Soup's On!

From Soup to Nuts

Soup--it's the ultimate comfort food. Suffering from the sniffles? Feeling blue? Mom would inevitably make you a bowl of chicken soup to cure your ills. Throughout history, soup has had a place on the world's tables. So how did such an age-old staple become a hot new trend?

"I see it as similar to what happened with the coffee market, where people wanted something more upscale," says Schnipper, 30, who owns the 2-year-old Hale & Hearty with brother Jonathan, 31, and Douglas Boxer, 25.

More upscale is exactly what consumers are getting. Try Thai chilled melon with peanut; Jamaican goat curry; and cold soups like gazpacho and scallop ceviche. And there are always stand-bys like mulligatawny, matzoh ball and split pea for traditionalists.

Coming up with these soups and stews didn't come easy for any of the new soup vendors. Perfecting recipes is part of why it took the Daily Soup group a year and a half to open its first restaurant. Even though Spiegel had been a chef for 17 years, making soup in such large quantities required a healthy dose of taste-testing and a thorough knowledge of chemistry.

The experimentation is paying off, however. Soup entrepreneurs are boasting long lines--even during the summer--of hungry New Yorkers willing to fork over $4 to $8 for a 12-ounce bowl of soup. Hale & Hearty's Schnipper says he serves as many as 500 bowls of soup a day at each of his locations during the winter. At many of the new spots, a bowl of broth also comes with extras: a hunk of bread, a piece of fruit and sometimes a homemade cookie.

But don't let the idea of a one-product restaurant fool you--the profit margins may not be as high as you think. Making 10 to 15 different soups every day can require hundreds of ingredients, and many of those get tossed out after the stocks are made. How does Daily Soup combat the profit margin problem? Says Spiegel, "We're selling a lot of soup."

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This article was originally published in the November 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Soup's On!.

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