Such A Nice Boy

IMG_2438As you may know, we've been in the midst of upgrading lots of things here at Soup Peddler Central... new kitchen, new kettles, new systems, lots and lots of blessed newness. Not that the old was so bad! I don't want to cast a pall on things in the past and belie a lack of gratitude for those. Nor people of the past... however, one of the greatest upgrades we've made was our recent chef hire of Ari Dvorin, such a nice boy. You knew it would come to this... I have hired my doppelganger, save that he's got quite a few inches on me and a better, if more closely cropped, head of hair. You may have noticed a good crop of new entrees on the menu in the past few weeks... these are all ideas from the brain of Chef Dvorin, with many more to come. It is a true joy to have a chef here that shares my culinary passions and has the training and experience to pull them off, AND a cheery and stable disposition to boot. I won't obscure the truth... this has been a very challenging position to fill over the years, and there have been some very un-fun times along the way. You know that show on PBS, The Mind Of A Chef? Well, I could do a few different episodes.

Thank you for helping to deliver us to this moment.

A New Chapter For The Soup Peddler

Greetings from 7200 Cooper Lane, in the heart of what many in this neighborhood would call "The Real South Austin." Just about eleven years ago today, I packed up my few belongings and moved out of Lambert's on South Congress, where I had been making my fame and my soup, into my very first own kitchen at the corner of Mary St. and South First.



There wasn't much to it in those days, in retrospect. But at the time, it was a big leap of faith. I was scared but excited about the possibilities.



As the years passed, our business grew and changed, and we long ago outgrew our facility there on Mary St. But we made it work. But what was once a place of great pride became, over the course of many accumulated difficulties and limitations, a mire of frustration for both me and all my staff.

One day, along came a listing on Craigslist that said, "Commercial Kitchen Built To Suit." I jumped out of my chair, met the realtor at 7200 Cooper Lane, and negotiated a lease with the Oliver family, who own hundreds of gas stations and convenience stores. They have a business model whereby they develop, equip, and maintain facilities for proprietors to lease. In a sense, they provide these risk-takers a slice of the "American Dream," a place to own and operate a business. This location on Cooper Lane, which is utterly without retail appeal, would be different... it would be their first commissary kitchen and they needed a tenant who had an established business but needed an opportunity for a step up. And that perfectly-fitting prospect was The Soup Peddler.

Work began over a year ago, when I designed my dream kitchen with one of my favorite little pieces of free software, Google Sketchup. I worked with a phenomenal architect named Madhu Phillips, and we turned my dreams into a set of architectural and engineering prints.



Now, we are days away from moving into the finished dream kitchen. I could easily bore you to tears with minutiae about this process, but it appears, at the time of this writing, that I have survived it mentally, spiritually, and financially intact. For me, and for my long-suffering staff, when we move in, we will have died and gone to kitchen heaven.



No, the ceiling tiles and lights were not designed by Gehry or Gaudi, that's just the visual effect of my fisheye lens. In a few days, we will be ready to fire up our new 100 gallon stock kettle, our new tilting skillet, our new industrial chilling tank, and prepare for you a lovely menu of offerings for your enjoyment as detailed below.
Soupie *|MMERGE2|* *|MMERGE3|*,

Greetings from 7200 Cooper Lane, in the heart of what many in this neighborhood would call "The Real South Austin." Just about eleven years ago today, I packed up my few belongings and moved out of Lambert's on South Congress, where I had been making my fame and my soup, into my very first own kitchen at the corner of Mary St. and South First.



There wasn't much to it in those days, in retrospect. But at the time, it was a big leap of faith. I was scared but excited about the possibilities.



As the years passed, our business grew and changed, and we long ago outgrew our facility there on Mary St. But we made it work. But what was once a place of great pride became, over the course of many accumulated difficulties and limitations, a mire of frustration for both me and all my staff.

One day, along came a listing on Craigslist that said, "Commercial Kitchen Built To Suit." I jumped out of my chair, met the realtor at 7200 Cooper Lane, and negotiated a lease with the Oliver family, who own hundreds of gas stations and convenience stores. They have a business model whereby they develop, equip, and maintain facilities for proprietors to lease. In a sense, they provide these risk-takers a slice of the "American Dream," a place to own and operate a business. This location on Cooper Lane, which is utterly without retail appeal, would be different... it would be their first commissary kitchen and they needed a tenant who had an established business but needed an opportunity for a step up. And that perfectly-fitting prospect was The Soup Peddler.

