Our Saturday morning Soup Sega! kitchen is closed at this time.
When the BMNECC board began exploring new fundraising activities in 1998, then-president Patricia French came up with the novel idea of selling soup. She reasoned that all of the area ethnic clubs and churches were regularly selling pierogis, pastries and other traditional fare. Friday fish sales and spaghetti dinners were all too common. The Bulgarian Center would offer something different: a variety of homemade soups! When member Julie Rhyner suggested the name Soup Sega! – Soup Now! in Bulgarian – the program was officially underway.
The Center appointed long-time board member and cooking enthusiast Angèl Roy as the program’s director and head chef. She began by making fourteen traditional, all-natural Bulgarian soups – many of which were based on Mrs. French’s family recipes. Later, Ms. Roy added other Bulgarian specialties that had long been crowd-pleasers at the annual Folk Festival: pulneni chushki (stuffed peppers); gyuvech (a Bulgarian beef stew); lamb, spinach and rice stew; apple strudel; and the ever-favorite dessert, banitza (cheese strudel). Both meat-based and vegetarian soups were offered. All were low in sodium and many were dairy and gluten-free.
Many hard-working volunteers – including Otets Piassii dancers – helped prepare and package the soups. Customers purchased Soup Sega! items on Saturday mornings from September through May. Longtime BMNECC members George and Yvonne Schexnayder were involved in the program from day one, helping out behind the scenes and handling all transactions with customers. A Pittsburgh foundation thought so highly of this entrepreneurial program that it made a very generous donation that allowed the Center to upgrade the Soup Sega! kitchen with new equipment and supplies.
The program soon became a Pittsburgh culinary institution of sorts, and received lots of positive press. In early 2010, the Washington Post included the Soup Sega! kitchen in an article about great places to buy soup in Pittsburgh. Thanks to the Post’s worldwide distribution and online edition, this article prompted a woman in Ireland to contact the Center for ideas on creating a similar program for her non-profit organization. PBS/WQED-TV filmmaker Rick Sebak even featured Soup Sega! in his popular documentary “What Makes Pittsburgh Pittsburgh.” Revenues from Soup Sega! sales contributed much to the Center’s operating income. In the first twelve years of the program, the Center sold an estimated 32,540 quarts of soup to 8,066 customers, resulting in $168,120 in sales. The culinary program was discontinued in 2015, but is still talked about among Pittsburghers who love authentic ethnic fare.