Vancouver Soup Company’s Steven Sloan with his wife Iona Monk and their daughter, Zoe Sloan. (photo by Michelle Dodek)
Soup is comfort food; great for lunch or dinner; light or hearty and always satisfying. Steven Sloan certainly thinks so. He is the owner and creator of the Vancouver Soup Company, a local wholesale business that he set up in May 2015 to serve a demand he saw in coffee shops.
A veteran of the food industry and an avid cook, Sloan’s first customer was Breka Bakery & Café, a 24-hour coffee shop owned by a Jewish family, the Granots. As Breka expanded – they now have five locations around Vancouver – so did the Vancouver Soup Company.
“I get nice comments from my customers. People like the soups…. I haven’t ever lost a client,” said Sloan.
As he pitched his soups to shops all over the city, taking samples with him everywhere he went, he found that his shared kitchen arrangement could no longer accommodate his needs. He took the leap to finding his own production facility in 2018.
He found a large kitchen at 292 East 1st Ave., three blocks east of Main Street. The facility also had an unused area facing the street that looked perfect for a restaurant, he said. “I thought a retail space would be great to generate extra revenue to help pay for the rent. It also helps to build the brand.”
The location is also great for retail, he added, because it’s near the new Emily Carr University of Art + Design campus and there are many offices in the area.
Sloan’s wife, Iona Monk, who works as a couples therapist, did the majority of the publicity the old-fashioned way when the store opened for lunch in early January.
“Iona went to local businesses and apartment buildings and put up fliers,” explained Sloan. “We offer a discount to Emily Carr students, so many of them started walking over for lunch.”
Serving five kinds of soups daily with fresh bread on the side, Sloan also offers two daily sandwiches (one vegetarian) and a salad as well. There is an assortment of baked goods to round off lunch.
Up until the COVID-19 pandemic hit, business was steadily growing, as more and more people heard about the lunch available at the Vancouver Soup Company. Sloan was preparing to open in the mornings starting at the beginning of April. He was going to have smoothies, a hot breakfast bowl and breakfast sandwich as well as freshly baked goods made in-house. But then, coffee shops were forced to close and he had to close his restaurant as well.
Assisted in the sales part of the business by his 15-year-old daughter, Zoe, who is off school indefinitely, Sloan began reaching out on social media. His contacts included Vancouver Talmud Torah, from which his daughter graduated two years ago. The family set up an online order platform for frozen soup with an option for delivery or pick up at the store.
“The community has been very supportive,” said Monk. “We’re doing OK. This terrible situation has forced Steve to grow the business in a way new direction. It shows the potential of this business and that the demand is there.”
In addition to vegetarian, vegan and meat soups, Sloan produces stews and chilis and in his words, a killer mac ’n’ cheese, now all available frozen to go. In this new paradigm, the family feels fortunate to have been able to find a new retail outlet for their business. However, they are hopeful that coffee shops and restaurants will soon be able to reopen so the business can continue to grow. In the meantime, this family continues to serve up the soup – and the comfort – as best they can.
Michelle Dodek is a freelance writer living in Vancouver. She also is the baker for the Vancouver Soup Company, recently incorporating her own business, called ess Baked Goods.