When it comes to giving back to the community, the first solution might be donating money to a cause of your choice.
However, a new restaurant gives you the opportunity to give back just by eating lunch.
Back in 2014, Federal Donuts and Broad Street Ministry partnered for the beginning of what became a crowdfunded effort that resulted in the late-January opening of Rooster Soup Co., a new luncheonette and diner from the team behind Zahav and Percy Street Barbecue, among others.
Two factors played a role in the creation of Rooster Soup Co., co-partner Michael Solomonov said.
First was an interest in philanthropy.
“Steve [Cook], my partner, joined the Broad Street Hospitality board and decided he wanted to be philanthropic and … not necessarily solve the hunger problems of Philly and every other major city, but at least raise a bit of awareness,” Solomonov said. “He went and visited and was just ultimately touched by what he saw.”
The second factor was a seemingly simple one: waste.
At Federal Donuts, they were switching to a better-quality chicken, which he said came in the form of a whole natural chicken and resulted in carcasses and unused backs and bones — about 1,000 pounds of unused backs and bones, in fact.
So that got them wondering, what do you do with chicken carcasses? The first idea came in soup — a really good chicken soup.
“My idea, which was kind of a sh—y idea, excuse my French, was to make chicken soup and then just donate it to Broad Street,” Solomonov said.
However, he noted, Broad Street operates differently than a typical soup kitchen, as they seat their guests restaurant-style and provide six full meals throughout the week to more than 1,300 people.
“The idea was then to sort of open the restaurant that we wanted to operate that would be 100 percent of the profit going towards Broad Street Hospitality Collaborative, which in addition to providing meals for thousands of Philadelphians, also is an address for thousands of Philadelphians and many other important things,” Solomonov said.
The charity provides social services such as a mail service that benefits more than 3,000 individuals; clothing; and personal care. The profits from Rooster Soup Co. will help cover these services and more.
From there, they created a Kickstarter campaign that ultimately raised nearly $180,000 to help cover the costs of renovating the restaurant’s 1526 Sansom St. location, kitchen equipment and furniture, licenses and all the other “fun stuff” that goes into starting up a restaurant.
What was the biggest challenge?
Solomonov let out a short laugh before answering, “All of it.”
The resulting restaurant opened on Jan. 23 and provides a full dining experience.
Following the red neon sign and heading down the stairs into Rooster Soup Co., you’re greeted with an almost retro-type diner atmosphere with seating at a counter and small booths lining the opposite wall. In the back are booths and tables for larger parties.
The menu offers breakfast until 11 a.m., plus soups, salads, sandwiches and weekly dinner specials with a bit of a Southern flair like the biscuits and gravy. There’s also plenty of Jewish influence, like the smoked matzo ball soup and their take on a BLT — where the “L” is for latke instead of lettuce. Bonus: Rooster Soup Co. also has a liquor license.
Opening a restaurant where 100 percent of the profits support something other than the restaurant itself is unusual — Rooster Soup Co. is the first for-profit to donate its profits to a nonprofit, in fact — but its mission is what makes it exciting for Solomonov.
“The human value to it is what I think is so exciting,” he said. “There’s people that need help and there’s people that with a little bit of effort can provide it, so it’s nice to be a part of it.”
He’s looking forward to seeing where Rooster Soup goes and perhaps serving as a model for others looking to do the same. But for now, he’s focusing on the immediate benefits.
“People are going to enjoy not only the space, but they’ll enjoy it as a restaurant and they’ll understand that they’re giving back to people that need help, so I think they’ll enjoy it all the way around.” l
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