In four weeks, the Souper Bowl comes to Marco Island.
On Feb. 3, one day before that other, football-related event with the similar name, this will be Souper Bowl VI, the sixth outing for the event. The format is simple – show up that Saturday at Mackle Park, select a hand-decorated bowl, sample some delicious soups and at the same time, contribute to help some area kids go to college.
You will get a taste test of some of the island’s finest restaurants, and also know you are helping deserving local students attend college through the Leadership Marco Scholarship Fund, which has raised over $40,000 through the Souper Bowl.
As has been the case since the event’s beginning, Bistro Soleil co-owner and hostess Lisa Meurgue is in the forefront of the “Bowl game,” working with restaurants, helping spread the word, and contributing a steaming vat of soup from her own restaurant kitchen. Specific soup offerings from the 10 participating eateries have not been announced, but if Lisa and her husband, chef Denis Meurgue, return with the wild mushroom soup they have served in past years, no one will be complaining.
The Souper Bowl is just one of many charitable and civic endeavors Lisa Meurgue has taken on, and on this one, Lisa Meurgue deflected credit for creating it to Boathouse Motel co-owner Desiree Buhelos.
“This is her baby, her brainchild. She’s the one who made it happen,” said Lisa. Buhelos said she wanted to honor her mother, a ceramics teacher, who ironically passed away nine years ago, one day before the Super Bowl.
Lisa has opened Bistro Soleil to a myriad of community and charitable functions, acting as the longtime host for the annual Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce Christmas gala, and the Spirit of Rotary awards presentation. For years, they hosted the Marco Island Charter Middle School “Boogie ’n’ Blues” evening, until the event outgrew the restaurant.
Meurgue has a special connection to MICMS, where her three daughters attended middle school. She ran for and won two terms on the charter school’s board, and while serving on it created the school’s Travel Club with teacher Joe Jarrett, sending the kids on class trips to Washington, DC, to see the nation’s capital, and Capitol.
“It took a year to get it going. We sold hot dogs to help pay for it,” Lisa remembered. She also has hosted an annual fashion show to benefit the American Cancer Society, and has an even more personal connection; her sister passed away from cancer in 2006, and Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer as she and Denis were preparing to launch Bistro Soleil.
“I had my first chemo the day we opened here – Dec. 10, 2008,” she said. She has also walked three marathons participating in the fight against the disease, going 26.2 miles in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in New York City, one time with each daughter.
Denis and Lisa Meurgue are no strangers to the people of Marco Island, or to the art of cooking fine food in a tropical climate. The two met when they both worked at Club Med Ixtapa in Mexico, and Denis has served as executive chef at some renowned resorts, including Caneel Bay on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Little Dix Bay in the BVI, and the Biltmore in Coral Gables, Florida.
Between these and other stops including Chicago and Ireland, they also made friends on Marco Island when they operated the Island Café, which they sold in 2005, and just changed hands again. The Meurgues also operate Petiti Soleil, a gourmet breakfast and lunch stop adjacent to Bistro Soleil. Their signature location, Bistro Soleil is in an historic building built in 1883 in what is known as “Olde Marco,” which proved its toughness by surviving Hurricane Irma without major damage.
“We have to work twice as hard to bring people to the restaurant up here,” said Lisa Meurgue, acknowledging their status as a “hidden gem – I just wish we were a little less hidden.” People who have found the restaurant tend to become repeat visitors.
Meurgue also volunteered for Lely High School volleyball for 10 years, and served on the LHS School Advisory Committee, as well as that of Tommie Barfield Elementary. She served as chair for the ACS Relay for Life, secretary of the Marco Island Restaurant Association, won the ACS Courage Award in 2009, served as coordinator of the San Marco Catholic Church Youth Choir, and volunteered on mission trips with Catholic Heart Workcamp to Belize and Grenada.
Donna Borden, who led the youth choir for years, said Lisa is “the busiest person I’ve ever known, and she’d never say no. She was my right and my left hand. She is joyful and efficient, a stellar human being.”
In her spare time, Meurgue won as champion of the USTA sectional champion in her division, and has been Collier County USTA champion from 2014 to 2017.
Back to the Souper Bowl, she said this February will be a great chance for those who have not seen the new Mackle Park Community Center to come and see it, while sampling some great soup.