When Seinfeld's "The Soup Nazi" episode aired in 1995, portraying an aggressive chef who shouts out orders to keep the line moving efficiently, it had viewers in stitches and attracted attention to the real-life, already-popular Manhattan soup restaurant it was modeled after. A decade later, the impact was still being felt. "We had that novelty right off the bat," says Lisa Ruddy, who, in October 2005, opened the first franchise of The Original SoupMan with her husband, Scott, in Princeton, New Jersey. "People ask, 'Is this the real one? Is this the original? Is this the one from the show?' They're not quite sure what we are."
Newbies initially visit out of curiosity, but Lisa, 37, confirms it's the quality of the food as well as the service that keeps them coming back. (Unlike the infamous Seinfeld episode, they don't yell at their customers--unless customers request it.) They offer 40 different soups--12 varieties a day--as well as sandwiches, salads and smoothies, with the soup quickly disappearing at the rate of about 60 gallons on a typical winter day.
Life is busy, especially because Scott, 38, also runs a construction business, but the Ruddys couldn't be happier. As the first franchisees, they have set the standard for others and have even tested products at their location. Lisa serves on the company's franchise advisory board, and she and Scott recently started offering catering to local businesses. And Scott, formerly a regular at the original Manhattan location, no longer has to wait in hour-long lines--or be yelled at--when he wants his soup.