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Fall 2010 Soup’s On!

Original SoupMan, the concept popularized by Seinfeld, is on a roll with new franchise openings. It recently set up a flagship store at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT and customers are waiting in line to slurp up the offerings.

Back in the mid-eighties, when Al Yeganeh opened a store called Soup Kitchen International on the corner of West 55th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan, he probably didn’t imagine that he would become a national soup icon. Today there are five “Original SoupMan” locations in Manhattan and 26 franchises across the country.

The stores have evolved somewhat since their inception. Bob Bertrand, the company’s president and chief financial officer, says the restaurants now offer deli-style sandwiches, salads and smoothies in addition to the soups. “Soup is still the champion, [however] and what our whole concept [revolves] around; soup is 40-50 percent of sales,” Bertrand says.

Customers can buy half a cup of soup and half a sandwich for $7.99. The soup prices range from $4.99 for a cup of broccoli and cheese to $11.99 for a bowl of lobster bisque. Fifty soups are offered. The chicken vegetable is the bestseller, followed by lobster bisque, jambalaya, crab bisque, and New England clam chowder.

The Original SoupMan picked Manhattan’s Hanover Square as the first franchise location because Al Yeganeh’s soup had a following in Manhattan. Before the end of this year, the SoupMan will re-open the original “flagship” store. In keeping with the original set-up, there will be no seating. A new store opened at the Mohegan Sun casino in Uncasville, CT recently. It is run by Lloyd Sugarman, one of the original creators of Johnny Rockets Hamburgers. Bertrand describes Sugarman as “the perfect franchisee.”

Franchise offerings

SoupMan is looking for financially solvent owner-operated franchisees or multi-unit operators, preferably with food service and business experience. Bertrand says that the total build-out is anywhere between $225-$325K.

The soups are shipped frozen, then thawed and put in a steamer, heated and served to the customer. The equipment shopping list comes down to a microwave, toaster, soup wells, convention ovens, steamers, meat slicer, and a register. Bertrand says it takes up to nine months from signing on to start up because finding the right real estate can take a long time.

Bertrand says that the Original SoupMan company has never had a direct connection to Jerry Seinfeld. The real story, Bertrand recounts, is that one of David Letterman’s writers used to stand in line for Yeganeh’s soups. When the writer left Letterman to write for Seinfeld, he contributed to the now infamous “soup episode” of 1995, which Al took great offense to. “He didn’t like the n-word, Nazi, as we called it. Jerry went to the store in 1996 to apologize and Al threw him out. Obviously we are happy that Seinfeld depicted the soup man in an episode, it has helped our business and marketing. [Al] knows it has helped his notoriety,” Bertrand says.


Vanessa Geneva Ahern

Vanessa Geneva Ahern is a NY-based freelance writer who covers business, health, travel, and wellness. She has written for various trade and consumer magazines including National Jeweler, SELF, and Fit Pregnancy. For more information, please visit www.girlgumption.com.

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