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‘Seinfeld’ Soup Nazi Franchises Troubled

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.

Crosds Posted at: Let’s Talk Franchising

About Jim Coen

2 comments

  1. Got Swindled and Lost Big

    1. The issues with the franchisor are much deeper than it appears.
    1. The company is undercapitalized. An investment bank retained to raise capital for the franchisor had discontinued its efforts after having received commitments for approximately 25% of the targeted capital. This was a result of the poor operating results of the company and its underlying franchisees.
    2. The company has been seeking an acquiror of its operations. Throughout this effort the issues and challenges brought to the attention of the company by its franchisees have been quietly addressed but none of the problems have been resolved.
    3. The misrepresentations made by the franchisor to induce franchisees to acquire territories and open up an Original Soupman outlet are many: (a) understatement of food costs; (b) co-branding with Cremalita ice cream to balance overall sales in warm months was abandoned soon after first 12 stores opened for business; (c) mandated use of cups and bowls that are 25% larger than purported serving portions, resulting in giving away 25% more product than consumer was paying for and at the same time causing an increase in purchases of product from the company to replenish inventory.

  2. Stay Away From the Soup Nazi!

    For everyone’s own good…stay away from Soupman. The Soup is great. But…don’t even think of it as a good investment….unless your idea of a good investment is to lose tons of $$….like hundreds of thousands. Franchisor is a horror and phony, misrepresents cost of investment and COGS, model has never worked…price point is too high to build any loyal following that will even support the operation to a break even point. Speak to the 12+ locations that already closed and the Franchisees all lost Hundreds of thousands, filed for bankruptcy and lost their homes. Didn’t know that many closed? Maybe because the Franchisor and their soldiers don’t disclose what they are required to.

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