Made in Wauwatosa: Wisconsin Soup Co. Dishes Up Homemade Comfort
There's a pot of broth at the end of the rainbow for this local entrepreneur.
Yes, soup for you!
Steven Wenhardt is no Soup Nazi – the maniacal soup maker on the Seinfeld series who thought his customers weren’t deserving of his soups.
Not that Wenhardt’s soups aren’t deliciously inspired. They are, but unlike the Seinfeld character, Wenhardt loves to make soups for his customers. And they happily let him.
Wenhardt, the owner of Wisconsin Soup Co., based in Wauwatosa, is also the creator of the soups that populate the menu. Great soups start from scratch with the freshest and best ingredients – from Wisconsin, he adds.
“I’m a big supporter of Wisconsin," Wenhardt said. "I’m committed to supporting local businesses, the small local farmers and suppliers. That’s why my soup company is called Wisconsin Soup Company.”
A year ago, Wenhardt started the company with five of his tried-and-tested recipes: Spicy Tomato Dill, Roasted Vegetable, Crab Bisque, Hungarian Goulash, and of course, Wisconsin Beer Cheese soup.
The 28-year-old is up and in his commercial kitchen by 7 a.m. cooking, roasting, making dumplings, ordering and organizing to have about a dozen soups always on the menu. His days are long and he admits it’s a lot of work.
“But it’s rewarding,” he said. “Our customers love to see what we’ve created. They want us to succeed.”
Wenhardt started selling his soups at area farmers markets where his warm, comforting samples drew crowds and customers, who seek out favorites like Chicken Dumpling.
“I think they love the old-fashion comfort of it,” he said. A quart of his soup costs between $12 and $15, depending on the variety.
As a kid growing up in Fish Creek, Wis., Wenhardt didn’t get a grilled cheese sandwich with steaming bowl of tomato soup when he came home after a day of playing in the snow.
“Nope, I didn’t grow up eating soup – canned or otherwise,” he said. Which may have worked in his favor.
Wenhardt tasted “soup from scratch” for the first time at one of his first restaurant jobs. It was an epiphany of sorts. The taste, the comfort, the texture made an impression on him.
Although he has a degree in graphic design, the desire to make soup never left him. He’s worked in the restaurant industry for more than a decade and has learned all parts of the business.
“I’ve been a server, a pie maker, a manager,” he said. And along the way he’s sampled soups, gathered recipes from cookbooks and restaurant chefs, got creative with ingredients and made them his own.
“I’ve always liked to throw stuff together and give it try. It’s interesting and hopefully delicious to see what comes out,” he said.
The result of one of Wenhardt’s soup experiments, Spicy Tomato Dill, is a favorite on the menu.
“Most tomato soups have basil in them," he said. "The dill makes the flavor of mine unique. I have 26 recipes that I rotate throughout the year.”
Wenhardt’s soups take shape with fresh ingredients that are seasonally available.
The soup company is experiencing some growing pains, he said.
“I never thought that would happen,” he said, but being in business has taught him the virtue of patience. “I’ve learned to grow steady and smart and to take the time to think things through before acting – like reinvesting profits.”
The business is, in large part, a one-man operation, although he does have friends who come in to help in the kitchen and at farmers markets. The Wisconsin Soup Co. is in the process of expanding its business to local restaurants.
Wenhardt has no store-front shop, but customers can find Wisconsin Soup Co. at area farmers markets in Wauwatosa, Fox Point, West Allis and Butler during the upcoming season – and hopefully at a favorite restaurant in the area soon.