Eric Miller joined the Souper Jenny team as a server at the original Souper Jenny Buckhead in 2009. His skills with all things financial allowed him to easily shift to Jenny’s CFO in 2015. Here are his reflections on Souper Jenny’s 20th Anniversary!
When asked to reflect upon the 20 year history of Souper Jenny in an effort to reveal the core ingredient or ingredients of its success, many different things came to mind.
Depending on how strictly scientific you choose to be about it, 20 years is considered to be a generation. Souper Jenny moves from the discussion of being a perennial phenomenon to a generational one! It makes perfect sense to me. I remember serving grilled cheese sandwiches years ago to 3,4 and 5 year olds, watching them take a bite and then scamper, take another bite and then climb. These little children are now in college, dropping by with their parents or a girl or boyfriend on Spring Break to get a bowl of turkey chili.
Secrets of our success?
We get to know our customers.
We change the menus daily to keep it fresh.
We pay our employees, well and encourage them to take breaks.
We periodically evaluate our recipes to make sure we are using the best ingredients with the best flavors available.
All of these things are true. However, the more I thought about them, the more I realized I was looking at the mark of success and not the core cause. Shortly thereafter it came to me: it is the Why.
Why a restaurant? Why A rotating menu of thousands of items? Why slow down the line to talk to our customers? I will tell you Why —Jennifer Levison loves people, she loves food and she loves what happens when you bring the two together. The pervasiveness of her sentiment is the driving force behind Souper Jenny’s success and longevity. Of course her employees stay to unusually long tenures (at least in terms of restaurant employment). Of course the staff learns their customers’ names and their stories. Of course Jenny hasn’t chosen to franchise or sell to a corporation what would remove every unique touch and idiosyncrasy (in addition to removing 90% of the menu variety and half of the wages we pay — I bet you can name a restaurant or two this has happened to). Every kitchen is her kitchen. Every dining floor is her dining room. Those are original family photos hanging on the walls. She wouldn’t let a stranger come in and serve her guests in her home. Neither will she allow it at a Souper Jenny.
I am not on the line very often these days, but whenever I am and I see a long-time customer it feels like I am at a family reunion. “Your daughter is 12? This is your son? He is taller than you! She has a Master’s Degree already?!” Those are the moments that frame the Why in flesh, make it tangible and oh, so worthwhile.
The phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ perfectly describes the attitude I think we all take as we head into this our 20th season. Our work is laid out for us: continue treating customers, new and repeat, like family; continue making sure the food looks and tastes great; continue teaching our culture to the new employees we bring on; continue looking for new avenues to serve. All of these efforts we keep under constant heat, stirring them in the pot until they form a nice thick reduction. Into that reduction we place the most important ingredient of all—the Why. It is the only preservative we use and it is essential. After all, we have a whole new generation coming up to fee