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Soft serve comes & goes, but dentists are forever.

Long ago in a city no one’s ever heard of,
Ponderosa was the hot new restaurant in town.

Ponderosa had two main draws for the people of Rancho Cucamonga. Steak! And a fully-stocked unlimitedsoft-serve station!

The people who knew—I was one of them—never ate sundaes out of sundae bowls.They used salad bowls, adhering to this time-honored engineering process:

  • Establish seismically secure perimeter with swirl of chocolate soft serve.
  • Fill center with chocolate syrup, sprinkles, whipped cream, and nuts.
  • Carefully erect 8-inch chocolate/vanilla tower, then top with flourish of more chocolate syrup, sprinkles, whipped cream, and nuts.
  • Cap tower with victory brownie or some ornamental bread pudding.
  • Transfer to booth for consumption.

This became a weekly ritual.

Creating obscene soft serve sculptures.
Eating them.
Basking in discomfort.

Then one summer, all of Rancho Cucamonga stopped going to Ponderosa.

No one knew why. People just knew that people didn’t go to Ponderosa anymore.

My parents didn’t care whether people went to Ponderosa. Once they decided they went somewhere, they never stopped going. Eating in an empty restaurant at 7pm was a plus for them.

But it wasn’t the same.

I hated sitting in an empty restaurant with my parents, eating soft serve out of a salad bowl.

Whenever we went to Ponderosa, I would sink into deep melancholy. I’d still manage to create my own soft-serve sundaes. But they tasted like defeat.

It was embarrassing to be eating soft serve in this restaurant nobody even went to anymore, in a city no one had ever heard of.

I was 14.

Today, the building formerly known as Ponderosa Restaurant is called Ponderosa Dental Group.

The new owners kept the original lettering and simply added a “DENTAL GROUP” sign next to it.

Dentists in Rancho Cucamonga have always been in high demand. They’re everywhere.

My own dentists lived next-door until success allowed them to pay cash for a custom-built mansion in the hills. We were already in the hills, but moving 500 meters up the street provided an even more expansive view than the one they already had.

They succeeded not just because they were great dentists, but because they made you feel special. They’d ask you questions about yourself as your mouth was full of fluoride and drool, and when you answered, consonants overpowered by the blue slobber now running down your chin, they understood every word.

“So, how’s life?”


“That’s such great news, Kelly! Where?”


“Exciting! I guess you can eat free burgers whenever you want now.”


Where Ponderosa eventually foundered, my formerly-next-door dentists flourished.

My personal theory is that people never really wanted to stand in line to eat at a restaurant that served steak and unlimited soft serve.

They wanted to feel special. When the novelty of steak and soft serve wore off, they stopped going.

They kept going to the dentist, though. Because dentists get it.

Dentists were forced to figure out long ago that the thing isn’t the thing. If it was the thing, no one would go to the dentist for annual teeth cleanings. Do people really need annual teeth cleanings?

The most successful dentists make us feel loved.

They chat us up, ask probing questions about our work, understand us even when our mouths are full, and let us dig for toothbrushes and sugar-free lollipops in a giant treasure chest afterwards. They know what city we live in—they live here, too. They even love us enough to ask if we want nitrous oxide with that.

Feeling loved is a very big deal. It’s the reason why I never go to the dentist anymore. I just haven’t met anyone like my old dentists since I moved to San Francisco. In fairness, I’m afraid to keep looking. I’d rather take my chances with restaurants.

Soft serve comes and goes, but dentists are forever.

11 Responses to Soft serve comes & goes, but dentists are forever.

  1. Briana says:

    Olive Garden was our Ponderosa; salad and breadsticks were our steak and soft serve. And we thought we were big stuff when it finally came to town. Actually, wait. We were bigger stuff when we went to Olive Garden in the Big City, and soon after it came to our small town we lost all interest. Yup, pretty much exactly like you said.

    And… I still miss my all-time favorite dentist who is in San Francisco, so when you’re ready to take a chance again, just let me know.
    .-= Briana´s last blog ..Postcard Curiosity =-.

  2. Oh, can I relate. I have a bad tooth. So bad that I can imagine it hanging out on the street corner, wearing a leather jacket and smoking a cigarette. This tooth has been re-drilled and re-filled four times. It’s completely uncooperative.

    Three years ago, that bad tooth broke when I bit into a Cajun-turkey sandwich. And so I had to go to the dentist. But like many people, I don’t enjoy having dental work done, and I didn’t have a steady relationship with any particular dentist. When my then-boss suggested I go to her guy, I gave it a shot.

    I walked into his office, and there were concert posters (*original* posters) from Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Beatles, and such. There was classic rock playing on the speakers. And the dentist? Had long, blond hair in a ponytail, and wore a Hawaiian shirt. And I knew that *this* was a dentist who believed in pain management. And it was good. I had found My Dentist.

    Six months later, he was killed in a car crash, leaving me A) convinced that the universe does not like it when I have a happy dental experience, and B) afraid to develop a primary care relationship with any dentist. I suppose now I’m a dental trollop, opening my mouth for various and sundry DMDs, because I’m afraid that if I love another dentist, he’ll die suddenly and tragically.

