The tagline for Traverse City, Michigan–based fast casual The Soup Cup is “A Microsouperie,” a play on the popular microbrewery term. And just like the change microbreweries have brought about to perceptions of beer, co-owners Scott and Rita Nitsche want to revolutionize how Americans view and consume soup.
The concept, which has one location today but which the Nitsches hope to eventually scale, serves eight fresh soups every day and changes those options every day; to date, it’s served 865 soup varieties in its five years. The menu always includes at least one vegan option, one vegetarian option, two poultry selections (one cream and one broth), one seafood choice, one meat-based soup, and a chili or stew. The Soup Cup also serves grilled-cheese sandwiches and Belgian fries.
Scott Nitsche explains the secret to a great soup—and how he and his wife are converting diners who think soup is just a boring broth served from a can.
How do you maintain so many soups?
The heartier soups I like to do a day ahead of time, because that way, as they sit overnight and develop, more of the pure flavors come out of them. A chili or a chowder, they may be good to start off with, but they always seem to be better the next day when you heat them back up. The spices and flavors adjust to what product you have in that soup. Then I may have three or four broth soups, and those may only take a half-hour to an hour to make. I’ll start out at seven o’clock in the morning, and I can pop those guys out while I heat up the other ones. I usually make anywhere from 3 to 5 gallons of each.
What is your prep process like? How do you plan ahead?
I personally go shopping instead of having a broadline purveyor come in, because my product is going to be fresher. Also, I only use so much. If I needed to get a broadline purveyor, I’d have to buy a case of zucchini from them, but I may only need two or three for my soup. So I go shopping in a market or farmer’s market to get it. I’m buying for 24 soups at a time, so I may only need two zucchini here, three yellow squash here, four poblanos there. It’s a constant turnover all the time, so your money isn’t sitting on a shelf in inventory.
Where do you get your soup inspiration?
Prior to opening up The Soup Cup, I was a culinary instructor and curriculum chair for Robert Morris University in Chicago for eight years. Being in that position, everybody wants you to use their book, so I’ve got about 300 different cookbooks that I’ve collected. A lot of my soups also are entrées that I’ve deconstructed. I made one today that is coq au vin. There are millions of recipes out there that can be done like that.
What are customer perceptions of soup?
The customer needs to be educated more. Ages 10–15 now to probably 60–70-year-old people who grew up with those different types of canned soups, they’re always used to sodium. I can’t tell you how many older people come in and say, “There’s no salt in it.” Well, I add enough salt and pepper just to bring out the flavors in it. They don’t know the real flavors of soup.
What’s the secret to a great soup?
It’s doing it with love. It’s taking your time, taking your effort to making that to be one of the best products that you can do. Even though you may have 30 more you need to do, each one needs its individual time. You have to give it finesse. It can’t be like a steak where you just throw it on a grill. You’ve got mushrooms in a pot and you need to stir it to thicken a roux or something; you can’t just go in there and start mashing away at it. You have to do it nice and softly so you don’t break up the components that you have in there. So a lot of this stuff is just doing it with love.