By Kate McGregor
Claudio Fracassi is a force of nature. Starting with Soup Guy Plus in the food court of the World Exchange Plaza 26 years ago, he has single-handedly created a recognizable brand and a loyal following.
When new signage began to appear at 873 Bank Street for Soup Guy Café at the site of the former Original Burger, the street buzz was that Fracassi was bringing his eclectic and well-loved soups to the Glebe.
The day I arrived to interview the man behind the brand and his business partners, locals kept popping their heads through the window to welcome Fracassi to the neighbourhood and to ask when he would be open for business. As he greeted each and every customer with open arms, it was hard not be swept up by his infectious energy and enthusiasm.
Fracassi, creator and principal behind the Soup Guy brand, is joined in his newest business venture by partners Andy Carlson, who is responsible for finances, marketing and expansion, and by General Manager Joe Mader. The day I arrived to interview the trio, Mike Dettorre, former owner of the oldest barbershop in Ottawa, dropped by to add his voice to the animated conversation.
First of all, I wanted to understand the appeal of the Soup Guy brand. Here is what I learned: Fracassi creates homemade food like your grandma used to make – real food, locally sourced where possible and made from scratch. He uses no nitrates, sulfites, saturated fats or preservatives. The smoked meat, pulled pork and chicken wings are made on the premises, as is the popular gluten-free cornbread. Service is “fast casual,” a term used to label the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry; not full table service but quick service with high quality food. All the wines and beers are either Canadian or locally brewed. The newly renovated restaurant interior seats 32, with an additional 18 seats on the outside patio.
Glebe resident Wayne Teeple, one of Soup Guy’s World Exchange Plaza regulars, dropped by to find out when Soup Guy Café was opening. I asked him to explain why he is such a fan. “The soups are awesome. They are all unique. I love the names that Claudio gives to them because they reflect the personalities of the people he creates the soup after.” In fact, the menu clearly points to the fun factor with soups to honour personalities like President Obama, Tony Soprano, Elizabeth May and Rick Mercer.
I also wanted to understand the appeal of opening a second location in the Glebe. Fracassi said that he grew up on Third Avenue. He also noted that, “The Glebe is a beautiful neighbourhood. It’s exactly our clientele. They like take-home soups in the evening. And we’re a family restaurant.” Add to that breakfasts, lunches, weekend brunches and theme evenings such as the best of Italy, the best of Newfoundland and the best of Texas, and you’ve got the makings of a great food destination. He also plans to offer Soup Guy Café for special events like christenings, baptisms and birthdays.
Fracassi has been in the food industry for a long time. After leaving a management position with Woolco Woolworth, he purchased a Muffin Plus franchise, devoted time to caring for ageing parents and dreamed about starting his own line of fresh soups. Television was calling him too, with appearances on CBC’s Living in Ottawa with Rita Celli, followed by appearances on the CBC daytime show Breeze with host Maureen Welch, which aired across Canada and the U.S. He developed a loyal legion of fans that loved his relaxed demeanor and spontaneous singing. He was on air for five years for a total of 60 shows. As for his appeal, he admits, “I sing. I’m a clown and I cook.”
With Soup Guy Café now open, the Glebe has one more reason to celebrate a diverse and burgeoning restaurant scene. And for those of us who worship soup, heaven is just a short stroll down Bank Street.
Soup Guy Café
873 Bank Street