By Chris Peterson
As the season settles into fall the pace of life changes, as do our wardrobes and diets.
Soups are welcomed back onto our menus – warmer, heartier fare and easier to keep on hand in the freezer than summer salads, luscious as they are.
Oops! Haven’t had time to bulk up your stash of soups yet?
Not to worry – help is rolling down the street and you can guide it to your door with a few computer clicks. Move over guilt-ridden pizza delivery – SoupCycle is nutritious, freezable soup delivered by bicycle. It can be waiting on your doorstep when you get home, if you can’t be there to welcome it. (It’s delivered cold for you to heat at your convenience. Just leave a cooler by your door.) It can arrive with sides of fresh salad, handmade dressing and bread, if you choose.
The idea was hatched between two MBA students, Shauna Lambert of Corvallis and Jed Lazar of Portland, as they carpooled to their weekly sustainable business class at Bainbridege Graduate Institute in Washington and brainstormed thesis projects. Soon they were testing their soups on family and friends and adjusting recipes according to feedback. Their first official soup pots were filled in a rented church kitchen with a 6-month deadline for success, defined as 100 weekly deliveries.
Today, SoupCycle does over 550 weekly deliveries in Portland and 60 in Corvallis.
The cycling part isn’t a gimmick – it’s a lifestyle and crucial part of Lazar’s business plan. He doesn’t own a car. “I started SoupCycle to push the envelope of how sustainable a business can be,” he said. “Most people are overwhelmed by climate change and peak oil – they feel small in the face of such massive issues. SoupCycle is a reminder that you can make a difference.” A quote on his office wall reminds him daily that: ‘No one makes a bigger mistake than he who does nothing because he could only do a little.’
When asked if he doesn’t have second thoughts about cycling deliveries on cold, wet winter days, Lazar admits it can be daunting. “But we’ve got awesome and appreciative customers and great winter riding gear,” he said. “For me, delivering in the rain is about changing my mentality and looking at it as a challenge.”
While three other bikers share deliveries in Portland now—with a fourth coming shortly—Lazar still logs about 15 delivery miles per week but the rest of his time is devoted to managing the growing business. The other deliverers log 20 to 40 miles each week, which is all the more impressive considering they’re pulling a trailer filled with 215 pounds of organic soups, salads and bread. In city traffic.
Of course a food business doesn’t survive on great delivery service alone. One needs a valuable product to deliver. According to customers—and steadily growing business—the product is highly valued. To get a flavor of the offerings, visit www.SoupCycle.com. Check out next week’s choices and, from the menu bar, scroll through the alphabet of soups Chef Matthew Stupey has created. There are three each week – a vegan, vegetarian and one with “meaty” (chicken, turkey or seafood – no red meat). The clever names reflect Lazar’s creative wit. The ingredients (most organic and locally-sourced), spotlight Stupey’s culinary creativity.
As the company grew, the pair realized they needed a chef and larger cooking space. As fate would have it, Stupey had recently returned to Portland after selling his café on the Oregon coast and was looking for a new challenge that fit his values and utilized his cooking and business skills. The two met, a larger commercial kitchen was rented and, after almost three years, “the magic still bubbles,” Stupey says.
Raised in the country where his family grew and preserved produce and raised animals for meat, Stupey seemed bred for cheffing. He frequents farmers markets and says one of the things he loves about his job is meeting the folks who grow the vegetables and raise the chickens he uses. In fact, he’s planning to organize a customer bike tour to some of the local farms they buy from.
Lazar wants his delivery people to know the soups personally so they work in the kitchen and Stupey has been on a few bike deliveries. This year, though, his extra energies are devoted to developing a new soup each month, while keeping up with the growing business.
Corvallis SoupCycle manager and deliverer, Kim Thackray is impressed that Stupey makes all the chicken broth used in the meaty selection from scratch, utilizing the bones from the previous week’s hormone-free poultry ingredient. “Many home cooks I know don’t do that,” she said, “but it really makes a difference in the deliciousness.”
Corvallis is the only other home of SoupCyle (and only within city limits), because that’s where Lazar’s co-founder, Shauna Lambert lived. She and her family have since moved to eastern Washington, but her legacy thrives in “Soupvallis” as it’s affectionately known on the website. (Portland is “Souplandistan”and SoupCycle customers are Soupetarians in Lazar’s lingo.)
Thackray takes Thursdays off from her part-time job at OSU to make deliveries in south Corvallis, logging about 25 miles a week. Biking is part of her lifestyle, too. Besides biking to work year-round, her family has wheeled hundreds of miles together.
Julia Sparks, a bike mechanic at Peak Sports delivers in North Corvallis on Wednesdays. Fortunately, she’s not needed her repair skills during deliveries yet. She said the hottest days are a problem only if she doesn’t have enough water. This will be her first winter delivering, but she’s not worried and, like Lazar, looks at it as a good challenge. “My favorite part of the job is climbing a steep hill…and flying back down,” she said. It’s a satisfying feeling hauling the trailer filled with soup to the top of Witham Hill.”
So, how does it work? Is this like getting a cell phone where you’re committed to two years or 200 soup deliveries? No. It’s an open-ended subscription which you can stop at anytime. If you don’t like the soup, you get credit for another one – no questions asked. To get started go to the website, choose a soup, sign up for the amount you want a la carte or with salad and/or bread, pay online, then wait for it to arrive sometime between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. on your delivery day. If you go on vacation or just need a break from soup you just cancel that week.
Some customers stock up on their favorites when they crop up.
You can also have soup delivered to someone else – say a family with a new baby, lacking sleep and time to cook but really needing a nutritious boost. Or someone with a stressful work schedule or dealing with a life challenge that could be eased a bit with dinner delivered to their doorstep by a caring human being.
Shawnde Bausch first tasted SoupCycle soup at the Indoor Winter Market last February when her youngest child was 4 months old. She was impressed with the flavor and natural ingredients so she signed on, thinking it would be for just a couple months, until life with a newborn calmed down. But, by then, she found she not only loved the soups, she treasured delivery days since it gave her time off from cooking. Still, she thought she’d continue just ’til summer. Then summer arrived and she figured she’d wait until the first heatwave. “Now it’s fall and we’re still happily getting our weekly deliveries,” she said. “The SoupCyle people are really flexible and friendly – you can change your choice or stop your orders any time. It’s like a friend delivering soup from their kitchen.”
For those who don’t want soup in summer, but still want a meal delivered, a choice of deli salads are offered. And the fresh green salad and bread are a year-round option.
David Eisman, OSU professor emeritus of music is like many retirees, busy as ever. Thus, his favorite part of SoupCycle is having a consistently delicious soup and green salad delivered regularly. He calls it “a convenience to ease the burdens of daily living.” While he gives a nod of approval to the bike delivery, he’s especially reassured after each order to get a prompt and friendly confirmation, as well as prompt response to any question that arise.
So, cruise the website (www.soupcycle.com) to meet this unique, sustainable business and maybe whet your appetite. It’s one of those “pure Oregon” businesses where youthful energy fuels a dream and that dream comes true.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of young farmers providing ingredients for entrepreneurs like Lazar. It bodes well for our health, the environment and local economy.