SANTA FE, N.M. — Mix a onetime partnership with Wolfgang Puck and a stint at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago and you think champagne and caviar.
But that combination of experience is behind SuP (“soop”), a “fast-casual” restaurant that opened at the corner of St. Francis Drive and Cordova Road three weeks ago.
From the soup ladle door handles to the 8 or 10 stockpots simmering behind the counter, SuP focuses on healthful take-out, and the priciest meal costs $11.95.
WHAT: Soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts
WHERE: 559 W. Cordova Road, Santa Fe
HOURS: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-8:30 p.m.
MORE INFO: 505-819-5775, eatsup.net/
According to FastCasual.com, since the economic downturn, the fast-casual segment has led the restaurant industry in both sales and unit growth, continuing to outperform on both fronts. The category includes familiar chains like Panda Express, Jason’s Deli and Boston Market. Most do not offer full table service but promise a food quality balanced between fast food and casual dining. Customers with limited discretionary meal income veer toward these places because they think they’re healthier.
“Fast-casual is the fastest growing category in the restaurant business,” SuP co-owner Andrew Hoffman said.
Hoffman has owned restaurants in Aspen, Manhattan, Kansas City and Los Angeles, the latter with Puck.
“After that died in 1992, I said, ‘Never again’,” Hoffman recalled. “It was a tragedy of the times – it was closed by the Rodney King riots.”
After various stints in investment and mortgage banking, Hoffman decided to return to the field he had sworn off, well aware of the grim statistics –– 90 percent of new restaurants fail within the first three years.
But he says SuP is different in both design and concept. Fast-casual is the latest buzzword in the business, with chains like Chipotle and Panera thriving despite the Great Recession. Anchored by counter service to keep costs down, the emphasis is on good food at reasonable prices.
“Soup is a casual category,” Hoffman said. “The first restaurant was Roman, and it was a soup restaurant. There is a soup or stew in every culture. In the summer, soup is a light meal. In the winter, soup is a heavy meal.”
Installing a no-gas kitchen helped lower costs, because it allowed him to avoid spending $25,000 for a fire retardant system, he added.
“When you use an open flame, you cook differently,” he added. “You create grease; it’s dirtier.” He avoided dishes by using what he calls “American bento boxes,” cradling inserts with spaces for holding soup, sandwiches, salad and dessert.
“A dishwasher is the lowest paid employee and the least efficient,” he said, adding that recyclable paper was a cheaper option.
The menu includes three freshly baked breads, salads, two pre-made sandwiches and three to five desserts. The onetime pizza take-out seats 30.
Executive chef Anthony Damiano boasts a résumé that starts with an apprenticeship at Paris’ Maxim’s, a stint as the Pierre New York’s executive chief, the same title at Shearson Lehman Brothers, his own Food Network show, various five-star resorts, New York’s legendary Russian Tea Room, plus time with The Donald. He has cooked for a galaxy of stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, Woody Allen, Michael J. Fox, Tom Selleck, Michelle Pfeiffer and Mikhail Gorbachev and President George H.W. Bush (in the Russian Embassy).
Like many Italian boys, Damiano learned about food washing dishes in his family’s Long Island restaurant with his great-grandmother, his grandmother, his mother and his aunt, who “yelled less” than his father and uncles who managed the front.
Thus far, he has served up a SuP menu of borscht beef and cabbage, chili con carne, classic menudo, Italian wedding soup, seven-pepper chili, steak and potato, Asian chicken noodle, chicken tortilla, matzo ball, Mulligatawny and Thai turkey with bok choy and ginger, among others. The sandwiches and wraps include BLTs, chicken Panzella, a crabcake “wich,” a Marrakesh Express wrap and tuna salad. Both vegan and gluten-free meals are available.
“We’re not going to be fine dining,” Hoffman said. “We want to provide good, healthy meals made with fresh ingredients at a reasonable price.”
Many have asked Hoffman if the restaurant is a franchise.
“I say, ‘No, it’s a prototype.’ We would like to expand.”
Thus far, he says the response has been “overwhelming ‘ ”
“We’re doing business that we expected to do three to four months from now.”