Donna Henry, the owner of Soup Up Bethesda, says she wants to change an American cultural quirk that has led people to think of soup as an appetizer or meal for the sick.
On Tuesday, her new restaurant in Bethesda’s unique PeriPoint building at the intersection of Old Georgetown Road and Wilson Lane, will open and begin offering a menu of soups made mostly with organic vegetables and without dairy, butter, oil or preservatives. She wants people to eat her soups regularly— for lunch or an after-work gathering or to bring home to your family.
“I’m hoping people will be extremely and pleasantly surprised,” Henry said. “I don’t want people to be turned off by the singleness of our menu.”
Henry, who has been selling her soups since 2012 at a stand at Washington, D.C.’s, Union Market, said she started the business after having a bad cup of soup at a local grocery store. When she found out ingredients like cream and maple syrup were added to it, she felt she could do better. So she started making traditional Jamaican and Cuban soups for her friends that she learned to make while growing up. She said her friends would enjoy the soup more than the crab dip or other pot luck items at dinner parties.
Soon enough, Henry was making soups in larger batches and found a captive set of customers at the D.C. market.
“I like to say the people in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, they invited me here,” Henry said about opening in Bethesda. “So many residents from here patronized Union Market.”
Henry met the owners of the building—Michael Belisle, the architect who designed it, and Elyse Harrison, an artist and Belisle’s wife—at Union Market.
“We would make a bee-line to her stand,” Harrison said about their visits to Union Market.
Then one day Henry floated the idea to Harrison about coming to Bethesda. Eventually the owners agreed their building could work and the process to turn the space into a soup bar began in May. Previously, the unique sea green structure was home to the high-end electronics company Bang & Olufsen and an art gallery.
Harrison spearheaded the design of the restaurant, which she calls “minimal and elegant.” The space includes wood tables made in Kensington out of rafters recycled from row houses in D.C., an old Romanian workbench and a mural painted by Harrison. Natural light from the large windows fills the space. There are about 44 seats, spread out on the first floor and a small second floor area. When the weather’s nice, there will be outdoor seating on a wrap-around patio.
In addition to soups, Henry will offer salads, cornbread, spring rolls and desserts. While the building does have some kitchen space, the soups are made at an offsite commercial kitchen in D.C., according to Henry.
The price of the soup will generally be $9 for a regular bowl, $11 for a medium or $13 for a large. Henry said in hot weather the ever-changing menu of six soups will likely include a gazpacho or other cold soup as well as some hot ones. She noted that attracting customers over the summer may be difficult, but hopes that she’ll find locals willing to change habits.
“People drink hot coffee and have hot meals in the summer,” Henry said. “Why not have a cup of soup?”
The view looking down at the soup bar from the second floor dining area.
Bowl sizes: regular (left), medium (middle), large (right)
Menus (via soupup.us)