    .-= Kathleen Jaffe´s last blog ..That and a few bucks =-.

  3. Briana, the breadsticks at Olive Garden were totally like soft serve! Sounds good, looks good, even smells, good, but the taste was somehow OFF. I’m going to look up this dentist of yours. By now the dentist situation feels like credit card debt. I’m afraid to know.

    Kathleen, this is the saddest story ever. Wow. I didn’t know this post would touch such a nerve. (sorry) I want to buy the rights to this story and turn it into a movie. But we don’t know how it ends yet. I have a feeling you’re about to meet a bright, funny, lovable dentist. He won’t be the same, but he will make your mouth happy. And instead of dying suddenly, he’ll give you a puppy. Yes, that’s how it will all play out.

  4. Amy says:

    Ahhhhh, favorite dentists.

    I have a story just like Kathleen’s, except without the untimely death. As far as I know.

    I was no older than 14 when I had a molar break. Unbeknownst to me, I had congenital faults in all my molars, and this was the first of several that had to have work. I broke it, funnily enough, while eating a steak from another theme restaurant. (But sadly, not soft-serve.)

    In the midst of rolling around on the bed, screaming in pain, I finally convinced my mother that she had to take me to the dentist RIGHT NOW.

    Which is where I met Makepeace Charles, the gorgeous trainee dentist with two names! In the least probable order!

    He was such a sweetie, so good and so young… and he was preparing to go for a whole nother round of training, so he could be an oral surgeon and fix up the faces of little kids injured in car crashes and born with cleft palates.

    I fell in love!

    Sadly he graduated and his replacement tried to talk me into getting braces to correct my overbite, which for me, meant breaking my jaw and wiring it shut for 6 weeks. Makepeace Charles had once told me I should think about it, but just gave me an “Oh, Amy…” look when I told him it’d NEVER happen. He got me.

    All my dentist experiences since have been bad. :( Luckily Makepeace Charles sealed my other molars before moving onto helping all those little kids.
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Trying to sell Nourishing Gruel =-.

  5. Amy says:

    Umm… yeah… by the way, I totally dig the message. Novelty for novelty’s sake BAD! Sad empty restaurants BADDER! People you can count on who make you feel special GOOD!
    .-= Amy´s last blog ..Trying to sell Nourishing Gruel =-.

  6. Christy says:

    Great post. This is a perfect example of the difference between the feature (clean teeth), and the benefit (being treated as if I matter). Seems like clean teeth would be a benefit, but being treated like I matter is a lot bigger deal. It’s pretty easy to see the feature (Soft Serve Ice Cream!!) but sometimes a lot harder to see the benefit.

  7. Kristle says:

    Kelly – Awesome post. I just so happened to read this BEFORE I went to my very own beloved dentist Dr. Minuk for a double-mercury-filling-removal-and-rock-hard-porcelain-replacement (not the technical term, by the way) on one of my molars.

    Dr. Minuk has been my dentist for 100 years – or basically since I have had teeth. He really takes every moment to explain what he is doing. (Yesterday he even used his fancy-schmancy camera to take a digital pic of my molar and show me what all needed to happen in the mystery that is my mouth.) He reassures me that it is all good. And he is always conscious to check in with me on the pain/discomfort factor.

    The only trouble is that he works in my hometown which I will be spending less and less time in as the years go by. But the last time I attempted to find a dentist in my new city, I had to go and get an echocardiogram before they would clean my teeth (it’s a dumb liability thing). So I have vowed to take superb care of my mouth, gums and teeth (along with the rest of me) so that I can continue to see him for my annual visit while I am in the Peg. It really is true – dentists are forever.
    .-= Kristle´s last blog ..31 Days of Fiery Kite Sweet Peach =-.

  8. I used to love Ponderosa and it’s why I loved this story. The Ponderosa in my neighborhood had the same fate. The employees didn’t show the love that is expected when you dine in their establishment.

    We need to show people how awesome they are or they just won’t come back. They can go anywhere to get the same service. It’s about loving them so much that they know you appreciate them, care about their needs, and would swim through the Amazon river to help them.

  9. “It’s the reason why I never go to the dentist anymore.” Never would have guessed – your avatar has such gleaming pearly whites.

    Souplantation was my version of Ponderosa. Postmodern pink and lime green interior with neon outlines of palm trees on the walls. Yes to seconds at the soft serve machine and a shuffling around of raw broccoli to look like I’d eaten it.
    .-= Megan Lubaszka´s last blog ..Wednesday Wisdom =-.

  10. Joely says:

    I was starting to suspect that the reason Ponderosa turned itself into a dentists was all the bad teeth created by eating all that soft serve.

    Customer love is the thing. I love the restaurants I love because they take care of me as a human being.

    My all-time favourite is Sweet Mandarin. I know the owners personally now, mostly because they are so incredibly welcoming, friendly and excited about what they do. There’s nothing like passion and enthusiasm to win customers over.
    .-= Joely´s last blog ..Amnar Serial- 8 Aftermath =-.

  11. […] Kelly Parkinson wrote an awesome post about the importance of making your people feel special. If you don’t make your people feel loved they won’t come back. She uses the Ponderosa […]

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