September 19, 2002

Finger Lake'n Good

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While a lot of students are thankfull for the sunny September we’ve been experiencing, Randy Durant is keeping his fingers crossed for snow. Co-owner of Zoupwerks (located on Caygua street between State and Green), Durant knows what all men in the soup business do; that cold weather is soup-eating weather.

“It’s gonna be 85 to 90 degrees clear until February with my luck,” he says, “That’s what it seems like when I roll down that hill coming into Ithaca [from Cortland] and I’m like ‘Another shitty, sunny, pleasant day in Ithaca, NY. I need dreariness. I need dampness. I need gray skies to put a smile on my face.”

Durant and his partner Christine Boies opened the restaurant last April. With Boies handling the finances and Durant manning the kitchen and decorum, Zoupwerks has slowly but steadily gained a following of loyal (and hungry) regulars. Durant says the concept behind the establishment came in part from the popular TV sitcom, Seinfeld. Of course, Durant’s attitude and demeanor are much better than the dreaded Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame, but the fundamental idea behind the eatery remains the same: to provide the best soups at the lowest costs.

Indeed, Zoupwerks offers patrons a rotating menu of fresh soups, chowders, and sandwiches that are made from scratch. Hungry visitors then have their choice of outdoor seating, or for the more daring, Durant has decoated the interior of Zoupwerks much like he once decorated his college habitations. From the John Lennon poster to the blacklight room, the interior dining space of Zoupwerks is unlike anything you’ll find in the area. And that seems to be part of the point.

“I live in Cortland,” says Durant, “and I wanted to initiate this concept but I don’t think that Cortland would support this idea … basically, Cortland wants draft beers and french fries.”

By contrast, Durant says, “Ithaca is multi-cultural, open-minded. I get to do a heavy rotation of vegan and vegetarian soups as well as the carnivore soups that I offer.”

Some people would question the decision to open a soup shop in April, just as the weather warms up in the Finger Lakes. But, Zoupwerks beat the odds this year, selling soups, sandwiches, and chowders in 95-degree weather.

“We built up a loyal following,” Durant says, “At first it was a little minor cult following, but then it turned into the regulars. Now, I see the same exact people every day. Sometimes the same people come down twice a day. I’ve got 100 apartments above me, and it’s a lot cheaper to eat here nice and healthy.”

Currently, Zoupwerks has eight soups available for your consumption, and Durant is in early every morning to cook them up fresh. In the winter, he anticipates the rotation to jump to 10 soups a day.

But providing this kind of service hasn’t proved to be easy work, as Durant admits. “It’s consistent work,” he says with a laugh, “Seven days a week. Some days, you forget what day it is. I’m in at seven in the morning and I’m here right now [8 p.m.].”

Despite Durant’s doubts about the weather, we all know what’s coming: another sub-zero Ithaca winter. But we can rest assured that this winter as we’re trudging through the slush and snow, there’s a hell of a soup house just down the street.

Archived article by Nate Brown