Soup & Bread returns to the Hideout Inn for ‘pay-what-you-can’ meals

By Beth Stewart
Medill Reports

Home cooks and local chefs volunteer to serve up hot soups from crock pots to patrons for a “pay-what-you-can” meal through the Soup & Bread benefit at the Hideout Inn at 1354 W. Waubonsia Ave. All are welcome at the weekly Wednesday benefit that has been raising funds for local food pantries and hunger relief organizations for 12 winters.

“Charitable events in the food world often have a really high ticket,” Soup & Bread founder Martha Bayne says. That’s fine, she says, “But this is deliberately the opposite of that.”

Philosophically, she explains, she is committed to creating a space where people gather over a hot meal and can pay what they can to support their community, even if that means they pay nothing.

Set back in a mostly industrial area sandwiched by the North Branch of the Chicago River and I-90, the Hideout Inn is a neighborhood bar without many apparent neighbors. However, as soon as you open the door to the 100-year-old house-turned-bar and legendary music venue, where beers are shared under the warm glow of string lights, the sense of fellowship is palpable.

“I love food as a form of community,” says Sean Abernathy, who works at the Local Foods just down the street from the Hideout.  While she occasionally pops in for a pint after work, tonight was her first Soup & Bread. “I love the whole concept,” she continues after biting into a spicy gingery Tom Kha, “The best food is made with love, for more than just yourself.” The Hideout offers several choices of soup for each benefit event.

All winter long, the prohibition-era bar is filled with the hum of friends, families, and co-workers packed into the back room, gathering over a meal of bread donated by Publican Quality Bread of Chicago and hot, delicious soup prepared by volunteers.

Hideout patrons line up for soup
Volunteer chefs and members of the benefiting Marjorie Kovler Center serve up hot soups to patrons of the Hideout Inn for the twelfth annual Soup & Bread gathering. (Beth Stewart/Medill)

Anjulie Rao of East Garfield Park is one of those volunteer cooks. This is her fourth time attending Soup & Bread but her first time sharing a soup of her own. She’s prepared a South Indian vegetarian lentil soup called Sambar that is spicy, and rich with coconut.

“Out of all the bad things that happen in this world, there’s nothing wrong with giving people some warm soup, a piece of bread in a nice place with wood paneling,” Rao says.

Bayne, a bartender in 2009, started Soup & Bread at the time. to drum up patrons mid-week through the long winters. The program has grown into a tradition at the Hideout that has raised more than $90,000 for area hunger relief organizations. This year she hopes to break the $100,000 mark, and with an opening night Jan. 8, that raised $1,150, she is pretty confident in that goal.

Soup & Bread has partnered with 13 different beneficiary organizations including the Marjorie Kovler Center for torture victims as well as the Greater Chicago Food Depository, and will pool the funds raised to distribute among them equally.

Soup & Bread serves the weekly Wednesdays meals 5:30-9 p.m. through April 1 at the Hideout Inn, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave.

Photo at top: The Hideout Inn is packed with families and friends lining up for a pay-what-you-can meal of homemade soup benefiting area food pantries on Wednesday nights through April. (Beth Stewart/MEDILL)