The soup du jour? A click away
Website lists restaurants' offerings so you know before you go
Carrot and ginger. White bean and sausage. Haddock chowder.
It starts in late morning. The soup people begin calling around to local restaurants, checking the du jour offerings, trying to find one that matches their appetites. And local restaurant staffs, busy preparing for the lunch rush, must put down their spatulas to answer the calls.
Ed Ridolfi saw a way to make a difference. And maybe someday, a buck. He and his friend Heather Cathcart, both of Newburyport, recently launched the What's The Soup? website (http://whatsthesoup.net/) to help out the "soup crazies" and the restaurants alike. Their motto: Connecting soup to its people.
"It occurred to me I had to make a ton of phone calls to find the soup I wanted," Ridolfi said. "It was a selfish reason why I came up with it."
The website is pretty simple. Click to your town and scroll down through a list of participating restaurants to see what they're offering for soup today. There's also a phone number for each if you want to call in an order, and a link to the restaurant's site if you want to see the rest of the menu.
"I'm another soup nut that spends way too much time calling people during lunch hour when they're crazed; and the last thing they want to do is say 'carrot ginger' for the 90th time," said Cathcart. "I started doing a little market analysis, talking to people on the street, and the response was overwhelming. They said, 'If you could find a solution to this, we'd be the happiest people in the world.' This is cube dwellers . . . pockets of people who only have a certain amount of time for their lunch break."
Bacon and potato. Smoked chicken corn chowder. Pumpkin bisque.
"There's something, I just have to say, about the economy now, people are looking for a good nutritional option right now [instead of] a full lunch," Cathcart said. "We walked into Not Your Average Joe's and there were several people sitting up at the bar having big bowls of soup at lunchtime."
Already more than 800 people have visited the What's The Soup? site.
"I just think it's really neat to go on one website to see all of the soup options," said Janet Hickey, who eats soup at least a couple of times a week on lunch break from her job as quality manager for a firm in the Newburyport industrial park. "I never knew whether I should be going to Carryout Café or Fowle's or what to get the best soup."
"I think our favorite restaurants were beginning to block our 11:30 a.m. phone calls," another user writes on the site.
There are 16 Newburyport restaurants and eight in Amesbury signed on. Each morning they log on to the site and post their soups. The restaurants pay "a nominal monthly fee" to participate. In return they cut down on all those phone calls, get their soups in front of all the site's users, and also have one more avenue for promotion.
"It's great for us for a number of reasons. One, it prevents the phone call coming in during the middle of the lunch rush asking what the soup is. It is a common inquiry that we receive," said Abbie Batchelder, who recently took over as owner of Joppa Fine Foods at the Tannery after several years as manager. "And two, for people logging on to the What's The Soup site that maybe did not know we were here, it definitely plugs us that way and gets new customers coming in."
Split pea and ham. Hearty chicken noodle. Vegetarian chili.
"It's advertising, it's getting the word out there about our soups," said Laetitia Sanders, owner of the Purple Onion on Inn Street in Newburyport. "There are so many offices around and little shops and they're all looking for a quick, easy bite. Wintertime is perfect for soup too."
Ridolfi works in real estate. Cathcart is a marketer and self-described "serial entrepreneur" who is doing most of the legwork. Both have a fondness for social media, so the site includes a Soupy Blog, Soupy Quotes, and a link to What's The Soup? on Twitter.
Both also have their eyes set on expansion to Portsmouth and Portland, and Boston by the end of the year. And why stop there?
"We'd like to go national; we really would," Cathcart said. "I'd like to see Seattle, Portland, the whole Northwest area. I lived out there and that's where I first started my addiction to soup."
Garlicky tomato basil. Sopa de tortilla. Farm stand vegetable (Vegan? Ask for it with no pesto. . .).