August 2012 Small Business Spotlight
“TOGETHER WE CAN CHANGE THE WAY THE WORLD HELPS”
-Jamie Klein, Director of Vision and Flavor, Soup Kitchen, Inc./ Soup Kitchen Serves
Welcome to, “The Conversation of Soup”
What It Is
Soup Kitchen Inc./Soup Kitchen Serves is, in a (well 5 really) word (s), the end of world hunger. Admittedly a pretty bold statement, and yet it is a logical proposition and process. Here’s the short version: We have a line of soups, and for every portion sold, an equal portion is donated to someone in need.
That’s it. And if nothing else, that’s all it needs to be.
We don’t claim to be the only answer needed in the issue of hunger (which is actually the issue of food insecurity… when you simply don’t know where your next meal is coming from; or if it is coming at all), but we will be the last answer necessary.
Why It Is
Before we get into the more detailed machinations of the soup Kitchen process, let’s explore the question of why we are doing this in the first place. After 30 plus years of doing just about everything imaginable in the service of food service, I realized that something was missing. I can certainly post a star-studded list of, experiences, clients, locations and events, and am still passionate about the work I do in the kitchen. About four years ago, I found myself asking the simple question of “why?”. Since I’ve never wanted ownership in any of the processes I’ve participated in (restaurants, catering, private cheffing, film work, etc.), why did I get so good at what I can do? I’ve questioned my motives before (as I’m sure we all have at one time or another), but this time I heard an answer (or at least listened to the one that showed up). I heard the voice that said, “I just want to feed people that are hungry.” After first wondering if I should simply ditch all my possessions and go into some church basement or mission and put my talent to work (and the wondering if I could persuade my wife and son to join me on said adventure), I realized that what I wanted was a sustainable, scalable solution to the problem I was looking at. That began the line of thinking that lead to the creation of Soup Kitchen.
How It Works (For and Non Profit)
While the “one for one” model is not new (Tom’s Shoes… not a specific inspiration, (didn’t know of it when I was creating Soup Kitchen), but a good example of how this can be successful) there are some specific guidelines we use in our business.
1) Giving: we donate our soup as close as we can to wherever the soup was sold. For me, hungry is hungry, and I can’t see skipping over my neighbor in need to feed someone, somewhere else. Since we’re ending WORLD hunger, everyone, everywhere must be included. This is our way of making sure that happens, and it is my belief that we will all be better for it. It is the “long view” in the issue of food insecurity. That being said, when a group wants to purchase soup and then send the donation soup to a specific location, we are thrilled to do that; I will not deny someone’s intention for helping, wherever they want. As long as someone’s being fed, we’re doing good (spell check wants me to say “well” here, but this is about the good we do. If we do our “good” well, everybody wins!).
2) Ingredients: with all of our soups (and with any food products we will expand into), we will only use food. One reason for this is that I am a cook, not a chemist. I understand the language of food and know that is the language our bodies prefer to speak.
Another reason has to do with our donations. When you and I buy food, we,
hopefully, know we are at choice as to what we will eat (and believe me, I have
some less than nutritionally stellar choices that I make.. a world without pizza is a
world I just don’t want to live in). We can read labels, or not, and decide.
It is the person being fed at the shelter (church, mission, etc), the person standing in line with an empty bowl and the humbled prayer of “please”, the person who, in that moment is subject to whatever is going to be put into that bowl, who deserves the simple human decency of being served real food. The soup we sell is the soup we donate; which means that the soup you enjoy, is the soup you donate. So, thanks for that!
3) It is our intention to be a “7th generation” company. The term is from the Native
American wisdom which says that what we do today echoes in intention down
Throughout the next 7 generations. We want to be doing this right in every way. It is our intention to use and support the best practices in every facet of our process (ingredient quality, sourcing, preparation, packaging, warehousing, distribution, etc). We also recognize that this is an intention to grow into. Since ending hunger is our mission, feeding people is our first priority. We recognize that the economics of scale will allow us to adopt and adapt to best practices as we grow. And that’s just good for everyone.
