DIY Soup & Bread
Want to host your own Soup & Bread? Great idea! Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
A venue: In Chicago, Soup & Bread’s home base is a bar, and we’ve found bars, taverns, and clubs to be a good bet coast to coast, as Soup & Bread is an effective way to drive traffic their way during the early evening hours when business is otherwise slow. Plus, what goes better with soup and bread than beer? Find a civic-minded publican and it’s a win-win situation for all. Other possibilities might be an art gallery, an events hall, a local church or school, or even a private home.
A cause: Conceptually, Soup & Bread is a natural fundraiser for hunger-relief initiatives. But why stop there? In Seattle, a group of enterprising women held a private event to raise money for an agency providing transitional housing for the homeless. You could use it to fundraise for a new school playground or a community garden. Whatever your mission, identify folks working in the field and partner with them get the word out to their supporters. Invite them to staff an info table during Soup & Bread, or just offer to distribute leaflets on their behalf.
Soup: When it comes to soup it’s best to cast a wide net. If you tap a half-dozen or so restaurants, caterers, friends, and local notables to contribute, you’ll easily create a broad base of support for your efforts: If each of them draws 20 people you suddenly have a crowd! In Chicago we suggest that cooks make at least 2 gallons of soup, which is about the most the average person can whip up in the average home kitchen. But professionals often have the capacity to bring more, so don’t stop ‘em if they want to bring a 10-gallon vat of chili. Also, depending on the inclinations of your community, it’s usually a good idea to explicitly solicit at least a few vegetarian soups.
Bread: Bread has such a short shelf life in the market that you’d be surprised how easy it is to find a willing donor. In Chicago, both La Farine Bakery and the culinary program at the Illinois Institute of Art contribute the bread for our event. Some bakeries will only donate to a licensed 501 C-3 non-profit, but others aren’t so fussy – so just start asking around! You will probably have to go pick it up yourself, so a car is helpful.
Publicity: Get the word out to the local media with a clear, comprehensive press release at least two weeks before your event. Be sure to highlight any newsworthy angles such as a hot-button issue or a celebrity chef — and don’t forget to include your contact info! And, of course, work your social networks through Facebook and Twitter.
Tables and chairs: Unless you’re using a space with its own tables and chairs, you’ll need to round these up as well, which can prove a bit of a logistical challenge. Figure out your capacity and hit up friends for their card tables and folding chairs. Or, go the easy route and rent them from a party supply company.
Gear: Unless all your cooks are pros with their own soup warmers, you should collect as many slow cookers as you have chefs. These can be found cheaply at thrift stores or borrowed from friends with the promise that you’ll scrub them clean and return them pronto. Or, if you want to invest for the long term, a basic 7-quart Crock-Pot can often be found new for under $20. It’s nice to provide ladles (though you can also ask cooks to bring their own) and thermometers to make sure the soup is piping hot. And of course you’ll need bowls and spoons. In Chicago we use compostable disposables, but if your venue has a kitchen sink or dishwasher you might want to consider going all out. Real soup spoons and pretty ceramic bowls can really class things up.
Ambience: Speaking of class, nothing makes a divey little bar look cozier than some vintage flowered tablecloths and candles. We also have a bunch of breadbaskets that we line with tea towels. Figure out what little touches you can include to make your event special – in Seattle, for example, we came across a bunch of hurricane lanterns that, when lit, gave the room a warm, welcoming glow.
Programming: Over the years people have asked if their band can play at Soup & Bread, or if we wanted to host a book reading, or a comedy set. We’ve always intentionally kept the event free of programming, on the grounds that we just want to provide a low-key space for people to talk and mingle. But we do often have DJs spinning background music, and our Seattle Soup & Bread was followed by a rock show, with the proceeds from that going into the donations pot as well. It’s totally up to you.
Volunteers: Many hands make light work! As the organizer you’re going to spend a surprising amount of time answering questions, so it’s crucial to have at least a few dedicated helpers to bus tables, wash dishes, find more napkins, slice more bread, refill soup pots, etc. It can be quite helpful if at least one person in your crew has some food service experience.
Soup & Bread is an open-source concept, and can be as casual or as structured as you like. However your event comes together just remember to have fun! And let us know how it goes.