Serving up organic vegetarian soup and a side of dignity

A Minneapolis chef recalls his own experiences with hunger and homelessness to create his ‘radical soup kitchen’

A man in a black shirt scoops a serving of chili into a bowl.
Chef Judah Nataf of Soup For You! Cafe, serves a bowl of chili. Nataf started a cafe in the basement of Bethany Lutheran Church five years ago to provide a "radical soup kitchen" to all visitors.
Tom Crann | MPR News

Chef Judah Nataf knows the value of a fresh warm meal. Five years ago in the basement of a church, he started a cafe where every day for lunch, Nataf serves free bowls of organic, vegetarian soup to any and all who come. In his Soup for You! Cafe in the Seward neighborhood, the guests are served full meals at a table, just as they would be served at a restaurant.

Nataf, a refugee from Tunisia who endured hunger as a child, calls it a “radical soup kitchen.”

“I'll always remember the few places that you actually weren't in the line, where you sat down, and you're a real person that deserves dignity and respect like everybody does,” he said. “We don't care what's in your wallet, you're the same.”

Nataf said he grew up hungry for the first eight years of his life. He also experienced homelessness living in the United States.

“I fell on hard times in Minneapolis, and I lived under the bridge that's right up the street under Franklin,” he said. “I ended up eating in all the places, and I appreciated that,” he said.

He was able to overcome homelessness and got an opportunity cooking at the now-closed St. Martin’s Table, where he mastered the art of soup-making. Fifteen years later, he collaborated with the former pastor of Bethany Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Rev. Mike Matson, to create Soup for You!

With hundreds of recipes memorized, Nataf starts his day at about 7 a.m. to prepare, using whatever donated ingredients are available.

“That's purposeful because most people around the world don't get up in the morning and go to a shiny new store and buy everything they want,” he said. “There's a lot of hunger out there and poverty, so the idea of using what we have really is close to my heart.”

The kitchen is run with a focus on sustainability. The ingredients are donated, anything left over is composted, and the soups are intentionally vegetarian.

“Meat is a luxury around the world where there's hunger, and also, by being vegetarian, we're being more inviting to our new immigrants,” Nataf said.

Since February 2015, Nataf has made close to 100,000 servings. Soup For You! is funded predominantly through donations from the church and greater community, while being run solely from volunteers.

The fresh bowl of soup for some is just a bonus. The current pastor of Bethany Lutheran, Jeffrey Schulz, said many come for the fellowship.

“It brings together people that would never probably be in the same room together, let alone at the same table,” he said. “We do have people who are experiencing homelessness and poverty, but we have local Seward business folk that come in and have meetings here, people from our immediate community who come in to have lunch, and I think come as much for the community as for the really good soup.”

You can visit Soup for You! 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every weekday at Bethany Lutheran Church in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis.

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