4) One of the phrases used often in, “The Conversation of Soup” is putting the “share” back in market share. This works in two levels. One is that we want to see Soup Kitchen products everywhere food makes sense (and even where it doesn’t..heck it will stand out more that way). Now this is not a new idea for anyone with a product in the marketplace, however, it’s back to intention and purpose again. It’s self evident that a/restaurant (market, etc.) serving Soup Kitchen soups will look good to its customers for doing so. But what about the restaurant (market, etc.) down the block? For us, “Soup” should not be the deciding factor in where you go (we want everyone to do well with this), just what you decide to do when you get there. If everybody has it, then everybody has access to it, and everybody looks (and does) good with it.
The other aspect of share is how we partner in getting our soup to market. I’m a firm believer in that, if someone is already doing something that I need done, and I can help them by letting them do that something for me, have at it. It keeps costs clear, overhead low, supports other businesses, and generally puts me in the hands of people who know more about what I need done, than I do. We are about cooperation over competition. That’s the “together” in “Together we can change the way the world helps.”
The Underside of the Iceberg (Deeper Meaning)
Soup is really the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been in foodservice for over 30 years (but I don’t “cook” a day over 20). I know food. We are 7 billion people on the planet, and 1 billion of us live daily, in food insecurity. So it’s a 6:1 ratio of people who can feed themselves to people who can’t. The numbers are in our favor. This can be done (and should be done, and hey, IS being done). Yes this is a broad, sweeping statement, but then hunger, is a broad sweeping issue. I know that there is more to know about what I’m doing than I realize, but that’s just problem solving. One thing I’ve learned is to not let problem solving get in the way of decision making. Listening to the voice was the decision made. The rest is just a journey through solutions.
A Call to Arms (or At Least Spoons Anyway)
What this is really, is a conversation about connection. Imagine that with your next bowl of soup (or plate of anything), every bite you took to nourish yourself, also went to feed someone in need in your community (well not your actual bite, but one equally tasty, nutritious). How good does that food taste, how good do you feel, now? If, with every meal (and every spoon or forkful), you were reminded that you are connected to and doing something for someone with less that you, how do you think you’d face the day after you were done eating? (…this is me listening to you answer for yourself). Exactly!
What I’ve Learned (The Meaning of “No”)
For all the experience I have in the kitchen, this is the first business, I’ve ever started. To say I have a lot to learn wouldn’t be saying nearly enough (I can feel some of the more experienced eyes rolling right now). I suppose that I could have waited until I knew a lot more before I embarked on this journey, but, for better or worse (and we’re shooting for better here) that isn’t really who I am. My philosophy is that if I can get the story (and soup) out there, who & whatever I need will be there when needed. So far so good.
About 3 months into starting this, a friend asked me to speak with someone they knew who was starting their own business. Suddenly I’m an expert? In the conversation, I realized that I have realized at least one thing. Essentially, this is a sales business, so “no” is part of the conversation. But because I believe so much in what I’m doing, “no” has only meant: not here, not now, or, not this way. It’s more a sense of direction, a gust of wind to fill the sails as opposed to a door slamming shut or a wall being built. If I can see the end result (and I can) then there must not be any real obstacle to getting there, even though the path may twist and turn unexpectedly.
You may have notice the writing switch back and forth between I and we. The truth is, at this point, it is pretty much “I” doing it all. What’s next is changing all of that. On my current business cards it says “Director of Vision and Flavor”. That speaks to the truth of my strengths. I can see the big picture clearly and I can cook it to perfection. Since that seems to be both ends of the equation, it’s now time to fill in the middle. I know there are people as excited about the machinations of running a business as I am about seeing its results. It’s time to find them and let them into (and let them elevate and evolve) the process. “Together” certainly has to include more than just me. What I do know is that whoever steps up (and in) will have the same passion for what they do and share the same vision for what we (I) do.
Gratitude (Randag – Triways)
Somewhere in the 1600’s, German mystic Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer ever uttered was “Thank You” it would suffice.” When the going gets tough, my mantra is “hey I’m ending world hunger, of course I’ll be taken care of in the process.” (or my other one which is, “This is what ending hunger looks like today” In all of that is gratitude for what I’ve opened myself up to here. Some pretty amazing people and companies have showed up to help out when I needed it most. Randag and Associates (contract packagers), WarehousingAndFulfillment.com, and through then Tri-Ways (warehousing and fulfillment) have stepped in and up far beyond what I would have expected.
So for all this has been, for all it is, and for all it will be, and for everyone who is a part of it.
“Together We Can Change The Way The World Helps”
Director of Vision and Flavor
Soup Kitchen, Inc.