Bethesda native Valerie Zweig (right) started Prescription Chicken with her cousin Taryn Pellicone. Photo by Liz Lynch
A few years ago, Valerie Zweig was suffering from her second bout of laryngitis in six weeks. Not up for cooking, she dragged herself to a small restaurant around the corner from her Northwest D.C. apartment and handed the bartender a note: “I need broth.” No luck.
If only there was a soup delivery service, Zweig thought. At a family Passover gathering in the spring of 2016, the Bethesda native shared the idea with second cousin Taryn Pellicone, who agreed it had potential. “Soup is the most comforting food there is. Whether it’s Campbell’s or homemade, the feeling you have from soup connects you to a taste memory like nothing else,” says Zweig, a 1999 graduate of Walt Whitman High School. “If someone says, ‘I’m not feeling well,’ I’m always the first person to say, ‘Here, have some soup.’ ”
In September of 2016, the cousins launched Prescription Chicken. The D.C.-based business makes soups from scratch and delivers the orders in 60 to 90 minutes to customers in the District and nearby Maryland and Northern Virginia.
Together, they developed recipes for four soups: “Grandma Style” chicken with matzo balls or egg noodles; spicy “Hangover” chicken; a “Chickenless” vegetarian with matzo balls or noodles; and a nutrient-packed “Bone Broth.” During the 2016 election season, they introduced a “Bipartisan” soup with matzo balls and noodles that remains a hit. They also added some options with international flair, such as a “Faux Pho,” a Vietnamese pho with rice noodles, and “Thai Coconut Dumpling.”
The cousins brought a combination of culinary and communications expertise to the table. Zweig, now 36, graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and then attended culinary school in New York City. For several years, she worked in New York and Washington, D.C., doing public relations for restaurants, but she was eager to start her own business. Pellicone, 29, who lives in Baltimore, studied hotel and restaurant management at the University of Delaware. She worked in a variety of restaurants before joining Zweig to open Prescription Chicken.
The business operates out of a shared commercial kitchen in Northwest D.C., and space is tight. “When we first started, we were running around like crazy people,” Pellicone says. The women soon developed a system, became more efficient and started hiring.
Now there are eight part-time employees working alongside the owners. They make most of the soup on nights and weekends and fill delivery orders during the day. Customers either order on the Prescription Chicken website or through a variety of online delivery apps, including Uber Eats, Postmates and Caviar. The business fills about 250 orders per week online and the soup also is sold wholesale to seven stores, including Glen’s Garden Market in the District.
Each order is delivered in a white paper bag with a prescription pad graphic printed on one side. The chefs check off the type of soup in the package and add a personal note of encouragement. Though the women had envisioned the soup to be medicinal or ordered as a gift, Zweig says they believe those types of orders make up a limited portion of sales. “It’s not the dominant reason people order. People just love soup,” Zweig says.
Zweig and Pellicone originally planned a delivery-only business, but discovered they enjoyed interacting directly with customers after opening a pop-up food stall in Baltimore. They recently opened a permanent food stall in Baltimore and another at Union Market in the District, and have plans for a location in Philadelphia this summer. Prices start at $7 for a 16-ounce container of soup at the pop-up stalls; $12 for a quart online, plus delivery charges. Zweig sees a potential to expand the business across the country.
“The last 18 months have been filled with the highest highs and the lowest lows—but this is an amazing roller coaster,” she says.