by Len Lear
Lafayette Hill resident Dan London, 36,may not be a Campbell Soup executive, but he sure is into soup. Last month Dan opened Zoup!, a fast-casual franchise restaurant concept in the recently built Center Square Shopping Center, just off Skippack Pike (Route 73) in Blue Bell. There is a wide variety of salads and sandwiches, but the main draw seems to be the soups, of which there are 10 to 12 on any given day.
As we discovered on a recent visit, customers are allowed, even encouraged, to try free samples before deciding which soup to purchase. (It probably would not be a good idea to ask for samples of all 12 soups, although it does not appear to be against the rules.)
London grew up in Havertown and went to Haverford High School, then Pittsburgh University, majoring in communications. He earned a Masters degree from Penn State in engineering and wound up in business development for a Germany-based technology company in Conshohocken, Heraeus, for 10 years.
The local soup maven lived overseas in China for three years, then Germany for two years. “Then they wanted to send me to Korea and Singapore, but I didn’t like it any more,” London said last week. “I had enough. I wanted my own business.
“I had been to Zoup! in Collegeville and liked it. I found out it was a franchise operation, and I liked their business model. There is a lot of growth potential. It was $39,000 for a franchise. Then, of course, there are a lot of expenses after that because it is all yours.”
Zoup! was founded in 1998 in Michigan by a man named Eric Ersher. The name “Zoup!” was selected because it is a lot catchier than “Soup.” Before creating Zoup!, Ersher, who is also a lawyer, was owner of Michigan Foods, which manufactured custom spice blends, pre-mixes and prepared soups for chain restaurants.
The new restaurant in Blue Bell is actually London’s second store. He opened the first Zoup! in Exton in January, 2015, and signed a second agreement for the Blue Bell location in October, 2016, where there had been a Mexican restaurant, El Serape, and no shopping center. (There is also a Zoup! in Plymouth Meeting, which is not owned by London.)
“They tore down El Serape,” said London. “I took possession of it, and then it took two months to build. This Zoup! is a little smaller than the one in Exton, 1890 square feet vs. 2150 square feet in Exton. Here is it about 60 percent dine-in and the rest take-out. It’s the free samples that set us apart, though.”
According to their website, the Zoup! founder has developed a set of 14 operating principles called “Zoup!isms,” including “Everything Matters,” “Reach Out,” “Find Ways to Say ‘Yes’” and “The Customer is Always the Customer.” As of Feb. 11, 2016, Zoup! had 88 stores in the Northern half of the U.S. and Canada with 36 more locations in development. However, a public relations spokesperson for the Blue Bell store said the company has opened about 100 more outlets since February of 2016.
During our visit, staff members were very pleasant, the food was very good and the prices were certainly reasonable. We particularly liked the lobster bisque ($8.50 a bowl), chicken Toscana sandwich ($7.95), veggie wrap ($6.50 a half) and Greek salad ($6.95).
Zoup!’s nutritional options include low-fat, dairy-free, vegetarian, spicy and with gluten-free ingredients. Zoup! also does catering for meetings and events. The restaurant hosted two preview lunches and a special VIP pre-opening event that collected over $1,000 in donations for the Centre Square Fire Company, supporting its efforts to build a new firehouse. There will be more fundraising and special offers when Zoup! hosts a week of grand opening events Dec. 4-8.
The new Blue Bell location at 970 DeKalb Pike, which seats 44 guests, is open Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. More information at 267-460-1141 or zoup.com.