inspire regulars to arrive, totally unbidden, to plant and maintain the planters in front of the restaurant (we were there once when a couple of regulars started on the task, and I kicked myself for not thinking of it myself).
She was the kind of person who took pride in her perfect health inspection scores. Not just good enough to get A's with a handful of checkmarks for minor infractions, like almost every other restaurant in California. No, Visa had unblemished A's.
She was also the kind of person who would habitually send out samples of soups and desserts just because she was proud of them, thought we would like them, and wanted to see what we thought.
After trying one of her brownies, we decided to bring a half dozen with us on a trip to visit with my wife's family in Mexico (which I happily drove in from Pasadena on my lunch hour to pick up). Brownies (and other deserts) from Deli V became a staple of any time anyone in the family travelled from Los Angeles to Orizaba. Visa even catered most of our most recent Christmas dinner, which we brought with us to the family Christmas in Tijuana. (My nephew has already asked about the brownies for this summer's upcoming trip.)
Since moving to Pasadena several years ago, our Deli V visits were reduced to once a month, in conjunction with a couple of regular errands we run in the Inland Empire. Visiting with Visa was always the highlight for me, as we could easily spend two hours chatting (when she wasn't serving and chatting with others).
I'd give anything for just one more tuna melt.
Click here for a Flickr photo album of some of our trips to Deli V over the past years.