Zoup! founder and CEO Eric Ersher is charting a course across the northern states for the fast-casual soup chain he launched in a Detroit suburb in 1998.
Idaho is now in Ersher’s sights. He opened his first Colorado store in 2011, his first Oregon store in 2014, and he’s now negotiating for three Zoup! eateries in Seattle. Idaho would be around the 18th to 20th state for Zoup!
Ersher is in talks with two potential franchise holders for the first likely Idaho stores in Boise, Meridian, Nampa and Idaho Falls. He hopes to plant the Zoups! flag in the Gem State by the end of 2016. Ersher does plan to have multiple stores at the outset.
“We’d like to get a certain amount of density for distribution,” Ersher said. “The biggest variable is real estate. Once we get property, we could be open in 90 to 120 days.”
Zoup! is a soup-sandwich-salad chain with a lineup of more than 100 soups, with 12 of them on the menu on any given day. The menu changes daily, Ersher said, and he likes to mix favorites with more obscure concoctions.
“We don’t chase popularity,” he said. “We have something for everyone. We try to sell obscure soups that don’t sell very well.”
The top sellers are chicken potpie and lobster bisque. More obscure items that appear on the menu include the English/Indian mulligatawny and a rattlesnake sausage stew.
Zoup! will follow Café Zupas, another fast-casual soup-sandwich-salad chain, into the Treasure Valley market. Café Zupas this year opened at The Village at Meridian, and is soon to open near Boise Towne Square with other stores in the works for Nampa and Broadway in Boise.
“(Zoup! is) entering a market where a direct competitor has made excellent real estate plays and is very good at soup, salads and sandwiches,” said LeAnn Hume, a retail expert at Cushman & Wakefield|Commerce and the broker representing Café Zupas in Idaho.
Zoup! is presently serving in 17 states, Washington, D.C., and Ontario, Canada: Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Virginia and Wisconsin.
But Ersher has not yet taken Zoup! to Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota or the rest of New England. Washington is still in the preliminary phases. He has dedicated company expansion entirely to the northern half of the country.
“There is a seasonality to soup. The northern half still has a lot of room to grown,” he said. “We want to stick with what we do best.”
Ersher, previously a wholesale soup provider to restaurants, opened the first Zoup! in 1998 in Southfield, Mich., and a handful of Zoup! stores then followed in nearby Detroit. He started franchising in Michigan in 2004, and since 2007 has looked beyond Michigan, first to Ohio, then the rest of the upper Midwest, then the eastern states and finally the northern tier out West.
“We never had an aspiration of becoming a national company,” Ersher said.