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Gainesville souperstars compete in the return of the Souper Fun Sunday competition

Metro Diner server Katelynn Joyner standing with her table at the Souper Fun Sunday event. Metro Diner won first place in the vegetarian category. (Gabrielle Fischette/WUFT News)
Metro Diner server Katelynn Joyner standing with her table at the Souper Fun Sunday event. Metro Diner won first place in the vegetarian category. (Gabrielle Fischette/WUFT News)

Gainesville residents gathered at Saint Francis Catholic Academy for the first time in two years for the Souper Fun Sunday event to try different soups from around the county on Sunday.

The academy has been holding its Souper Fun Sunday event for 16 years. The event was created to bring the community together and bring attention to the restaurants around Gainesville, as well as to raise funds for the school.

Christy Green works at the academy's sister school, Saint Patrick Interparish School, and she was one of the many parent volunteers who helped with the event.

“It’s really good to get us all together, [it] makes us feel more like a family,” Green said. “You get to meet new people … [and] have good soup.”

Souper Fun Sunday brings restaurants from all over Gainesville to compete in three categories: vegetarian soup, non-seafood soup and seafood soup. These three categories were judged by seven local celebrity judges, including Storm Roberts, former radio host at WKTK-FM; Jerry Benton, the CEO of Campus USA; and Eric Godet, the CEO of the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce.

The first-place awards for this year went to Metro Diner for its potato soup in the vegetarian category, Top Hog BBQ for its smoked brisket chili in the non-seafood category and Gators Den Sports Grill for its gumbo in the seafood category.

The event also allowed the attendees to vote for their favorite soup in the same three categories, known as the People’s Choice awards. Spurrier’s Gridiron Grill won People’s Choice best vegetarian soup with its cheddar pear soup, the Keys Grill & Piano Bar won People’s Choice best seafood soup with its conch chowder and Mi Apá Latin Café won People’s Choice best non-seafood soup with its chicken tamale soup.

Many of the restaurants that participated in the event were able to head home with awards, as awards for second and third place were also handed out.

Souper Fun Sunday has had an average of 25-30 soups available for attendees to try every year. This year, there were 27 different soups from 21 restaurants.

Due to the coronavirus, the past two years of the event had to be done in a drive-thru method. Boxes of soup were packed and handed out to everyone who bought tickets as they drove through the campus. Stephenie Brockish works as the director of advancement at the academy and helped organize Souper Fun Sunday. She said she handed out more than 12,000 cups of soup in the two years the school used this method. She was ready to go back to the old system.

“I’m really excited to have it back in person this year,” Brockish said. “I personally did not eat soup for three months after filling that many cups.”

The event was held in the school's gymnasium, suited out with a blue theme to match one of the school’s representative colors. The restaurants were lined up around the edges of the room, some with custom tabletops for the Best Decorated Table contest, which was later won by Mi Apá Latin Café.

From 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., the representatives for each restaurant served cups of soup to the steady stream of attendees.

Some of the soups offered are currently available at the restaurants, while others were created for the event: Mi Apá Latin Café brought its Cuban vegetarian garbanzo bean soup and chicken tamale soup, which are not currently offered at the restaurant. Both soups were fan favorites.

The Great Outdoors Restaurant is one of the only restaurants outside of the Gainesville city limits that participated in this event. Taylor Dukes, the restaurant's executive chef, said it was a great way to connect with the community and try to attract a crowd from Gainesville.

“There used to be a lot more things like this around Gainesville, and this is one of the last standing ones,” Dukes said. “It’s a great way for us to get out to the community.”

The event also encouraged new restaurants to network with other establishments and introduce themselves to possible customers. Prime & Pearl opened in April 2021 and showcased its chicken corn chowder to the event attendees.

Carolina Rielly, the assistant manager of Prime & Pearl, said she enjoys doing these events where she can reach out to the community and put the restaurant’s name out there.

“It’s nice to meet the different owners and just really build a connection with everybody as well,” Rielly said.

The event also serves as a fundraiser. In the past, the proceeds of the event were dedicated to a technology fund for the school. Now, it goes to an endowment fund focused on providing tuition assistance for both current students at the school and incoming students. Saint Francis' principal, Jason Acosta, said the money that goes to the fund will continue to benefit the students for many years in the future.

“The proceeds that we get from this event go directly to help students who are in need to pay for things like their tuition, books [and] sometimes uniforms,” Acosta said.

This event has become a tradition for the school, and because it’s such an amazing opportunity to show residents all the restaurants open around Gainesville while simultaneously raising funds for the school, Acosta expects it to continue for a long time.

“Even with COVID-19, we refused to let it go,” Acosta added. “This is definitely something we will continue to do forever.”

Gabrielle is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.