Monday, December 26, 2011

Susy's Soup

Feature about Susy's Soup, a downtown Cleveland place that has since become a favorite of ours.

By Pamela Zoslov

“It is impossible to think of any good meal, no matter how plain or elegant, without soup or bread in it,” said the prominent food writer M.F.K. Fischer. That philosophy is fully embraced by Susy’s Soup & Deli, a casual downtown eatery that has been serving comforting, piping-hot homemade soups for nine years, the last two and a half at its present location Tower City. The house-made soups, along with specialty sandwiches on fresh-baked bread, fresh salads, chili and breakfast wraps, have customers lining up out the door –- and why not? It’s hard to imagine anything more satisfying than a bowl of chicken and wild rice, chicken paprikash, chicken dumpling, creamy tomato tortellini, black bean, Italian wedding, minestrone, lobster bisque or clam chowder. To a true soup lover, the very names are ambrosial.

Diners are drawn to Susy’s by the soup and sandwiches, but the attentive service, unusual for a casual lunch spot, keeps them coming back. After a customer picks up his soup, a member of the Susy’s team brings their sandwich or salad to the table. “We do everything with love,” says general manager Dave Long. “We want to be the best at what we do. We work hard, over a hot kettle all day. We use good-quality ingredients, and the bread is baked fresh every day.” The soup is made one kettle at a time, the flavor then locked in with a “quick chill” process. Healthy food is a priority; everything on the menu is made without MSG or preservatives, and vegetarian, fat-free and gluten-free options are available.

Susy’s was founded 12 years ago by Michael Sharpe, an owner of Cleveland’s popular Sharpy’s Subs in the 1980s. He wanted to shift his culinary focus to soups, and after searching for a name for the new venture, decided to christen it after his young daughter, whose name provided a nice alliteration and represented the restaurant’s “family” feeling. The first Susy’s Soups was in North Olmsted; the restaurant then took up residence in the Park Building on Public Square before accepting an offer to open on the fountain level of Tower City. (Susy’s also has an Express location in the Halle Building.) The long lunchtime lines attest to Susy’s success. “In a bad economy, we’ve had consistent growth,” Long says.

While soup is paramount, the salads, chili and sandwiches – corned beef, smoked turkey, Reubens, chicken salad — have a devoted following. “The most popular is our grilled cheese,” Long says. “People get addicted to it.” It’s made with provolone, cheddar and American cheese, melted on tasty fresh bread from the Western Reserve Bread Co. Susy’s also has a busy catering business, providing crock pot soups, deli trays, wrap trays and box lunches for events large and small. With all the changes happening in and around Public Square, Susy’s, currently open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., may also add dinner hours.

Susy’s is guided by a love of Cleveland and a strong belief in giving back to the community with extensive charitable work. “We don’t really publicize our charitable work,” Long says, but notes that the restaurant’s outreach efforts include a monthly feeding for Laura’s Home, the City Mission shelter for women and children in crisis, supporting St. Malachi’s, donating 40 gallons of soup to feed a youth group of 400 and participating in the annual Market Under Glass benefit for Harvest for Hunger. “That stuff is really fulfilling,” he says. “We see ourselves as part of the community, part of Cleveland’s rebirth,” Long says. “We’re trying to do something good.”

Fulfillment also comes from the simple everyday act of providing good food for people. “It’s the small things – knowing that we can make a small difference in people’s lives every day,” Long says. “We don’t like to call them customers. We call them ‘friends of Susy.’ We treat them as our friends.”

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