Dan Saul has spent a lifetime cooking for others.
For the past 14 years, Saul could be found at The Island Church of Whidbey in Langley every Tuesday morning and often on Thursdays. He’d arrive before 6 a.m. to put on his chef’s hat, welcome the food delivery truck with a cup of coffee and get started on the soup which will be served up for lunch at the soup kitchen.
But as his 83rd birthday arrives next week, those early mornings volunteering at the church will come to an end, as he decided this week to call time on his role at the soup kitchen.
“It’s been 14 years of waking up at 4:30 in the morning, and I figured it’s been long enough, since I’m not getting any younger these days,” Saul said. “It’s been a lot of years and soup recipes later, and I think it’s finally time.”
Regulars at the soup kitchen will know Saul for his bubbly personality and passion for feeding others. Most who crossed paths with Saul, either at the soup kitchen or on an average day, ended up being fed by him: his garbage men, his neighbors, the homeless, seagulls, etc. Saul even had a network of about 10 elderly and low income community members to whom he regularly delivered food.
Fourteen years after picking up chef duties for the soup Kitchen from its beginning, Saul says he tried to experiment with a new soup every week. Those recipes, and more, are compiled on his blog, soupson4-40.blogspot.com.
“I just love to cook, feed people and be surrounded by food” Saul said. “My dad was a cook, and I used to sell kitchen appliances for Jenn Air. It was natural to turn to cooking after I retired from that job. Fourteen years later I have a food blog, and I’m not stopping that anytime soon.”
While Saul handled Tuesdays at the soup kitchen, organization Manager Jean Matheny has led the Thursday team. She’s been with the kitchen since it began in 2004 and complimented Saul on his many years of service.
“He has a good heart and works well with his crew,” she said.
Matheny added that Saul has been a fun and creative presence; one of his recipes was Stone Soup. It consisted of soup, and a stone at the bottom. Other similar recipes include Dill Pickle Soup and Peanut Butter Soup.
Clinton resident Jeff Hadlock, a volunteer with the soup kitchen for the past two years, will step into Saul’s role as the head soup chef on Tuesdays. Hadlock has experience in the food industry, as he owned Clinton restaurants Speed Boat Pizza and Madrona “over 30 years ago” in the building that currently houses Island Nosh and MAKE Whidbey.
“I’m looking forward to my role as chef dictator,” Hadlock said. “Actually no, the volunteers are a wonderful group of people. We work together well and enjoy each other. I think we’ll survive, but I do hope the spirit Dan brings endures.”
Saul’s departure comes as things slightly change for the soup kitchen behind the scenes. The Island Church of Whidbey has stepped in to help with administrative duties and program funding, since the volunteer and donation-based food service struggled with volunteer numbers and donations in 2016. The change is unrelated to Saul’s departure.
Pastor Dan Bartl says the soup kitchen will continue to operate as it has for the past 14 years. The only change will be the amount of support it receives behind the scenes, as Bartl sees the increased involvement from the church as an opportunity to increase the number of volunteers in the program. Funds will also be set aside in the church’s budget to ensure the future of the soup kitchen. But Bartl knows it’ll be difficult to fill the void left by Saul.
“He’s a character that has kept things lively at the soup kitchen,” Bartl said. “He’s done a great job with the kitchen as far as getting donations and building partnerships with local grocery stores.”
If things go as Hadlock would like, Saul will continue to swing by the church every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon to visit with the soup kitchen regulars. To Hadlock, Saul has become part of the soup kitchen experience. And seeing that Saul still updates his blog, it doesn’t look like he’ll stop cooking anytime soon.
“Quite honestly, Dan has been a very visible face in the community for his entire chefdom at the soup kitchen,” Hadlock said. “I want him to remain part of the soup kitchen. He’s part of its face.”