Chef Maggie Zaccara stirs a 2-gallon pot of Asian-spiced pork and vegetable soup that shares the stove with another pot of bacon and corn chowder in the kitchen of her Hope & Olive restaurant in Greenfield, Mass. (pop. 18,168).
“I’ve always loved making soups; it’s one of my favorite things,” says Zaccara, 42, watching over the steaming pots in her farm-to-table eatery. “I like making something really special out of, really, nothing.”
When she’s not preparing roasted root vegetable sandwiches or summer heirloom tomato plates for regular customers, Zaccara is serving up an array of satisfying soups for Free Soup & Game Night at her restaurant on the first Monday of every month to raise money for local charities. Since her business opened in 2007, the event has provided more than $50,000 for causes ranging from the summer reading program at the Greenfield Public Library to fighting hunger through the Franklin County Community Meals Program.
Zaccara and her co-owners, brother Jim Zaccara, 40, and Evelyn Wulfkuhle, 38, understand what it’s like to receive community support. In December 2005, a fire destroyed Maggie’s previous restaurant, A Bottle of Bread, in nearby Shelburne Falls (pop. 1,951), where her brother worked as a server and Wulfkuhle was a cook.
“It was really, definitely, the hardest time in my life,” Maggie says about the fire that left her and her 13 employees out of work just before Christmas.
Within a week, however, the owners of a neighboring cafe organized a dinner benefit that raised $10,000 to help Bottle of Bread employees pay living expenses during the holidays. Other fundraisers followed—a concert featuring local folk musicians, an art auction, and another dinner at a restaurant in nearby Deerfield (pop. 4,750)—all organized by friends and fans of A Bottle of Bread to help Maggie get back on her feet.
“It was really completely heartwarming and overwhelming,” she says. “I was trying to wrap my head around why people were being so generous.”
Her co-owners at Hope & Olive say the community response may have had something to do with a free monthly soup night that Maggie established years earlier at A Bottle of Bread. At first, the event wasn’t about raising money for charity; Maggie just liked to give away good food. But when floods washed out the bridge of a nearby farm that supplied her cooks with fresh vegetables, a free soup night raised more than $1,300 to help rebuild the bridge.
After fire destroyed her own business, Maggie’s entrepreneurial and charitable spirit only grew. She and her two new partners bought a corner building in an industrial neighborhood targeted for revitalization in Greenfield. Its location, at the intersection of Hope and Olive streets, gave the eatery its name and, upon opening, Free Soup & Game Night was part of the owners’ business plan.
“It’s one way that I feel we can offer our thanks to the community,” Maggie explains.
Food and games
The event features a buffet lined with soups from Hope & Olive, as well as soups and dishes provided or solicited by the designated charity. Board games such as Operation, Apples to Apples, and Trivial Pursuit are provided by the restaurant, and patrons bring their own cribbage boards, dominoes or playing cards to enjoy with their soup and conversation.
About a dozen large glass jars are scattered throughout the dining area for guests to drop in bills, change or checks for the charity du jour. Patrons include families, young professionals, farmers, artists and small business owners.
“This is my little hangout window on a busy Monday,” says Caroline Voyles, 24, of Greenfield, a regular at Soup & Game Night, grabbing dinner between work and her roller derby practice in nearby Hadley (pop. 4,793).
For charities that want to participate, staying on a yearlong waiting list is worth it, say leaders of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice, which raised $1,800 in March to support its advocacy programs for nonviolence.
“Hope & Olive is saying, ‘Come, we want to feed you so that you can help to feed the community,’” says Liz Kelner, 69, the center’s director. “What could be better?”
Maggie agrees. Her reward is seeing people sitting around tables eating good food and making good memories for a good cause.
“It encapsulates all the things that I like about community,” Maggie says, “and a big part of that is food ’cause that’s my thing.”