June 30, 2004
The Soup Factory
Posted by Gordon Smith

The Soup Factory in Middleton, Wisconsin -- described by The Isthmus as a brothateria -- has consistently great soup. Perhaps the best I have ever eaten, though I have never eaten soup at the Soup Kitchen International (apparently the basis for the "Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld). Last time I was at the Soup Factory, I had curry beef, but everything they serve is great.

This small restaurant was established last year by a couple with an entrepreneurial dream. The wife makes the soup. The husband, whom I have seen only once, fills in when his wife is otherwise occupied. They have a few employees. In addition to soup, they serve simple sandwiches and salads, but the soup is clearly the star of this show.

Things are not going so well for the Soup Factory. Two days ago, I was eating some soup for dinner with my daughter, who shares my enthusiasm for the place. (Cheeseburger soup is her favorite.) It was 6:00 pm and we were the only people in the restaurant. One or two other people stopped for takeout, but it was grim. The owner once told me that business had not been as brisk as she had hoped, but she was optimistic. This last visit, I saw her sneak into the business office. She was working on a spreadsheet, and I suspect that I know what that was about.

I took the opportunity to explain to my daughter some of the fundamentals of small business. We looked at the equipment, the space, the products, etc. and discussed the costs of running the business. Then we talked about revenues: our soups and drinks were $11. The margins are probably pretty good, if you ignore the fixed costs. But how to pay those fixed costs? Only one way to do it. If you are in the Madison area, haul over to the Soup Factory and get some of the best soup you have ever tasted. It's just off University in Middleton, across the street from Griglia Tuscany (here's a map).

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