November 2007 Issue
Fans line up for their favorites at this creative soupery.
Five years ago, when Matthew Moore decided to open a soup house in Ohio City, across from Cleveland’s West Side Market, he had some reservations. Would Clevelanders really go for a storefront stand that sold gourmet soup, and not much else? Would customers flock to that restaurant, come snow or sun, and wait in long lines just to get a taste of the week’s specials, like in the “Seinfeld” classic “Soup Nazi” episode? Sensing a niche in Cleveland — known more for its snow than sunshine — Moore decided to take a gamble, and it worked.
The result, the SouperMarket, has “grown tremendously,” Moore says. “When we started off, we just kind of opened the doors. We didn’t advertise much. Instantly, there was a buzz about it, I think because it was such a unique thing for the area. It turned out that people really like soup — more than I ever imagined.” On any given workday lunch hour, hungry customers crowd into the small soup stand, and, though the line moves pretty fast, on the busiest days it stretches out the door.
Then again, the SouperMarket’s brew — served fresh and piping hot, with a hunk of crusty bread for dipping — is not your average cup of soup. For starters, everything including the stock is made from scratch. Moore creates rich, hearty stocks by simmering the bones of various meats and fish with vegetables, herbs and spices (there’s also a vegetable stock that is 100 percent vegan). He uses no additives or preservatives and the stocks are so popular that he sells them separately, by the quart or gallon. This summer, the SouperMarket opened a second location, in Lakewood, and Moore is currently exploring franchising options.
The most popular soup, hands down, he says, is the jambalaya, a spicy Creole-style stew with chicken, andouille sausage, tasso ham and shrimp. Also popular are the lobster bisque and, for vegetarians and meat-eaters alike, the corn chowder. Customers can choose from a selection of about 10 soups, which rotate weekly.
“The menu changes seasonally,” Moore says. “We always have staple items that have been and will always be on the menu, like the jambalaya and the tomato bisque, but we do heartier soups when fall comes around. We do a lot of seasonal specials, like squash soups and pumpkin bisque, utilizing the fruits and vegetables of the season.
“Basically, I just try to listen to the customers and see what they want,” he adds. “This time of year I get a lot of calls for chili, so we usually put that on the menu for a while. The lobster bisque, people want that around the holidays, so we have that pretty much through the holidays and into the New Year.”
There’s no getting around the fact that people crave soup more in the winter, when the temperature drops. In fact, Moore says he does four times more business in the cold months, but adds that in the summer, customers do come in for his chilled soups, including gazpacho and fruit-based dessert soups. And then there are the SouperMarket’s salads, popular year-round, and tossed with Moore’s inventive, homemade vinaigrette dressings. The asparagus salad, for instance, features blanched asparagus, romaine, Parmesan cheese, hard-boiled egg, kalamata olives and lemon in a tomato olive vinaigrette. The “season’s greens” salad is topped with feta cheese, tomato, onion and a sweet lemon vinaigrette. Like the soup stocks, Moore sells his salad dressings by the pint.
Due to a clause in the restaurant’s lease, Moore is not allowed to sell sandwiches along with his soups and salads. Instead, customers can enjoy rich side dishes such as crab cakes (served with garlic or Tabasco aioli) and potato pancakes (with homemade spicy ketchup and horseradish sour cream, for dipping).
Still, for Moore and his customers, the soup is the main selling point. “It feels healthy to sit down to a bowl of a hearty liquid,” he says. “It’s a comfort-food thing. If you do it right, people really love it. Even the naysayers come in and they come back regularly.”