Work began over a year ago, when I designed my dream kitchen with one of my favorite little pieces of free software, Google Sketchup. I worked with a phenomenal architect named Madhu Phillips, and we turned my dreams into a set of architectural and engineering prints.



Now, we are days away from moving into the finished dream kitchen. I could easily bore you to tears with minutiae about this process, but it appears, at the time of this writing, that I have survived it mentally, spiritually, and financially intact. For me, and for my long-suffering staff, when we move in, we will have died and gone to kitchen heaven.



No, the ceiling tiles and lights were not designed by Gehry or Gaudi, that's just the visual effect of my fisheye lens. In a few days, we will be ready to fire up our new 100 gallon stock kettle, our new tilting skillet, our new industrial chilling tank, and prepare for you a lovely menu of offerings for your enjoyment as detailed below.

Thank you as always for your excellent support over the years.

Please place your order for the week of 9/28 by Saturday 9/27 at 11:59 p.m

*|IF:MMERGE1>0|* You now have *|MMERGE1|* Soupie Rewards Points!
*|ELSE:|* You don't have any Soupie Rewards Points yet. Place your first order to start stocking up! *|END:IF|*


The Menu


Moroccan Lentil Soup... $8.95


A hearty, healthy, lip-lickingly delicious north African lentil soup seasoned by a mysterious blend of coriander, turmeric and cumin with just a hint of cinnamon ... 32 fl oz. Vegan, gluten-free. Freezes well.... [ingredients]


New England Clam Chowder... $12.95


Traditional white chowder... tender potatoes and clams in a creamy broth. Keep your soup crackers handy... 32 fl oz. ... [ingredients]


Straight Up Vegetable Soup... $9.95


Local greens. Straight-up vegetable soup seasoned with a smidge of Old Bay... 32 fl oz. Vegan, gluten-free. Freezes well.... [ingredients]


Beef and Barley Soup... $14.95


Braised beef sirloin, pearl barley and split peas slow simmered in our own 18-hour stock made with roasted beef bones, bouquet garni, mirepoix and red wine... 32 fl oz. Freezes well.... [ingredients]


Veggie Curry with Pulao Rice... $12.95


Richly spiced coconut curry over vegetables, served with a garlic, ginger, and mint rice pulao... Feeds 2. Vegetarian, gluten-free.... [ingredients]


Spinach Feta Pie... $14.95


Sauteed spinach, onions, and garlic seasoned with oregano and a hint of fresh mint folded into feta cheese, baked in a crispy pastry crust..... Feeds 4.Vegetarian. Freezes well.... [ingredients]


Chicken Marsala with Spaghetti Squash... $14.95


Chicken breasts sauteed with mushrooms and marsala, finished with lemon and served over baked spaghetti squash... Freezes well.... [ingredients]


Meatballs & Marinara... $14.95


Hand-rolled oven-browned meatballs finished in our homemade marinara... serve over spaghetti or in a sub roll... Feeds 2. Freezes well.... [ingredients]

Place Your Order
Thank you, as always, for the opportunity to bring some specialness to your lives and allow us, the folks at The Soup Peddler, to be fulfilled by the task. If you love this business, please forward this message to a friend!

Yours, David's Signature David J. Ansel Principal Soupmaker The Soup Peddler, Inc.

Last Thoughts On B.K.S. Iyengar

It was a very, very hot summer, late in the last millenium, when I arrived in Austin. Like so many who came before me, I found my way here in pursuit of an ill-fated relationship. Was just a boy, twenty-five years old, halfway across the country from my home. I landed in the fantastic clocktower house on Mary street, just up the hill from our soon-to-be old kitchen. The first night I was here, my roommate took me to see Don Walser at Jovita's. Austin, Texas. Well, that ill-fated relationship didn't take long to unravel, and now I was at sea... emotionally distraught, vocationally uninspired, far from home, with very little in the way of tools to help heal myself. That same roommate invited me to join him for a yoga class. This was when yoga was just at the end of its time as a fringe pursuit, before "sticky mat" became part of the urban vernacular. We biked over to an unassuming house on Oxford Street. Outside the bedroom, there was no furniture in the house. Soon there were twenty or so people limbering up, packed in very close to each other, and the teacher, a spider-like rock climber named Christian Leeby began with a short invocation to Patanjali. I was wide-eyed and dubious, but any doubts that this was just some woo-woo were very quickly dismissed.

