Free soup at Casablanca

Chef Youness Bojji, right, of Casablanca, offers free soup outside his restaurant from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays. Bojji is pictured with volunteers, from left, Mariah Sheets, Madison Riese and Izzie Stevens. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

In this season of giving, our community is blessed to have so many individuals who give of themselves, not just now, but year-round. One such is chef Youness Bojii, owner of Casablanca (11151 6th St. NW), who for the past two years has been serving soup outside his restaurant.

This happens on Fridays in December, from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., or until no one is there anymore.

"If you are hungry and cold, a serving of soup is just the thing," he says.

This is for anyone (he doesn't discriminate), whether it’s a physician from Mayo Clinic or someone down on his luck, all are welcome. As many as 250 have been served on any given Friday.

The only thing Bojii asks is that, if you are able, you bring donations of warm clothing. These he places at night under a pine tree in front of the restaurant that he calls the "giving tree." As he leaves, he puts them under the tree, and the next morning, they are gone.

While he is reluctant to call this a "mission," that is what it is.

"There are so many people in need in this town,” he says. “Doing this brings me balance in my life and great joy."

Born and raised in Morocco, he himself is no stranger to hard times, knowing firsthand what it is to be hungry and cold.

Now as a successful restaurateur, he is committed to giving back as a way to thank Rochester for his success.

The soup he serves is his house specialty, a tomato-basil brandy bisque. There is also a slice of bread, as well as a bundtini, a mini bundt cake, donated by the Nothing But Bundt bakery next door.

What if he runs out of soup? He doesn't. "We make more," he says, stressing that this is the exact soup served in the restaurant, only in to-go cups instead of a bowl.

Is there a significance to doing this on a Friday? Actually, he says this is to honor his mother.

"Friday was her favorite day, and she also made food she gave to others,” he says. “She was my inspiration."

The soup give-away ends today, Christmas Eve day, though he will be out in front of the restaurant until 3, "then I'll go home and celebrate Christmas with my family."

Bojii’s generosity doesn't end when December does. On hot days during the summer, he brings out tables with containers of lemonade, ice tea and water for folks passing by to refresh themselves and cool down. This past July, he served hot dogs on Saturdays from 11 to 3. Why? Just because.

In the days since I met with him, I've thought about his version of a "soup kitchen," and what an outreach it is. I'm also wondering if other restaurants around town might do the same thing from time to time.

"That is my hope, that others might do this occasionally as well," he says.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what's cookin'. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.

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