As I walk down the stairs to a rented church kitchen in Southeast Portland, the smell of broth stuns me for a moment. A warm, fragrant haze of potato, celery, and onion consumes me. Outside, the air is taking on the crisp edge of autumn; at the bottom of the stairs, it's comfort and home.
Jed Lazar and Shauna Lambert welcome me with big smiles. Lambert stops cutting potatoes long enough to offer me a starched hand. Lazar goes to work removing corn from the cob. These are the minds and muscle behind SoupCycle, Portland's only soup subscription service. As we talk, their hands move busily over bright yellow ears of corn and dark brown potatoes. They'll be delivering soup tomorrow and there's no time to slow down.
SoupCycle ports their pottage to an area they call Souplandistan. It's a portion of the city that lies north of SE Powell, south of I-84, and sprawls across the river between I-405 and SE 39th. The consommé curious can buy a "soupscription" from soupcycle.com, choosing a default order of vegetarian, vegan, or meat soup, which is delivered to their home or office on a weekly basis via electric-assisted tricycle.
"It's a lot of biking," says Lazar. Along with cutting vegetables and promoting the business, Lazar is the primary delivery person. Lambert focuses more on the food and the accounting. The two are obviously quite busy with a moderate subscription base, but they look forward to more customers... especially as the weather cools.
"I love summer, but soup season has started," Lazar says with a big grin.
The SoupCycle idea began, ironically enough, in a car. Lazar and Lambert were in the same MBA program at Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Washington State. The long weekend commutes became a natural business incubator.
"Shauna had heard about this guy in Austin called the Soup Peddler. We really liked the idea of that business," says Lazar.
For Lambert, soup was key. "I think once we started down the soup road, I started to like the idea more and more," she explains. "There's so much you can do with soup. Every culture has its own. It's very seasonal and low waste."
The idea was to be local, sustainable, and tasty. They've achieved the first two goals—buying produce from farms in Corvallis and delivering with pedal power—but what about that tricky third goal?
There was one problem: They had to learn to cook soup. The last several months saw crash courses in chowder and victories in vichyssoise. Once they began delivering, the response from customers was positive.
"The thing is that [the soups] change every week," says Lambert. "They're not going to love 100 percent of them, but they'll love the majority."
The day after our conversation, Lazar delivered to the Mercury office. He was smiling and energetic, despite a night of cooking. The week's soups included red pepper, smoked salmon chowder, a vegan number called "Your Tongue Takes You on Vacation," as well as a baguette from little t american bakery, and salad. Lunch was set.
It was all quite good: The red pepper offered spiciness that crept up on the palate, and the salmon chowder was adequately smoky and creamy but needed a touch more salt. The triumph, however, was the vegan coconut corn chowder with a bit of spice and a hint of dill that allowed all of the flavors to coalesce.
Creative soup exploration seems to be the driving force behind SoupCycle. "We found a recipe for peanut butter and jelly soup," notes Lazar. "I'm really excited about it."
If variety is the spice of life, then SoupCycle will season your weekdays with surprise.
Lazar and Lambert scoured their recipes—sent in from family members, subscribers, or adapted from books—to find a perfect fall soup for Mercury readers. Enjoy!
Who Framed Ginger Rabbit
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 3 cups chopped carrots (smaller carrots are usually • sweeter and preferable)
• 1 cup onions
• 4 cups mild vegetable stock (or water)
• 2 teaspoons finely minced ginger
• cream to taste
• salt to taste
Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions to oil and sauté. Add carrots and vegetable stock (or water). Bring to a boil. Cover immediately and reduce heat to a very low simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until carrots are tender. Add ginger and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender. Soup should be very thick. Add salt and cream to