Mel’s Diner Cheese Soup Voted Best
EMPTY BOWL FUNDRAISER POINTS TO HUNGER
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.