This was Iyengar yoga. You may have read some of the articles recently about B.K.S. Iyengar's death at age 95 last week. While he is credited for "bringing yoga to the west", Iyengar yoga ultimately lost its prominence in the U.S. to the various types of "workout yoga" that shaped business plans for so many clothing and accessory companies and shaped so many yoga butts across the country. It remained, percentage-wise, a fringe player.

Iyengar yoga is not for everyone, clearly. It is the "engineer's yoga", maybe the "architect's yoga", which requires rigorous learning, rigorous alignment, and long-held postures. It is taught by teachers who have been well-vetted and adjudicated... not just any schmoe can become an Iyengar-certified teacher. Our fair city, mecca of the yoga biz, has but a handful... four or five, maybe. Many Iyengar classes are truly classes--with extensive description and lecture--not workouts. The class is meant to support the home practice. Bluntly put, that is a flawed business model. However, as a means of disseminating knowledge, Iyengar yoga is one hell of an organization.

Simply, the asana (posture) work sets the body against itself, and all of the crazy twisted postures point back to the first, the most elegant, the simplest, the most complicated. It is called tadasana, which is alternately known by its colloquial name, "standing up straight." It took years of yoga classes for me to learn how to stand up straight. And that is the true gift... I haven't been to a yoga class in years, and yet never a day, probably not an hour goes by where I am not touched by the teachings of B.K.S Iyengar.

Of course, yoga lies not only in the physical realm... its physical poetry translates into emotional, nay spiritual balance, openness, clarity. Yoga citta vritti nirodhah. All in one sentence, it is described: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.

Sounds good, right?! Nothing to it... just a lifelong practice. Thanks for reading along.

City Of Austin Small Business Week Article

A lot has been written about “product” and I’m afraid I may not have any great wisdom to share on the matter. I have a point of view shaped by my particular experience and observations, but I certainly am not a scholar on the subject. The main challenge with The Soup Peddler, in terms of product, has been the seasonality of my core offering. Let’s be honest, unless you work in an over-air-conditioned office, you probably don’t think too much about soup for much of the year. While the climatic challenge has oddly protected me from competition (hordes of soup entrepreneurs are NOT pounding at the gates of Austin), I have struggled with the conundrum for years. I finally discovered a good solution, a complementary product line of juices, smoothies, and light healthy fare that resonates with our existing brand.

Even if your product or service doesn’t have such an obvious seasonality aspect, you need to consider the “when” in addition to the “what” during your business planning. It’s tempting to simply draw an ever-ascending line of revenues across your pro forma, but it’s just not going to be like that. There are holidays, there are summer vacations, there are slow days of the week. You need to model that reality. How many people are going to come through that door per day? Really? Every day? On rainy days?

In addition to the “when,” you ought to give a good long think about the “who” and “why” with respect to your product. A lot of times we have an overly self-centered perception of the desirability of our product or service. A friend opened a food truck that offered “pre-prepped meal kits.” I asked her how many people: (a) had the free time to cook up one of her kits, but not so much free time that they can shop/prep for themselves, but not so little free time that they wanted completely cooked prepared foods, and (b) lived close enough to her location to make that convenience make sense, and (c) valued the premium ingredients she used so much that they would pay the equivalent of actual finished food. The answer was about five people per day. She thought it was the perfect solution for someone like her. Unfortunately there weren’t so many someones like her.

