Longtime owners of Sonoma’s Basque Boulangerie have confirmed plans to sell over their 20-year-old bakery later this summer. Though the sale is still pending, Ron and Francoise Hodges along with co-owner/baker Jack Montaldo hope to transfer ownership to Harman “Sunny” Bajwa of San Ramon in August.
It’s a bittersweet move for the partners. “The cafe was the center of life for us,” said Francoise, reached by phone today. “The staff are like our kids, but there were no kids to take over the business,” she said, of the decision to retire. Tired of long hours and needing to care for family, 20 years seemed like the right time to pass the baguette to a new generation. The couple don’t have children of their own, however, to take over the business and longtime staff weren’t interested in the burden of ownership. Several months ago, they started entertaining offers to buy the business.
“We turned down several people who wanted to change everything,” she said. Bajwa, a district manager for Noah’s Bagels told owners he wanted to keep the bakery, the staff and the product exactly the same. “He wants to make it a family tradition, like it’s been a family tradition for us,” Francoise said.
Hodges parents were the owners of the original Sonoma French Bakery, which opened in 1956. After selling the business in 1989, the bakery went through several ownership changes and ultimately dissolved. In 1994, the Hodges and Jack Montaldo (who was a baker at Sonoma French bakery) opened Basque Boulangerie Cafe as a restaurant and bakeshop on the square with the old world feeling of their parent’s bakery.
Over the last 20 years, the cafe has become the town’s gathering spot– where locals meet for coffee and fresh pastries or a sandwich. There’s usually a line of folks waiting to bring home a loaf of their Parisian style breads which have won numerous Harvest Fair awards. A number of local restaurants and groceries also stock their baguettes. The bakery has grown from three employees to more than 60.
As to the future, the partners are hoping for a seamless transition for customers and wholesale accounts. “The name stays the same, we’ll have the same pictures on the wall, the same bakers, the same staff. That’s our intention,” she said. Asked about any secret family recipes that may be leaving with them, Francoise laughs. “There isn’t any secret recipe. It’s just about handmade products you have to wait for,” she said.
Don’t expect an vanishing act by the Hodges anytime soon, however. Francoise and her husband plan to stick around long after the sale. “People are used to checking in with us,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere. We’ll just be drinking coffee with them on the other side of the counter.”