Soup Peddler Celebrates Sweet Sixteen in Style
By Tonyia Cone
Sixteen years ago, David Ansel hopped on his bike and followed his passion for food. The South Austinite founded the Soup Peddler when he started making soup for friends and neighbors in his kitchen, then delivered the goods on his ergonomically designed bicycle he built at nonprofit organization the Yellow Bike Project.
Ansel explained, “When I started this business 16 years ago delivering handmade soup on my bike, I knew something special was happening – I had the ability to connect people with soul satisfying comfort food and honor that unique Austin spirit our city is known for.”
The company has gone through many transitions since then. The Soup Peddler first offered a weekly porch delivery of soups, entrees, side dishes and desserts ordered online by customers.
Since then – in large part because the food delivery landscape has changed so much – the company outsourced delivery to Favor, and today makes $4 million in sales each year.
Staffed with more than 50 employees, its five brick and mortar locations offer a menu of award-winning handmade soups, fresh salads, toasted sandwiches, premium juices and smoothies, and other health-focused foods.
The Soup Peddler celebrated its years of service with sweet 16 birthday events throughout February, bringing fan favorite vegetarian gumbo back to the menu, and introducing fundraising smoothie the Yellow Bike.
The Yellow Bike Project hosted a social bike ride from its shop to the original Soup Peddler location on West Mary Street; the company received a mayoral proclamation for Soup Peddler Day; and the Soup Peddler hosted an anniversary party and film screening at the Alamo Drafthouse on South Lamar Street.
The screening of “The Soup Peddler,” a documentary film about David Ansel, and the classic Marx Brother’s film “Duck Soup,” doubled as a fundraising event for the Yellow Bike Project. The Soup Peddler donated a portion of the ticket sales – which included a bowl of Ansel’s handcrafted duck soup served during the event – to the organization.
“The Soup Peddler” film was created in 2004 by Ansel’s friend Lisa Kaselak as part of her film school application. In addition to telling Ansel’s story, the film, which has screened in many film festivals, is also a period piece about Austin.
“It was so cool for people who came to see some warm fuzzy old South Austin types of things like the skyline and me biking down South Congress with no cars on the road and old stores that are no longer there,” he added.
“We are so excited to celebrate our sweet 16 anniversary with all of our employees, loyal ‘soupie’ customers both past and present, countless supporters and Austin organizations like the Yellow Bike Project who are an important part of our legacy,” said Ansel.
The Soup Peddler donated $400 to the Yellow Bike Project through the event.
The restaurant business is notoriously difficult, and many companies do not survive over the years. Ansel chalks up the Soup Peddler’s 16 years of success to being flexible and able to adapt.
“I’ve seen a lot of things come and go,” he said, explaining that when he started the business in 2002, there were no farmer’s markets or food trailers to speak of, and grocery stores sold groceries instead of the variety of fresh, prepared foods that take up shelf space today.
“It took a long time to pivot and a lot of risk and effort. I had to zoom out, see what was happening and be flexible. I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t,” he said.
The 200-gallon kettles that constantly cook Soup Peddler chicken stock exemplify the company’s focus on providing great service and convenience, value and health.
"A lot of places have two out of three. We have a place where people can reasonably, easily go eat something healthy. It’s a balance of health food and really gourmet. It’s made with a chef intention to taste really great,” Ansel said.
While most restaurants use powdered soup base, Ansel consciously decided to put the effort into creating authentic food.
“We do it because it’s the right thing to do. When people compare this chicken soup, the difference is real. The health difference and value are there,” he said. “I think Austin’s a very sophisticated place, and people here can discern value. A lot of things about this wouldn’t probably work in other places.”
The Soup Peddler also continues to work because it is still 100 percent privately owned by Ansel.
Most business owners dilute their risk by bringing in investors, but Ansel wanted to keep control of company decisions – like offering generous employee benefits and organic, purposeful growth – in his own hands.
“It’s not a bottom line kind of place,” he said. “I’m more of a lifestyle person, about family, health, friends, music and fun.” ■
More information on the Soup Peddler is available at www.souppeddler.com and on social media on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram at @souppeddler.