I will leave the “where” to a future article in this series, but the “how” is a really important part of your product offering. “How”—the packaging, service aspect, ordering process, delivery mechanism—is often as important as the “what” itself. Is a Birds’ Barbershop haircut itself better than anywhere else in that market segment? Maybe, maybe not… but what makes them rule is the feel of being there, the smooth operations, the video games, the free beer. Is a Chipotle burrito better than Taqueria Arandas #5? The answer is no, absolutely not… but what makes them rule is that you can pick your ingredients, get it super-quick, and you know, it’s completely bereft of soul, but it’s perfectly edible. That’s the “how” at work in combination with the “what.”

And finally, I slipped in that word, “soul.” To paraphrase Doug Sahm, “You just can’t be an entrepreneur in Austin if you don’t have a lot of soul.” So, without being indulgent (I’ve been guilty of this), you ought to imbue your offering with some measure of your passion… this is the means to differentiating from competitors and having an authentic brand story.

The Casual Social Interaction Capital Of The World

Last week, I ran across an interesting article in the Times called "Hello, Stranger" about the value of casual social interactions. It describes how a few behavioral science experiments have proven what Austinites have long known, that being open and kind without provocation is the key to happiness. It's what noted restaurateur and rub board player Danny Roy Young (z"l) had paraphrased on the front door of his Texicalli Grill on East Oltorf... "Just Be Nice". I remember that Mr. Young actually helped teach me about the magic of the "casual social interaction" when I first moved here. As he trolled slowly through the Bouldins and Zilker in his gleaming white hot rod, we'd often cross paths whilst I was about making my bike deliveries. He'd roll down his window and from behind mirrored sunglasses, he'd turn, smile, and give a double-pistol "attaboy" sort of maneuver.

That kind of light community connection is what shaped who I have become, and shaped what The Soup Peddler became. It shaped the concept for my book, Slow and Difficult Soups. The NYT article points out that these "weak ties" go a surprisingly long way to fulfilling us and making us feel connected to the whole. That's the feeling that people (historically) have had upon arriving in Austin. A delight in the easy connection with people. Really, it's more than that. A real "Austin" day is when you've had a meaningful connection with a complete stranger. When you open yourself and discuss something deeper than just the weather.

For outsiders, it can almost inspire suspicion. Why are they being so nice? What are they trying to get out of me? Once, my wife and I picked up a friend at the airport, fresh out of NYC, and drove straight to Guero's for a welcome margarita and people-watching. We got out of the car, stepped onto the sidewalk, and a woman walked by and cheerily said "Hey y'all!" Our friend said, "She's a plant, right? You called her and told her we'd be coming by at such-and-such a time, make sure to treat the New Yorker to a hearty Texas welcome, right?"

These recollections are from before the advent of the smart phone, which the article mentions as a woeful preventer of such connection. It's also before the mad acceleration of growth, the rapid influx of out-of-towners. That's not to say that this town hasn't always been made up of out-of-towners, but I fear that this delicate, precious modus operandus is getting snowed under by the sheer volume of change.

A friend of mine named Marty Butler posted this informal study on Facebook (I'm therefore assuming it's for public distribution...):

"I did an informal survey on our dog walk tonight. About 50 percent of the sample was either uncomfortable or unaware of how to wave. Perhaps the immigrants are unaware of our local custom: extend all five fingers, face your palm outwards and move your wrist side to side while smiling. This simple act makes Austin a lot less like the place y'all are all running away from."

So let's each do our part today. Let's get out there and show 'em why Austin is the Casual Social Interaction Capital Of The World. Let's keep Austin sweet. Thank you for listening.

Soup Peddler Therapy Services

Growth in Austin has its costs for all of us. The pace of life has accelerated to the point where we are all challenged to evolve in order to stay afloat, both emotionally and financially. Businesses, like mine, are forced to create strategies to help pay increasing rents and payrolls. We need to diversify, to use our core competencies to find and service the next big opportunity. In our view, the only thing that can keep pace with Austin's growth is Austinites' disenchantment with it. So many of us know people who are struggling emotionally with growth, and The Soup Peddler is here for you, now offering Civic Growth Therapy Services at all of our brick-and-mortar locations.

Have you or anyone you love been bothered by questions, "Where have all the bluebonnets gone?" "How are my children and my children's children going to commute down Lamar?" "You want how much for a hamburger?" Have you ever woke up in a panic because you dreamt you were downtown and were so disoriented you couldn't remember where Liberty Lunch was?

