SoupMan Bid to Turn ‘Seinfeld’ Fame Into Empire Goes Off the Boil
David B. Caruso, Associated Press reports:
The chef who inspired the Soup Nazi character on “Seinfeld” makes a heck of a crab bisque, but a group of stewed investors says he’s having problems expanding his popular stand into a franchise empire.
Soupmaker Al Yeganeh closed his original Manhattan shop, famous for its strict ordering rules, in 2004 to focus on franchising Original SoupMan stores across the country. The company launched around 40 stores in its first two years and introduced its frozen soups to groceries.
But disgruntled franchisees say many of the new shops didn’t make it through their first year: At least eight have closed for good. Two more have shut their doors for now, although the company said it has deals in the works to reopen them.
Other franchisees told The Associated Press they want out of their contracts because of poor profits or bad relationships with the company. Several have sent the company letters threatening to sue.
Kevin Long, whose Original SoupMan franchise in Scranton, Pa., lasted just one winter, accused the company of misrepresenting how much it would cost to open and run the business.
He and other franchisees said the company also had early problems with its bowl and cup sizes, which were larger than expected and inadvertently gave patrons more soup than they paid for, and never lived up to promises to provide a product line that would sell during the summers, when demand for hot soups is low.
“They are just trying to get as many stores open as possible, and they aren’t supporting them whatsoever,” Long said.
Prices of $7 to $11 per 12-ounce bowl also made it tough to attract repeat customers, he added.
At least three stores have closed, at least temporarily, in New York City. Shops also have shut in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Harrisburg, Pa., Boulder, Colo., Colorado Springs, Colo., and Ottawa, Canada.
Franchisees in locations including Stratton Mountain, Vt., and Ridgewood, N.J., have asked to be released from their contracts so they may try staying open as a different type of business.
Original SoupMan spokesman John Rarrick chalked up the store failures to the normal “growing pains” associated with any new restaurant franchise.
“This is very common,” Rarrick said.
Of the struggling stores, he said, “They were really pioneers, and certainly there are risks associated with being a pioneer.”
Rarrick said the company had fixed the problem with the bowl sizes, abandoned an early idea of having most of its franchises operate as inexpensive carts and kiosks and struck a deal with Cold Stone Creamery that will create hybrid stores that will sell soup and ice cream.
He added that the soup company had delayed a plan to open 50 franchises in Britain while the it refined its business model.
“There are some really happy, really successful franchisees,” he added.
Original SoupMan opened its first stores in 2005, simultaneously capitalizing on and distancing itself from the “Seinfeld” episode that made Yeganeh famous.
On the show, a steely eyed chef makes his patrons follow a strict set of instructions dictating how they must order their soup, and he barks “No soup for you!” at those who fail to comply.
In real life, Yeganeh’s Manhattan store had similar rules posted: “THE LINE MUST BE KEPT MOVING. Pick the soup you want! Have your money ready! Move to the extreme left after ordering!”
Yeganeh, though, chafed at the Nazi nickname, which he felt insulting, and has discouraged his franchise owners from mentioning “Seinfeld” or saying “No soup for you!” on the job.
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