It was a rainy, bleak Monday for me. The Steelers lost Sunday night and I hadn’t gotten normal sleep in days—I’d attended the Women’s March in D.C. and celebrated my birthday on Saturday. The rough Philly wind splattered my WaWa coffee all over my coat and umbrella. But there was a light, and it came in the form of a delicious and belly-warming smoked matzo ball soup from the newly opened Rooster Soup Company on Sansom Street in Center City in Philadelphia.
Rooster Soup Company, a project almost three years in the making, serves soup, sandwiches, and salads, as well as diner staples like milkshakes (vanilla malteds, e.g.) and pie. There are cocktails, wine, and beer, too. One hundred percent of the restaurant’s net profits go towards feeding hungry Philadelphians at the Broad Street Ministry. (Philadelphia has a poverty rate of 26 percent, and a deep poverty rate of 12.3 percent, one of the nation’s highest, according to census data.)
The idea for Rooster Soup Company sprung from wasted chicken backs and bones at restaurant group CookNSolo’s five locations of Federal Donuts, which serves fried chicken (made from whole chickens) along with donuts and coffee. According to the Green Restaurant Association, food waste makes up about half of an average restaurant’s waste output. CookNSolo is co-run by the James Beard Award-winning Michael Solomonov, the chef-brain behind the critically-acclaimed Zahav, Dizengoff, Abe Fisher, and Percy Street BBQ, which was recently sold. (Erin O’Shea, the former executive chef and co-owner of Percy Street BBQ, is Rooster Soup Company’s executive chef.)
The Rooster Soup Company project started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, and donors’ names now line the walls in artwork in the back dining room. The concept was originally going to be soups only, but once they found the space, owners Solomonov and co-owner Steven Cook knew they wanted it to be a full-on diner. “Ambition grew out of necessity,” said Cook. Even though the concept expanded from just soups to a whole diner menu, Cook said they didn’t consider changing the name. Now, customers can also nibble on breakfast fare, inventive sandwiches (Chicken Cutlet sandwiches with roasted beet spread, dill, and capers, e.g.) and other creations (Yemenite chicken pot pie, e.g.) and daily dinner specials, in addition to a variety of soups like roasted cauliflower (there will always be a vegan option, and soups are seasonal). A full menu can be viewed here.
But on a cold and rainy opening day, the diner was abuzz. Many folks ordered the smoked matzo ball soup, which uses smoked schmaltz in the fluffy balls. “I had to get it,” said Kae Greenberg, a soup fan who works around the corner and had been scoping out the spot the last two years. General Manager John Nicolo said the amount of to-go orders have totally exceeded expectations.
Nicolo used to volunteer at Broad Street Ministry’s Hospitality Collaborative, as did Dejha Curtis, a host at Rooster Soup Company. The organization offers “radical hospitality,” according to its website, serving meals to hungry folks in the style of a restaurant. They serve six meals per week to over 1,300 guests, according to the website. “It makes them feel like regular people, which they are,” Curtis said.
As outlined on the Rooster Soup Company Kickstarter page, the company’s net profits are what’s leftover after expenses like labor, food costs, rent, and utilities. Since the chicken parts are donated by Federal Donuts (500 lbs. per week!), that’s one less food cost CookNSolo has to pay back, so pure profit for Broad Street Ministry. Eating chicken soup always feels good, but now it feels even better.