Inspiration has a habit of springing from the oddest of places.
For Steve and Jennifer Sarver, founders of the San Francisco Soup Co., theirs came from a television show.
"We were watching the Soup Nazi episode of ‘Seinfeld,’" said Steve, who was working as a marketing manager for The Clorox Co. (CLX) at the time. "And we both thought that a soup restaurant would be a great idea for San Francisco. We knew that the cool weather here would always call for a demand of soup, and if we could put out a good product, we could capitalize on that."
After working with a chef at home and trying out myriad different soup recipes recommended by friends and families, the Sarvers, despite neither of them possessing any previous professional cooking experience, felt confident enough to invest in a new store devoted almost entirely to soup.
Their first opening, at Crocker Galleria on Montgomery and Post, opened in 1999 to immediate
success. The store’s combination of expediency and quality appealed to the busy browsers of the Financial District.
"Unlike a sandwich, where there are so many different processes involved, a premium cup of soup can be served in a matter of seconds," said Steve. "We found that we could provide the best quality food in a really quick time, which was very important to the customers."
The Sarvers also sought to highlight an expanding and evolving menu of offerings.
The San Francisco Soup Co. features seven mainstay soups — such as the Mexican Chicken Tortilla and Smoke Split Pea — that are served every day, but it also adds four different soups daily, as part of the "specials" section of the menu.
"We have a repertoire of over 60 soups that we can use," said Jennifer. "And we’re constantly seeking the input of our workers and customers to figure out which soups are the most appealing."
The Sarvers were able to parlay the success of their beacon store into more openings around the Bay Area. There are now 13 San Francisco Soup locations in the Bay Area, with four more new stores in the works for 2007.
Almost all of the venues are located near high-density business districts, which have proven to offer a loyal following.
"We have people coming here three days a week out of the five we are open," said Steve. "They recognize the quality of what we’re serving and they keep returning, which makes our success all the more rewarding."