Zoup! Has 'A Very Deliberate Growth Plan'

Sunday, March 25, 2012

As much as Andy Warhol loved Campbell's Soup, Eric Ersher hates it.

The founder and CEO of Zoup!, a chain of fast-casual soup restaurants, is a former attorney turned spice dealer, who fell into the cauldron when restaurants his food company was servicing asked him to start making soups for them. The lack of quality he found bubbling beneath inspired him to start working on them in the kitchen of a former General Motors plant near Detroit's Eastern Market.

Ersher eventually stopped supplying other eateries and opened his own soup emporium in Southfield in 1998.

"It seemed soup was, for many restaurants, an afterthought. It was a way to rescue their food costs by using leftover ingredients to make soup or it was they were using lower quality, similar to the red cans that we've all grown up with," he said. "That really got our attention. We started asking around and consensus was clear -- that really good soup was really hard to find." Fourteen years later, Zoup! has more than four dozen stores in the U.S. and Canada. Every day, each one serves 12 types of soups, ranging from vegetarian split pea and turkey chili to mulligatawny and shrimp and crawfish etouffee. In the summer, cold soups are added to the roster. All are made in a central kitchen, then using a cook-chill process, delivered to the stores, where they are gently reheated.

The most popular? Chicken pot pie soup and lobster bisque.

"They often wanted to share recipes with us and they ... came with stories of family, of growing up, of travel, and it occurred to us that soup, unlike any other food category, seemed to many people to elicit thoughts of comfort and warmth and well-being," Ersher explained.

The soup line-ups are examined seasonally and customers' requests are taken into consideration, he added. There are times when Zoup! focuses on more seafood, vegetarian or gluten-free soups.

In 2000, Zoup! added salads to its menu, with sandwiches following the next year.

The stores are all franchises, except for the three the company owns -- Southfield, Somerset Collection and Twelve Oaks.

"We have always grown pursuant to a very deliberate growth plan," Ersher said. "We have seen too many examples of early successful franchises before us who have grown too fast and opened in far-flung locations and have, because of that, been very challenged and failed." Zoup!'s focus, at first, was Michigan, where the first franchise opened in 2003. Then, the company spread through the Midwest, then west and now the northern half of the U.S.

According to Ersher, 60%-70% of Zoup!'s business is before 4 p.m. -- classic lunch time.

Azzura Draw, for example, stopped by the Zoup! kiosk at the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit for broccoli cheddar soup earlier this month. The 23-year-old Detroiter, who works at a candy shop in the building, said she'd been buying food there every day for the last three months.

"The salads are really fresh. The soups have a lot of flavor. They're always fresh," she said. "I can get soup from Subway, but it's not the same quality."

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Zoup! Fresh Soup Co.
28290 Franklin Rd.
Southfield, MI

Phone: (800)940-9687
Fax: (248)663-9880

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