A fter years spent roasting, chopping and simmering in rented kitchen spaces and ladling on-the-go from a silver truck, Jessica Hazen, a.k.a. The Soup Girl, knew that opening a storefront was the next step.
What still surprises her now, six months after joining forces with her sister, cake designer Erica O’Brien, to open a shared soup-and-sweets shop at 1242 Whitney Ave in Hamden, is just “how much I absolutely love it—having the store, working with my sister, having my own space and just being a woman business owner,” says Hazen.
You can taste the love in her soups. From Tomato with Turkey Meatball to Curried Red Lentil, Hazen offers a rotating variety (including vegan and vegetarian options) every week with a focus on local, seasonal and organic ingredients. Her Tuscan Chicken Soup features kale from Washington, Connecticut’s Waldingfield Farms, and her Corn Bisque is made with corn from Stone Gardens Farm in Shelton. The Soup Girl is a fixture at four local Farmers’ Markets—the Spring Glen market on Tuesdays; CitySeed’s downtown market on Wednesdays; Fridays at the Hamden farmers’ market; and Saturdays at CitySeed’s Wooster Square market—where colorful samples are set out in little cups, like an artist’s palette.
Think soup isn’t a warm-weather food? Or that gazpacho is the only kind that tastes good cold? Try one of those sample cups, and be prepared to discard everything you thought you knew about soup. Not only has The Soup Girl created many a soup enthusiast, she even has the power to turn you into a beet-lover.
“The Roasted Beet Soup has converted a lot of people,” says Hazen. “They walk up and say, ‘I hate beets!’ And I always ask, ‘When is the last time you had a fresh beet?’ Most don’t know if they ever have. All they know is the canned beets of their childhood, so I encourage people to try it. Most people who walk up and say they hate beets end up buying that one.” Even kids are bewitched by the beet—especially when this soup is referred to by its nickname, “princess soup,” due to its hot-pink hue.
Other popular varieties include a mildly spicy Thai Zucchini Coconut (vegan, made with zucchini from Waldingfield Farms), a West African Peanut, and an odd-sounding but wonderful Apricot Red Lentil. Hazen’s personal favorites include the Cucumber Dill and the Loaded Baked Potato (a hearty blend of potato, bacon, broccoli and cheddar cheese). Hazen’s two sons, Zach (age 10, a future chef) and Kody (age 7, a future food critic), prefer the Lemon Orzo and Potato-Leek varieties.
In the shop, you’ll not only find fresh hot soups sold by the cup or bowl ($4-$6) plus a refrigerated case of cold options to-go ($6 per pint, or two for $11), but you’ll also find some solid sides, like a refreshing couscous salad with dried cranberries, toasted almonds and orange vinaigrette. For dessert, you can pick up cupcakes by Erica O’Brien ($3 each, in traditional as well as seasonally-inspired flavors like Fresh Peach in the summer and Maple-Bacon in the fall) in tempting display cases at the counter. Year-round, you can have soup delivered free to your home or office: order online at thesoupgirl.com by 10 p.m. Monday for delivery to New Haven, Hamden, North Haven, Bethany, Cheshire or Woodbridge on Thursdays.
While the clever layout of the shop provides a separate space for O’Brien’s specialty cake design business, the two sisters share one kitchen, sifting and sautéing side-by-side. They are delightfully surprised to find the shop busier than expected (especially since O’Brien decided to do daily cupcakes in addition to her artfully-designed special-order cakes; see some stunning examples at ericaobrien.com), which means they find themselves sharing the kitchen together every day.
Hazen’s first memory of cooking alongside her sister goes back to when they were ages 6 and 9, and decided to bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch on their own while mom was at work. “It was the ’70s,” says Hazen with a laugh, so they were mixing the cookie dough with “one of those old-fashioned beaters, and Erica was playing around and got her hand got stuck in the beater. Neither one of us was strong enough to push the eject button!” The two reluctantly walked next door to the neighbor’s house to ask for assistance in getting the ambitious young chef’s hand free.
While Hazen and O’Brien couldn’t have known then that one day they’d be working together as culinary professionals, they credit their grandmother, a “fabulous cook,” for inspiration. And the next generation is already getting ready to carry on the family tradition: Hazen’s son Zach loves to cook. He recently spent the day there at the soup shop, recalls Hazen, “and at the end of the day he said, ‘You work really hard, mom.’ It really made me feel good, that he saw me work hard and thought about it enough to say that.”
The Soup Girl
1242 Whitney Ave., Hamden (map)
Mon-Fri 11am-7pm, Sat 11am-5pm, Sun 12pm-5pm
(203) 248-SOUP (7687)
Written and photographed by Kathleen Cei.