Mel’s Diner Cheese Soup Voted Best


Washington County Enterprise-Leader - - FRONT PAGE - By Lynn Kut­ter

PRAIRIE GROVE —Mel’s Diner in Prairie Grove has an award-win­ning white cheese soup but owner Bran­don Van­sickle is not shar­ing the recipe.

Ac­tu­ally, Van­sickle said, he doesn’t have a recipe writ­ten down to share.

“I don’t cook with a recipe. I cook to taste,” Van­sickle said. “I know what my end game is as far as what I want it to taste like.”

The diner has par­tic­i­pated in the Empty Bowls Chal­lenge fundraiser for three years to ben­e­fit Life­source in Fayet­teville, and the soup re­ceived the most votes as the best soup for the 2018 event held at The Barn at the Springs in Elm Springs.

The first year, Mel’s Diner was in fourth place and last year, the soup came in sec­ond place.

Van­sickle has made the same white cheese soup all three years. The soup has three dif­fer­ent types of cheese, broc­coli and ba­con.

For 2018, Van­sickle made 14 gal­lons of soup and left with only one gal­lon of soup left over. Many other par­tic­i­pants were leav­ing with a lot more than that, he said.

Co­letta Pat­ter­son, cor­po­rate di­rec­tor for Life­source, said the Empty Bowls Chal­lenge usu­ally brings in about $15,000 for the non­profit agency. About 300 peo­ple bought tick­ets to at­tend the 2018 event, and 16 chefs made 19 soups to bring to the chal­lenge.

As part of the event, pot­tery classes in North­west Arkansas and pot­tery artists make bowls so that each per­son can pick out a bowl to take home to re­mind them of all the “empty bowls” in north­west Arkansas, Pat­ter­son said.

Stud­ies show that one out of eight peo­ple in north­west Arkansas is food in­se­cure, which means all these peo­ple do not know where their next meal is com­ing from, Pat­ter­son said.

Life­source serves around 62,000 fam­i­lies in the re­gion each year with the goal to help break the cy­cle of poverty. Its ser­vices in­clude a food pantry, cloth­ing closet, men­tor­ing, sum­mer day camp, coun­sel­ing ser­vices and lunches for se­nior adults.

Van­sickle said Mel’s Diner par­tic­i­pates in the Empty Bowl Chal­lenge be­cause Life­source helps peo­ple in this part of the state.

“This is not in Africa. This is not in New York. This is home,” Van­sickle said. “Life­source feeds peo­ple and also pro­vides other ser­vices.”

Melissa Van­sickle said they also like the Empty Bowls fundraiser be­cause of the other restau­rants and chefs par­tic­i­pat­ing.

“It’s just a fun event,” she said. “All the restau­rants are get­ting to­gether, sup­port­ing each other and hav­ing fun.”

Mel’s Diner serves its cheese soup in a loaded baked potato in the res­tau­rant. Melissa said cus­tomers start call­ing in their or­ders when she an­nounces the soup will be on the menu for the day.

Ralph Dot­son of Prairie Grove is a cus­tomer of Mel’s Diner who at­tended the Empty Bowls Chal­lenge this year.

Dot­son agrees with the re­sults.

“Yeah, theirs is def­i­nitely the best,” Dot­son said.


Bran­don and Melissa Van­sickle, own­ers of Mel’s Diner in Prairie Grove, share their awards they’ve won at the Empty Bowl Chal­lenge, a soup fundraiser for Life­source in Fayet­teville. Their three-cheese soup came in sec­ond place last year and in first place this year with the most votes for best soup.


Awards given out for the Empty Bowl Chal­lenge are de­signed and made by pot­tery artists in North­west Arkansas. This is the first­place award for the 2018 fundraiser.

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