We here at Soup Peddler Therapy Services use a multi-modal therapeutic approach to facilitate a sense of comfort with these difficult changes. Our regression therapy leads patients through a web-based virtual "stroll down memory lane" featuring streets empty of traffic, plentiful free street parking, and old-timey renderings of human beings interacting with their fellow citizens instead of their smartphones.

We use a patented set of Rorschach plates developed from photographs of endangered Bouldin Creek cottages, modern spec houses, and California license plates to help patients develop a language for their emotional response to the changes that surround them.

Our EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing) treatment modality removes "stuck emotions" by encouraging patients to confront the most vivid visual images of growth (most commonly construction cranes and dump trucks) during these revolutionary eye movement sessions.

All patients receive free use of our helpful mobile app, which is programmed to vibrate when the patient begins any sentence with, "When I moved here," "In my day," "I used to be able to," "I miss," or many other unhelpful thought pattern setups.

If you or someone you know could benefit from Soup Peddler Therapy Services, please follow this link for more information. Thank you for your kind attention.

Another Side Of The Soup Peddler

I wanted to tell you a little bit about myself. I hesitate to write so personally for quite a few reasons. Examples... You might not care. Businesses should stand on their own products and services and not on the personalities of their owners. I might distract you from the ultimate purpose of this message, which is to compel you to purchase our offerings. However, after 450 weeks of sending out these menu emails, I must be frank... I sometimes run out of meaningful things to tell you. The development of the business over the years has always been so intertwined with my personal development. And this is on my mind, it's news to you, and you're my captive audience, so here goes.

Those of you who have attended my lectures in the past may recall that one of the important seeds of the Soup Peddler was a group called "South Austin Shabbat". I was a younger fellow at the time with much free time and I lived in a magical house on Mary St. With a few friends, I started this potluck group for Friday nights, the main meal for the Jewish Sabbath. I became sort of the de facto self-appointed coordinator and Rabbi, and over time, since potlucks sometimes tend to be not so lucky, the cook. I started learning how to cook for larger groups. I started being inspired by the way that food brought people together, especially when there was some extra spiritual intention behind it. Ultimately that group fizzled, but it had sure planted a seed in me... one that, with the fertilization and rain of many other experiences came to grow into The Soup Peddler.

Fast forward ten years... my wife and I had kept up the tradition of throwing large Jewish holiday meals over the years, and outdid ourselves with an outdoor seated Rosh Hashana dinner for 50 in our back yard. I showed off a photo of the event to a Rabbi I had just met, Rabbi Kobrin of Congregation Agudas Achim, and we soon became fast friends. We eventually hatched an idea to create the first clergy-led Jewish service in the history of South Austin, and it has been running strong now for about two years, gathering groups of up to 100 diverse folks each month. We have since added the first Hebrew school in South Austin.

As we kicked it off, I realized there was an opportunity to make it more special with the addition of a well-rehearsed musical ensemble. So although I had never played music publicly, I tuned up my nylon-string guitar and became the Musical Director. We have a great repertoire of mostly those sad but sweet tunes that go along with Jewish liturgy.

A great thing happened. I met up with a woman named Samantha Goldberg, herself a community organizer. She took me under her wing and began teaching me traditional Eastern European Jewish music called klezmer, and I learned accordion well enough to take part in various jam sessions. Together with a core group of people including one of the elder statesmen in Austin folk music, Mark Rubin, we started the first klezmer free school in Austin (probably the first in a several thousand mile radius).

Problem is, some days you can't drive through an intersection in Austin without running over an accordion player so I had to find another instrument. I picked up this crazy thing called a cimbalom, which is a Romanian/Hungarian hammer dulcimer, and am now one of less than a handful of practitioners of that instrument in the American klezmer world. With that development, I can now be found joining the premiere Austin klezmer ensemble, the Mazel Tov Kocktail Hour, a few nights each week at some of your finer musical establishments. I wanted to share a photo of our large band playing recently at the spectacular Honk!TX marching band music festival (we are considered somewhat more of a stationary marching band) from last weekend... that's me in the middle.

Anyways, that's some of the stuff that keeps The Soup Peddler from becoming a dull boy.

