The lights are finally on at Rooster Soup Co. No, it’s not open yet. But a glance inside the below-ground location, tucked beneath Pulse Night Club next to Oscar’s Tavern, showed serious progress being made.
Sheet rock bones of the 18-seat bar-slash-lunch counter are in place along the left side of the narrow space at 1526 Sansom St., previously home to Sansom Street Kabob House. Behind the bar, a Continental draft system has been installed, its stainless steel top gleaming among a row of cabinets awaiting doors and shelves. Coils of cords dangle from all corners of the room, but the row of art deco-style ceiling lamps are fully wired, illuminating the corridor with an appealing glow that makes you think, “Oh, yeah, this place could be slick.”
In other words: It’s been a while, but have patience — Rooster Soup is almost here.
“Rooster progress is slow but steady,” says co-owner Steve Cook, “and we are still targeting an opening this fall.”
(Fall, of course, stretches all the way through December 21.)
June 11, 2014 was when the folks behind Federal Donuts first announced they were teaming with Broad Street Ministry to create a philanthropic restaurant. With the launch of a Kickstarter — featuring a video with chef Mike Solomonov skydiving in a bird suit and former Gov. Ed Rendell eating donuts (behind his desk) — the project was underway.
The idea: All the leftover chicken from Federal Donuts (backs, necks and other parts not served fried) would be turned instead into rich, flavorful stock, forming the backbone of an entirely new restaurant with a menu focused on broth-filled bowls. Dubbed Rooster Soup Co., it would donate all profits to Broad Street Ministry’s Hospitality Collaborative, furthering the nonprofit’s mission of serving healthy and delicious restaurant-style meals to Philadelphians experiencing hunger, homelessness, and poverty.
What Cook, Solomonov and the rest of the FedNuts crew (Tom Henneman, Bob Logue and Felicia D’Ambrosio) had concluded was this: Using the leftovers to make money — instead of just dumping them at Broad Street and letting chef Steven Seibel figure out how to make them palatable — would be much more helpful to the cause, in the long run. Kind of converse “teach a man to fish” scenario.
As the Kickstarter put it: “We realized…turning delicious chicken into money is something we’re good at.”
It was a unique concept — and it caught fire.
By the end of July 2014, the original Kickstarter goal of $150,000 had been funded to the tune of $179,000-plus. Rooster Soup was written up in the Washington Post, Epicurious and other national publications. Philadelphians were hype.
Two years later, the restaurant still isn’t up and running, despite the real estate being pinned down in July 2015, and the reports early this year it would be open by “summer 2016.”
To everyone who backed Rooster Soup, or even enjoyed reading about it, it might seem like the project has taken an extraordinarily long time. But consider:
Restaurants often take more than two years to come to fruition — it’s just that we’re rarely aware of them from first blush. And they can take much, much longer. (Royal Sushi and Izakaya just opened this month in Queen Village, six years after first being announced.)
Also, it’s more usual for a restaurant to miss its original target launch date than to hit it. Ask anyone who’s opened one, and they’ll agree. This is why chefs and restaurateurs are always reluctant to even state a date on record — they don’t want to raise and then dash fans’ hopes.
Third, this isn’t a regular restaurant. It’s a labor of love. Although all contractors and employees will make a fair wage, all management’s time is all donated. Things like developing a menu, making design decisions and lining up human resources don’t happen with a finger snap, especially when you’re also trying to run a nationally-expanding franchise or care for an ever-present homeless population.
So, Rooster Soup is coming. Soon. What’ll it be like? Here’s what we know:
- Design is by Boxwood Architects, the minds behind the Federal Donuts’ stores as well as lookers like Tredici, Abe Fisher and the new Lolita.
- In addition to stools at the counter, booths and tables will help the space accommodate a total of around 40 guests.
- Menu will go beyond soup — the concept is now framed as “casual American luncheonette.” It will serve lunch and dinner, potentially from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily.
- There will be plenty of soup, though, and options will vary widely, from vegan to meaty and hot to cold. Bowls teased so far include smoked brisket matzoh ball, cream of broccoli, borscht, pozole, Yemenite curry and Hungarian goulash.
- Sandwiches mentioned have been equally genre-bending. Corned beef as a Cuban. A BLT with smoked beets instead of bacon. A patty melt with “everything” sauce. All on house-baked bread.
- At any given time, the menu will be made up of five each of soups, sandwiches and grain-filled salads. Price point should average around $12.
- Chef will be Caitlin McMillan, a 28-year-old North Carolina native who’s been working at Zahav since 2014 and loves foraging for greens and mushrooms with her dog in her spare time.
- GM will be John Nicolo, another Zahav staffer who’s originally from Doylestown.
- This ain’t just a lunch joint: There’s also a full bar. Draft beer hasn’t officially been mentioned, so it’s possible the system seen in the photo will be used for wine, but nothing’s confirmed on that point. Also on the beverage list: “Wallet-friendly” classic cocktails.
Lots to look forward to.
Last note: If you’d like to help the cause, donations are still being accepted.