Home Cooking

Soup and Bread Creator Talks Cookbook Success

September 28 2012 - 12:16 PM


Free food, a cozy bar and helping those in need – what else could you want on a cold, winter night? These all make up the crux of Soup and Bread, a weekly event hosted by Martha Bayne at the Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia. Bayne just published her second cookbook and is in the fifth year of hosting Soup and Bread, with recipe submissions from a long list of prominent Chicago chefs and food writers. We talked to Bayne about how she got from her start at the Reader, to speaking at the recent Chicago Writers Conference and a national book tour.

Chicago Foodies: How did you get started in food writing?
Martha Bayne: I was an editor and staff writer for the Chicago Reader for about 10 years and covered a lot of different subjects, from about 1998-2007. But I was actually the first restaurant editor The Reader had. When I first started I was brought in to manage their online database of restaurants. And at that point there weren’t very many of those around…I helped launch the restaurant section at the reader, and then I moved on and did other things. I had no food background at all. I’m not sure why they gave me the job. 

CF: How was the concept of Soup and Bread born?
MB: I was working at the Hideout and I was working there for like a year and I had the slow Wednesday afternoon shift…So I was trying to think of something we could do to drive business to the bar that would be fun. And I came up with this Soup and Bread idea. At the time I honestly didn’t realize how widespread these kinds of projects are. I just naively thought I’d come up with it all myself…So this coming January will be our fifth season. It quickly became very popular. It spread through word of mouth, Facebook and whatever.

CF: How did the idea turn into a cookbook?
MB: It kind of took off really quickly the first 2 or 3 months. When I started it, I had no idea it would take on a life of its own. When I did start it, I also started a blog and collecting recipes from people and posting them on the website. After the first season, I thought why don’t we make a little cookbook…[With a] Kickstarter campaign we raised $4,000 and change to cover the cost of producing the book. We put together this little handmade cookbook. It had spiral binding. We printed 1,000 copies, and we sold it at craft fairs.

CF: Did you feel the cookbook was stuck in the Midwest?
MB: I’m very happy with the cookbook that we did with Agate (a press in Evanston). Maybe they’re right; maybe it is a regional project. People in the Midwest seem to get it more…that’s not to say I haven’t heard about this in.other places too. I feel like taking the Soup and Bread idea and really blowing it out and trying to get. I don’t know Paula Deen to contribute a soup recipe would’ve been antithetical of what I was trying to do.

[We have recipes from] Paul Kahan, Stephanie Izard, the Hardy boys…I like that, the eclecticism of the whole thing is what makes it original. Working with an independent press is better…I feel like you get more one on one love.  

CF: Why do you think the idea became so successful?
MB: It was 2008, 2009. The economy had really dropped out in general, especially the newspaper industry. A lot of people I knew were getting laid off from their jobs. I thought this would be a fun, cozy thing that will give people a fun, affordable way to get out of the house during wintertime and cooking. I was trying to do a lot more cooking at home to save money and getting interested in that. And it worked.

CF: Did you feel like you were competing with yourself by having both a blog and a cookbook?
MB: There’s def more recipes in the blog than there are in the book. If somebody is just looking for a soup recipe there are a million out there. [With the book] they’re getting the aesthetic. It’s very pretty. It evokes a certain vintage nostalgic feeling. The cookbook was sort of inspired by classic community cookbooks that the middle school would put together or the church…so that was the model for the cookbook. You’re getting little biographies of the chefs and little stories…I’m probably in competition with myself but the stakes are pretty low right now. I’m not really in this to make any money.