Elevating The Art Of The Smoothie

We've been enjoying a good little creative streak lately here at the Soup Peddler kitchen. We are preparing to unveil a new juice and smoothie menu at our stores, and I can't help but share some of the great new ideas ahead of time. I think that the direction we're taking is absolutely original. It combines the best of the global culinary approach of our kitchen with the convenient, delicious nutrition that our juice bars have been delivering. For example, the Magic Carpet Ride, pictured below, is a phenomenal cherry, pistachio, tahini, sumac, Himalayan salt, and banana smoothie. Also, the Lassi Come Home takes notes from traditional mango and rosewater lassis, but is made with local yogurt and raw honey and includes a special culinary twist of fennel seeds blended in. The Faulkneresque (below, in blender) is the product of a stream-of-consciousness recipe development technique and includes peaches, apricots, dates, almonds, oats, cloves, and cinnamon. There are a few more new smoothies, including the Fixie and the Nina Simone, plus a complete overhaul of the juice menu. These should roll out in mid-April.

But wait, as they say on the TV, there's more. We have been upgrading our salad selections at the stores (we will soon offer these to delivery customers). The Neptune's Daughter is a delicious and uber-nutritious wakame seaweed salad. The Optimus Slaw is the slaw to end all slaws... broccoli stalk, red cabbage, and kale in a fire-roasted poblano ranch dressing. Kneel Before Kale pays homage to the king of hipster greens with toasted sunflower seeds, golden raisins, and cranberries in a raw honey vinaigrette. And there are more on the way... an as-yet-named soba noodle salad and the return of our fantastic wheatberry cranberry salad.

The New Look

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the brands which have connected them with another... that is to say, it is time to say farewell to the "Juicebox" brand that has been emblazoned upon our stores. What was for a few years joined "Soup Peddler" in a cute but unwieldy concatenation of brands ultimately became less sensible to keep. I'm certain you join me in always searching for ways to make things more sensible in our lives and our pursuits. While there are challenges in this type of transition, I'm very excited about the retooling of our branding along with several other developments slated for 2014... a new kitchen, a new store, and a most zesty re-working of the smoothie, juice, salad and sandwich menus at our stores. For many years, the original "The Soup Peddler" logo has been very difficult to change, but my ingenious and passionate designer Jennifer Braham has delivered a new look that is very rooted in the old look but is stronger and a whole lot more functional from a design perspective. We were inspired by newspapers, dictionaries, classic printing typefaces, and particularly (if I may divulge a teensy bit of theft...), the gorgeous masthead of Cook's Illustrated. The change will slowly creep across the physical and virtual worlds of The Soup Peddler... labels, trucks, stores, websites, etc... it'll likely take a while. I sincerely hope you like it. I believe it honors people's intelligence. It feels very good, very authentic, and ultimately it fits me and my interests personally... that is really all I have to go on here. Here is the basic element:

And here it is in situ along with our Valentine's juice special at our stores, "The Love Potion"...

So there we have it... the branding to take us well into the late-early 21st century. Thank you as always for your support, for keeping us in your thoughts... we are ever-indebted to you for it.

Our Lives Are Circles

The Soup Peddler is thrilled to welcome back a treasured former employee as Executive Chef. His name is Adam Alfter. You see him pictured at right circa 2007 with the late great Leslie Cochran, God rest his soul. Adam is the chef with whom I've shared the closest culinary connection. He was a rather hard-to-tame young buck during his first stint here with the company and we parted ways after a few years. He bounced around the Austin fine dining scene for a while before tucking a sheaf of Soup Peddler recipes into his rucksack and joining another punnily named soup company in Portland, Maine founded by another ex-Soup Peddler chef. He has a deep passion for traditional foodways and is very strong with eclectic flavors and current trending exotic ingredients. It's a new era for us, so you should expect to see some new things coming on the menus both on-line and at the stores. Case in point... next week we have a lovely beer and cheddar soup that he stole back from that soup company in Portland (payback!), made with fresh delicious beer from the Austin Beer Garden Brewery, brewed by Amos Lowe, an original Zilker Soupie from way way back. So many things coming full circle for us... so appropriate this time of year.