What food rarely takes center stage, spans nearly all cultures, is refreshing in the sweltering summer heat and warms our bones in the bitter, colder months? Why, it’s soup, my sandwich-dunking friend. And its ties to modern eateries run deep.
The French word restaurer once described the healthy, restorative power of soups sold by Parisian street vendors. By the mid-1700s, these merchants had taken up shop in soup-ladling establishments coined restaurants, and they became known as restaurateurs.
Classically trained in Alsace, France, chef Suzy DeYoung returns “restaurant” to its etymological origins with her new, self-described “French roadside soup shack,” La Soupe. Located a mile north of the Newtown Farm Market on Round Bottom Road, La Soupe sells a scrumptious, rotating line of simmering broths, stews, chili and chowders made from fresh produce and local meats. The restaurant, which opened in April of this year, also offers inventive sandwiches; gluten-free, stuffed potato skins; salads; and desserts, with several full entrées available for carryout.
DeYoung’s mission is simple and twofold: to create delicious, healthy soups using fresh, donated ingredients that would otherwise go to waste, while providing needed aid and sustenance to the sick and the impoverished. About 75 to 80 percent of DeYoung’s supply of ingredients is donated by local farms and grocers, including Pipkin’s Fruit and Vegetable Market and Kroger; the rest she buys. And for every quart of soup sold, La Soupe donates a bowl to local homeless shelters and food pantries.
“I really enjoy the thought of repurposing perfectly good food in a perfectly delicious way,” DeYoung says. “I have to be creative because I have no idea what’s going to get donated. So it keeps my brain stimulated.”
The donated produce may not be the waxy, perfect-looking specimens patrons are used to finding at their supermarket, but the ingredients La Soupe receives are just as fresh, transformed and integrated into wholesome, mouthwatering creations.
“Anything that came off their shelf — a spot on a tomato or a potato that has a bruise — I can use any of that,” DeYoung says. “It’s good food, they just can’t sell it at a retail level.”
Chef DeYoung’s lifelong passion for helping those in need dates back to her years designing therapeutic meals for cancer survivors, culminating in a meeting with 10-year-old Natalia Marsh-Welton and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Fighting a brain tumor, Marsh-Welton had but one wish: to create a soup she could feed to the homeless. Teaming with chef Jean-Robert de Cavel, DeYoung worked to fulfill that wish in February of this year.
“When we did the Make-A-Wish with her, she chose the Drop Inn Center, so I told her that I would make sure we would do the first delivery there for her,” DeYoung says. “We got Jean-Robert to teach her how to make the soup, then I went back and made all the soup and donated it to the shelter.”
The concept for La Soupe was born.
Armed with 30-gallon soup kettles and a dream, DeYoung decided it was time to leave her successful, 25-year-old Madeira catering business and French bistro, La Petite Pierre, solely to her sister.
“I always wanted to try this,” DeYoung says. “And I felt, ‘When am I going to try it?’ When do you go after something that you really believe in?”
Marsh-Welton made the ceremonial trip to La Soupe’s opening ribbon-cutting ceremony. The minestrone she and de Cavel designed now adorns the menu as the restaurant’s signature soup. Chef DeYoung aims to arrange biweekly deliveries of 10-gallon donations — roughly two day’s worth of meals — to area shelters. She’s contacted a variety of advocates for the homeless in the hopes of expanding her operation.
“Even if there’s just a little church somewhere that services 20 people a month, I would love to be the one to give them (soup),” DeYoung says.
She hopes other chefs follow suit in adopting a regular donation schedule with local shelters, and she wishes to use La Soupe as a conduit for area businesses so she can donate her soups on their behalf.
“If you order the soup from me and we deliver it to your board meeting, then we’ll go ahead and donate in your name. By ordering from us, you’re also taking care of the people (in need),” DeYoung says.
While her business model isn’t easy, DeYoung believes if more restaurants adopted it, more food that would otherwise go to waste would find its way to those desperately needing it.
“It definitely has big challenges, but I feel like it can solve a lot of our hunger issues in Cincinnati.”
Go: 4150 Round Bottom Road, Newtown
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.