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What's Good: Stirring the Pot

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Soup's on at St. Vincent de Paul

Veteran restaurant cook and ceramicist Mark Campbell has found his niche in the annual Empty Bowls fundraiser for St. Vincent de Paul's free dining facility ("Filling Empty Bowls," May 25, 2023). His ceramics training at Humboldt State University and his years working, then volunteering for the nonprofit kitchen serving the homeless and hungry make him the perfect point person for the event that groups across the country have used to raise money to feed those in need: soup buffets with artisan bowls for sale. This year, with new partners, he's getting ready for an even bigger soup to-do.

On June 6, from 5 to 8 p.m., a bevy of more than 200 handmade bowls will be up for auction while attendees feast on soups from local restaurants and eateries at the Eureka Conference Center ($25, $40 for two, $45 per family). This year, the list includes: Humboldt Bay Bistro, Bayfront Restaurant, Nou Nou's food truck, the Greene Lily, Vista Del Mar, Szechuan Garden, Manzanilla Kitchen, Ramone's Bakery and Café, Cap's food truck, Restaurant 511, Big Blue Café, Blue Lake Casino, Murphy's Market, Cal Poly Humboldt, Diver Bar & Grill and the Pub at the Creamery. "We're gonna have about 14 soups out at a time," says Campbell, who notes there will be a couple of chowders and at least one gumbo, but mostly the soups will be a surprise. "It's the only event where you're gonna have like 20 good restaurants next to each other in the same building."

The St. Vincent de Paul team will have a pot going, too. "I'm gonna make something vegan," says Campbell. "I know there's quite a few people who will go as long as there are some vegan options." This year, he'll be working with a new partner, too, as fellow volunteer May Siricharoen, who hails from Thailand and brings her experience working as a chef in Los Angeles, will be stirring the pot alongside him. Typically, the two brainstorm over the available ingredients at the dining facility on Wednesdays, "then we knock it out on Thursdays." Campbell talks about Siricharoen's cooking and use of flavors with open awe and says he's excited for what she'll come up with for Empty Bowls.

Along with more hands in the kitchen, Campbell has more artist help, too. Last year some 70 bowls came from the kilns at Cal Poly Humboldt, but the campus closure quashed those plans. The Fire Arts Center has stepped up to fill the gap, as have other artists. When Campbell found himself overwhelmed with a dozen formed bowls, he reached out to ceramic artist Cate Be (like Campbell, an NCJ Best Craft Artist winner), who glazed and fired them, yielding their first collaborative pieces.

Reaching out to folks on his Clay Buddies Facebook page, Campbell scored more than 100 bowls from potters across the country. The prolific and aptly named Donna Potter of Mission Hills Pottery in Nevada sent 50. "I thought I was good making 40. She sent me 50 and I was like, 'You win.'"

St. Vincent de Paul's kitchen is an operation that appreciates volume. "We've served about 4.5 million lunches out of that place," says Campbell. He says the annual cost is around $250,000, for which the operation relies on donations and grants. Last year's event raised approximately $7,000 for the kitchen and he's hoping this year's event at a larger venue will bring in more.

Campbell can't think of a better setup. "We've got really talented, skilled chefs that are making some wonderful food, and same thing with the artists," he says, "and we're getting together to feed the hungry."

Last Call for Soup at Japhy's

Tera Mar and Kate Manley showed up at 10 a.m. to stake out the first spot in line for a last meal from Japhy's Soup and Noodles on May 23. The restaurant announced its closure days earlier after a quarter century in business and the line for its final lunch service stretched up the block to Northtown Coffee.

"We've been coming here for 25 years, and we had to get one last Thai chicken curry and cold noodle salad," Mar says. "And cornbread." Under their cafe table, their 17-year-old miniature Dachshund Ming rests her white face in her paws. "She'll get a piece of my chicken," Mar adds.

Both she and Manley started coming to the shop when they worked at Humboldt State University. They remained steady customers, even picking up takeout during the height of the pandemic. Like many loyal regulars, they appreciated the filling bowls for low prices, as well as vegetarian options that went beyond green salad and macaroni and cheese.

When original owners Josh and Miwa Solomon opened Japhy's 25 years ago, Manley recalls, "It was the only place for food like this ... Asian comfort food." That has changed in Arcata and elsewhere over the decades. Up the hill from Japhy's stands Pho Hoang, where Thai green curry and hot bowls of phô are on offer. More upscale ramen can be had in town at Nori and Sushi Spot, and there are whispers about a new noodle joint opening nearby.

Owner Josh Hand opens the door at 11:30 a.m. and the line flows to the counter, with customers offering thanks and regrets. Asked about the closure, he dips his head and says he'll essentially be turning Japhy's back over to its original owners, who won't be reopening.

Behind the counter, staffers fly between the rice cooker and the five pots of soup, occasionally glancing up at the line through the window. One tells a customer she doesn't expect to make it to the usual 8 p.m. closing time before selling out.

At the pickup counter, a woman with gray hair picks up her Thai chicken curry soup and rice and gives a wan smile. "Thank you," she says. "I'm gonna cry."

No Alibi

While the Journal was unable to contact the Alibi's owner Justin Ladd by press time, the doors to both sides of the Arcata institution — old and new — have closed following a farewell weekend packed with regulars and Kinetic revelers. The storied bar built a loyal following with late-night music shows and early morning Bloody Marys. If this closure is indeed permanent, it leaves Everett's as the last bar standing on the so-called Tavern Row. Cheers, friends.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill (she/her) is the arts and features editor at the Journal. Reach her at (707) 442-1400, extension 320, or [email protected]. Follow her on Instagram @JFumikoCahill.

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