Zoup’s boss likes to rattle cages
Zoup customers can choose everything from dill pickle chowder to, sometimes, rattlesnake stew.
When soup is the heart of your business, you can’t serve just the basics. That’s why founder Eric Ersher tries to keep dreaming up new soups, sometimes from the unlikeliest places.
FT: Before starting Zoup, what were you doing?
Eric Ersher: I was in the spice business, and we made spice blends for small restaurant chains, and then one of those restaurants wanted us to make for them a ready-to-use soup. So we leased what was formerly the kitchen of a closed-down General Motors auto plant, and we started to make soup for small restaurant chains. We were in a lot of back doors of restaurants, and it seemed as if good soup, really good soup, was hard to find.
FT: Where are your stores now?
Ersher: We opened our first store in September of 1998. We have 86 open today, and our growth has been in the entire northern half of the U.S., Ontario and British Columbia, and we’ve been focused on the Pacific Northwest, Wisconsin, Minnesota we also see a lot of opportunity. We started franchising in 2003.
FT: Tell me about the name, and I’ll note you spell it with punctuation: Zoup!
Ersher: We wanted to have a name that identified with what we did; however, we needed it to be unique enough so that it wasn’t only descriptive, because we knew we had to have it federally registered. We had an ongoing whiteboard, and when we landed on Zoup, and added the exclamation mark, we knew in our heart we were done. Like the first time we tasted chicken pot pie soup, we knew we had a good one.
FT: That sounds delicious.
Eric Ersher is the founder of Zoup, a franchise with soup at its center.
Ersher: We have hundreds of soups. We serve 12 a day, and they rotate daily. Every soup is served with a chunk of bread and we also serve sandwiches and made-to-order salads. As people continue to be more culinarily adventurous than ever before, we also try to offer unique ingredients and unique flavors that we know aren’t going to be the top sellers, but it’s one of the other elements that keeps us relevant and interesting.
FT: Like what?
Ersher: So last year, probably the most adventuresome soups that we developed and rolled out is a rattlesnake stew with real rattlesnake meat. It was difficult for us to source, but we see those difficulties as creating barriers to entry. Sometimes we applaud those challenges. I personally don’t know exactly where it was, but we found it in the Southwest, where there’s a bounty on rattlesnakes during certain times of the day.
FT: That’s not something I’d think of, rattlesnake stew.
Ersher: Maybe if you had a soup franchise you would, because that’s what we think about every day. There’s a couple we just rolled out that are surprisingly popular. One is a dill pickle chowder, and a dragonfire noodle bowl, which I was really worried about. It was the spiciest soup we’ve ever offered.