When Steve Cook and Michael Solomonov, the dream team behind some of Philly’s (and now New York’s) most successful restaurants, found themselves throwing away over 1,000 pounds of chicken bones each week, they wanted to feed people instead of trashcans. Naturally, their first instinct told them to turn the bones into soup. Soup led to soup kitchen, so the duo approached Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative, a nonprofit that aims to give its customers the same that Cook and Solomonov do at their restaurants: the best hospitality.
Broad Street was not thrilled about the soup kitchen idea. Unlike a soup kitchen, Broad Street serves people in need a remarkable three-course meal, waiter and white napkin included. The faith-based community offers legal counseling and medical and psychiatric services, and it serves as an almost-home address to which such necessities as prescriptions can be mailed.
“So we thought, Why don’t we make a restaurant based on the soup, and then the people that live in the community can come in and eat lunch, something that they would do anyway,” said Cook. “Then the profits could go back to Broad Street’s mission and help their budget to do the amazing work that they do.”
Following a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $150,000, Rooster Soup Company opened its doors in January 2017. One hundred percent of the profits are donated back to Broad Street. A classic luncheonette serving a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches, milkshakes and blue-plate specials, the bestseller is the smoked matzah ball soup.
“Smoke is a big part of the Jewish palette, whether it’s pastrami or smoked salmon, so we knew that we wanted to do a matzah ball soup and put our twist on it,” said Cook.
Besides using the leftover chicken bones for the rich stock, the smoke in the matzah balls comes from the leftover rendered fat from a Montreal-style smoked short rib dish served at Abe Fisher, a Jewish small-plate restaurant from Cook and Solomonov. According to Cook, reducing food waste and helping to feed those in need are naturally Jewish values.
“It’s a totally Jewish value to make sure that nobody is left behind. There’s no good reason why some people should have so much and other people should have nothing,” said Cook. “People who come in and have lunch at Rooster Soup Company end up feeling good, because they don’t just have a good meal, but also contribute to the community.”
Each week, the restaurant delivers a check to Broad Street after paying all of its own expenses. Based on the original projections, the restaurant is forecasted to make roughly $50,000 in profits in its first year—about 24,300 meals—and that’s supposed to double by 2022.
Federal Donuts, the duo’s fried-chicken-and-doughnut empire that delivers all the bones, is steadily growing. Although Cook doesn’t plan to open another Rooster Soup Company in the next year or two, he is already speculating that “if we get more Federal Donuts, we would want to do another Rooster.” Reducing food waste and feeding the needy never sounded more delicious.
Rooster Soup Company, 215-454-6939, 1526 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA, Monday–Friday 11 am–8 pm, Saturday–Sunday 10 am–8 pm. Not kosher.
Top photo: Smoked matzah ball soup (Courtesy of CookNSolo)