Suzy DeYoung is a graduate of Social Enterprise Cincy’s Elevator Program. Suzy operates La Soupe, an organization that focuses on reducing food waste and transforming unwanted produce into healthy nutritious soups. The primary focus of La Soupe is to feed Cincinnatians struggling with food insecurity. To date, La Soupe has over 100 volunteers, serves 47 organizations and rescues hundreds of pounds of produce a week from landfills. We caught up with Suzy to find out where La Soupe is now.
First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Suzy DeYoung. I am a chef and I started cooking 35 years ago. I used to own and operate La Petite Pierre. I sold La Petite Pierre to my sister three years ago to start La Soupe. I come from a long line of chefs. My father was a chef at the Maisonette and within only a couple of years had won Cincinnati’s first 5-star rating. My grandfather was a chef as well. So you could say that I have a genetic disorder, but you have to do what you have to do. So that’s my background.
What is La Soupe?
La Soupe is an organization with two separate entities. We have a for profit and a non-profit. Our mission is to rescue fresh produce that normally would go to a landfill because of imperfections or over abundance. We turn that produce into soup that we can sell to people who come and visit us. Our primary purpose however, is to feed those in need of nutritious food. Our focus is children. And I can tell you, we feed a lot of them. I don’t even know how many kids we feed now-a-days. For instance just this week we added another 200 kids to our list. We have 47 organizations we provide soup to and our list is constantly expanding. Every week its different. Our mission is to rescue the produce you see in this room and create something with it that’s delicious. As soon as we transform it, we send it right back out to those in need.
How did La Soupe begin?
We started in 2013. I had gone through what is known as a classic case of burnout. I didn’t want to do the large scale catering and fine dining anymore. I’ve had this concept in my head for a long time and I finally decided it’s time to act on it. I was reading more and more about children living in food insecure homes and about the excessive amount of waste that exists in this country and thought, “let me try to bridge the gap between the waste and hunger.” So La Soupe was my answer.
What was your biggest struggle when decided to start La Soupe?
I didn’t have a business plan and I didn’t realize I could write a business plan because I had no idea how much food I could recover or rescue. At the time I didn’t know how to get food to people who are living in food insecure homes. In the beginning it was a lot of bridge building. I spent a lot of time on the phone, calling trying to find the right partners. On the give side, we needed to know which agencies were reliable and if they would distribute food. We had to find out if schools had resource coordinators that had the ability to distribute food.
We also really struggled with how to scale La Soupe. Scaling has been a huge issue because the need is so much bigger than what our 900 sq ft will physically allow us to produce. I think us reaching out to chefs via the Bucket Brigade has really made a big impact. We started the bucket brigade when I was injured while working in the kitchen. We reached out to various friends in the industry and now we have 15 chefs that take the Bucket Brigade challenge every week. [the Bucket Brigade is a collection of chefs who use their overages or received produce from La Soupe and transform the produce into soups or meals.] We donate 100% of Bucket Brigade soups to our share partners. Yesterday [2/28/17] we picked up 55 gallons of soup from various chefs in the city.
How did you learn about Cincy Elevator?
I met Bill Tucker [Executive Director of Flywheel] at a Social Venture Partner event. Later Bill reached out because he thought that La Soupe could benefit from the Elevator program. On the flipside, I knew that I needed to educate myself on social enterprise. My first business model was based on the TOM’S shoe model. The model is a one for one give. I had also read a couple of books on social enterprise such as, Start Something That Matters and The Art of Giving. At the time I really thought the TOM’s shoe model would work, but in hindsight, we were producing so much soup so quickly that we couldn’t wait for customers to buy it. There was so much food we were rescuing and when schools were calling and asking us to help their school I just kept saying yes because we had the food. I wasn’t going to sit and wait until I sold another bowl of soup to give another bowl. Unlike shoes, the need is also weekly. When you’re feeding hungry people, you just don’t feed them once a year. The model didn’t really translate like I thought it would, so we found ourselves needing guidance.
What was it like going through the program? What did you learn?
I loved it. I had never been through any kind of class like that. I loved the different speakers that we heard; I learned SO much. I loved forcing myself to concentrate with other likeminded people for those couple of hours. In here as you can see, it’s crazy and busy. It’s hard to have meaningful think-tank time. I mean I have kids, a husband and a dog, it’s like “when am I supposed to just concentrate on the business vs doing the work?” So the program forced me to focus on the business and think about La Soupe’s big picture. I really enjoyed the time I spent with Elevator. Forcing me to put pen to paper and figure out what we’re trying to accomplish was so helpful. I could think of it more as a step by step process. Which I hadn’t done before.
What opportunities are there for someone who is interested in being involved in La Soupe?
We have over 100 volunteers and as you can see some just show up, some sign up, so we’re trying to balance that aspect. Right now our primary concern is to raise funds. It’s a capital campaign because this building does not meet our needs. If I had a space this big just for the volunteers to work in, we would be SO much more productive. We would have a refrigerator and freezer onsite instead of just taking everything from here to the truck to another freezer. After we freeze everything we have to go get it again when we need to distribute it. We lose so much time and productivity because our space is so limited. We’re hoping to get a new space so we can double our capacity by the end of this year. We’re running. We’re not walking anymore. Volunteer wise we’re experimenting with trying to get a second shift going. A chef I used to work with is going to come in and lead the second shift. Hopefully we can create more opportunities in the evenings. Especially for young professionals that work during the day, but would still like to be involved.
What’s next for La Soupe?
I would love to see La Soupe go to office parks and sell soups under the pay from the heart model. In February alone, we raised over $5,000 in donations with the “pay from you heart” model by taking our Soupe Mobile on the road. We don’t charge for it, we just share the story of La Soupe with other people and make soups available to those who can’t get to our Newton location. We’re not really on the radar out here. So in my goal of goals I would love either a kiosk or a walk up window, something downtown so that people who are working in offices can sample and learn about the soups. The soups we put on the Soupe Mobile aren’t just our soups. There are also soups from the Bucket Brigades. I want to help promote other restaurants that are helping us. It shows that La Soupe is a movement of likeminded chefs getting together and trying to make a dent in the food waste vs hunger issue. When La Soupe started, Cincinnati was #2 behind Detroit in childhood poverty and now we’re #5. I can’t really claim that it’s because of La Soupe but I think we’ve made a big impact. My goal is for Cincinnati to not even be ON the list. I would love it if other cities could reach out to us and everyday we get a new city that says we see what you’re doing and we want to do it too. We’re working to get La Soupe made into a packaged form that we can hand off. We want to keep more food from going to waste and to show chefs that they can build a community. We have a really strong community of chefs here in Cincinnati. Something we didn’t even have 10 years ago. We’ve been contacted from different cities even as far as Nova Scotia. I don’t even know where that is, but let’s go there! To me, if you saw La Soupe in a city, you know what it represents. La Soupe is the chefs of a city coming together to fight hunger and reduce waste.
Edited from Q&A with Suzy DeYoung, La Soupe founder and CEO
Click here to watch Suzy’s Demo Day pitch for La Soupe at the 2016 SECincy Summit !