Youth Villages pulled off its 25th ode to the power of soup on Sunday

The Commercial Appeal
Monday, February 24, 2014

Youth Villages pulled off its 25th ode to the power of soup on Sunday — undergirded in roux, cream base and broth. And that was just the soup.

Food truck fare outside FedExForum varied from vegan (Fuel Café) to fried Oreos (The Soul Pig). Awards for the graze-fest included honors for best bread, dessert, gumbo, soup — of course — and specialty items.

All told, samples with dollops of crème fraîche, isosceles of pita and sprinkles of green onion netted Youth Villages $80,000 to $90,000. At booth No. 1, exactly where he’s been for 25 years, Half Shell owner Danny Sumrall was soaking up the vibe — heavy on nostalgia and jazz from nearly Memphis Doctors Dance Band.

“About 1990, Mike Warr was on the board for Youth Villages,” Sumrall said. “In one of our restaurants in Little Rock we were doing Soup Sunday, an Arkansas effort for kids. We saw that as such an opportunity, Mike said, ‘C’mon, we’re going to it at Bilbo’s.’ ”
“We just kept going every year. We outgrew (Captain) Bilbo’s after a few years. Then, we went to Woodland Hills and outgrew it. Then we went to The Pyramid, which now is obviously going its own direction ”
On Sunday Warr and Sumrall received Youth Villages’ Warr-Sumrall Spirit of Service Award for envisioning, on a small scale, what is now one of the largest food charity events in Memphis, including nearly 60 restaurateurs and a crowd organizers early on estimated at 3,000. Each paid $30.

“What better year to receive it than the 25th anniversary of the event you helped start,” said spokeswoman Kimberly Rossie. “We are so grateful to them for everything they do. The award in itself is a tribute to the selfless service and dedication of those two men.”
Sumrall was overseeing a table of lobster-shrimp bruschetta going so fast, it was hard to imagine he wasn’t crossing his fingers.
“We bring enough to feed about 3,000 people. We have a staff that chops, dices and puts everything together the night before. But try making 3,000 toast points. Tell me how that works out,” he said, laughing over the din of one of his biggest personal accomplishments.

The foodie fair spans the entire perimeter of the Forum, punctuated with nooks for eating and visiting amid live music. Up a floor, in the Opus Lounge, 500 to 700 more people paid $75 a ticket for a quieter, more sophisticated Soup Sunday, including fare from Felicia Suzanne’s.

The event benefits programs for youth with behavioral and emotional programs.

When CEO Patrick Lawler opened the doors at 11 a.m., 1,000 people had been waiting 45 minutes.
“It started 25 years ago with a couple hundred people,” Lawler said. “Now, it’s hundreds of volunteers every year. It’s restaurants donating the soup. It’s the communications in our community. People are really supportive of sharing the story.”

Most of the proceeds will help the hundreds of teens across the state who have aged out of the foster care system.
“We get some support from the government, but not nearly enough to take care of all the kids,” said Lawler, who started Youth Villages 34 years ago.

If teens are not adopted and can’t return to their families, they are on their own at 18. Youth Villages provides a safety net — transportation, housing, food, clothing, help with tuition and staff who check in once or twice a week to keep the ship on course.
Before that, Youth Villages tries to fill the gap with vocational skills, including its Food with Class program for teens who want to work in the industry. For them, seeing chefs in their crisp whites Sunday was like a tour of the uniformed famous.

“I see a lot of myself in them,” said Suzanne Willett. “In Jonesboro, Arkansas, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to chefs. My first exposure to an event like this would have been when I was in cooking school in my 20s.”

Soup Sunday Vendor Awards

  • Best Soup: Hog Wild’s BBQ chili
  • Best Specialty Item: The Half Shell’s Lobster and Shrimp bruschetta
  • Best Bread: eighty3 Jalapeno cornbread
  • Best Dessert: Nothing Bundt Cakes’ Bundt cakes
  • Best Gumbo: eighty3
  • Spirit Award: Hog Wild