Soup Kitchen International
Soup Kitchen International is a well-known soup restaurant at 259-A West 55th Street, near 8th Avenue, in Manhattan, New York City, run by Ali "Al" Yeganeh. It is part of the Original Soup Man (OTCBB: SOUP) chain of stores, which is also run by Yeganeh.
The 55th Street location was closed in 2004, with the windows soaped over. Yeganeh, however, kept the lease on the shop while he looked to expand into a broader market. This led to the formation of the Original Soup Man chain and eventually led to the reopening of Soup Kitchen International, which now bears the name "Original Soup Man" like all of Yeganeh's other restaurants.
Fame via Seinfeld
Yeganeh was the inspiration for the "Soup Nazi" character in the similarly named episode of the NBC television sitcom Seinfeld. Yeganeh was born in Iran and had lived in Khorramshahr prior to moving to the US. He has stated on numerous occasions that he is very offended by the "Soup Nazi" moniker. It is in this episode where Yeganeh is fictionally portrayed as the tyrannical purveyor of his soups, making all of his customers follow a strict set of rules if they wish to successfully procure a bowl of one of his coveted soups. The real Yeganeh has stated that his rules are simply an attempt to keep the line moving and serve the largest number of people.
In order to provide the most efficient service to his customers, Yeganeh established a set of "rules" for ordering his soup:
- Pick the soup you want.
- Have your money ready.
- Move to the extreme left after ordering.
- Another added rule, created after the Seinfeld episode, states not to mention "The N Word [for Nazi]."
Supposedly, if these rules are not followed, the offending patron is denied service and usually sent to the back of the line. In more extreme cases the patron can be banned from the restaurant for extended periods of time. However, at the first franchise of Yeganeh's "The Original Soup Man" restaurants (in Princeton, New Jersey), the rules are posted but not enforced in such an extreme manner. It is somewhat difficult to separate fact from fiction in this case, as reporters interviewing Yeganeh tend to casually alienate him at once by mentioning Seinfeld and the "Soup Nazi" description, which he finds to be very offensive and degrading to him as a chef and entrepreneur. Purportedly, so much as mentioning the portrayal in Yeganeh's establishment results in an 'indefinite' ban.
It has been revealed that once, Jerry Seinfeld and several members of the production team went to Soup Kitchen International for lunch weeks after "The Soup Nazi" aired. Upon recognizing Seinfeld, Yeganeh went into a profanity-filled rant about how the show had "ruined" his business and demanded an apology. Seinfeld allegedly gave "the most insincere, sarcastic apology ever given", according to writer Spike Feresten. Obviously having seen the episode, Yeganeh then bellowed "No soup for you!" and ejected them from the restaurant.
"The Original Soup Man" franchises have opened in various cities throughout the United States and Canada, including four in Manhattan. The soups are made in Yeganeh's industrial kitchen in Linden, New Jersey. The more than 500 franchises throughout the country are provided with some 45 soup varieties in 8-lb bags available in rotation. Chains participating in subfranchising the soups include Ranch*1 and Cold Stone Creamery. On March 3, 2008, the first Original Soup Man franchise on a college campus was opened in the Russell House University Union at the University of South Carolina.
Reportedly, the strictness popularized by the original location need not necessarily be followed but Yeganeh has banned any Soup Nazi references by franchisees and their staff while on the job and has strongly encouraged his franchise owners to avoid references to Seinfeld in their promotions. Yeganeh accepts media inquiries, but his "media rules" forbid mention of "the 'N' word" (for Nazi), personal questions, or follow-up questions. Interviews are conducted only via e-mail.
Soup Kitchen International Inc., "The Original Soup Man," and Yeganeh announced on April 22, 2005, that a retail line of "heat-n-serve" soups would be available in May at select grocery stores. There are now five different variations available made by SoBe Beverages and supervised by Al Yeganeh. The fresh soups are packaged in 15 oz. ‘Grab-N-Go’ clear packages. Since its launch May 2005, "The Original SoupMan" line of soups has found its way into 14 states and about 1,100 stores across the United States and Canada. The company also offers a line of frozen soups that, as of September 2007, are carried at SuperTarget stores.
At around the time of the original store's closure, Yeganeh announced on his website that he had sold his share of "The Original Soup Man" to the company and had moved out of the United States. He has relocated to the United States and lives near his original restaurant.
In August 2011, The Original SoupMan announced that basketball superstar, entrepreneur, actor, musical artist and world-wide brand Shaquille O’Neal will join SoupMan, Inc. as a partner, brand champion, adviser, and all-around SouperMan.
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