IN THE KITCHEN: Paula & Pam Card – SoupHerb
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Six years ago, Paula Card set up a stall at the Barrie Farmers' Market and began selling frozen homemade soups. “I started with four or five soups,” she recalls. Her packaging wasn't fancy, but market goers quickly took notice of the tasty creations. Realizing she was on to something, the young entrepreneur decided to take it to the next level. She enlisted family help and jumped feet first into the soup-making business. 
Today, SoupHerb Soups operates out of a 1,600-square-foot facility in south-Barrie and churns out about 550 litres per week. “We currently have about 32 soups on our menu and a very loyal following,” explains Card, who owns and operates the family business with her husband Michael, mother-in-law Pam and father-in-law Mike. “We specialize in quality soups that are packed with flavour and cater to farmers' markets, local restaurants and food industry retailers and wholesalers.”
Eager to learn more about this local business, I caught up with Paula and Pam Card at their delicious Barrie production facility and retail outlet. 

Let's set the scene for folks who have never been to your shop. The storefront is full of freezers packed with various frozen soups. The soups are organized neatly in alphabetical order and a menu lists all soups with a dietary legend. Everything is made on-site in the back kitchen.

Pam: The front is set up like M&M Meats. The soups are sold frozen in half-litre containers for $6 and 1 litre for $12. You thaw it, heat it and eat it. We also sell two or three hot soups for take out and feature daily samples.
Paula, you have a background in personal training, massage therapy and physiotherapy. What led you down the soup-making path?
Paula: It started with homemade baby food that I made for our oldest son. When friends and family would come over and see our freezers full of neatly organized baby food in Ziploc bags, they suggested I somehow turn it into a business. I settled upon soup and asked my mother-in-law Pam, if I could use some of her recipes. Pam used to own a popular deli in Barrie about 20 years ago called Delilicious, so she has lots of great recipes. SoupHerb Soups started at the Barrie Farmers' Market and three years ago we moved into this building. The rest is history.

When did Pam get on board?
Paula: Pam became a partner after our second son was born. With two babies at home, my husband Michael (works full-time in Toronto) and I realized I couldn't make a proper go of it on my own. Michael and his father are also very much involved in the day-to-day operations. Everyone pitches in to help when they can. We have about nine staff in total.

How many soups are on offer?
Paula: We hover around 35. We have our year-round mainstays, but we also offer some seasonal soups like cream of asparagus, sweet strawberries and cool cucumber. Right now, we are making black bean and pumpkin and butternut squash. It's forever changing depending upon the harvest.

What are the top sellers?
Pam: Red lentil, sweet potato kale, potato leek and stilton, spicy Thai, sweet potato Thai, chunky chicken and split pea.

What's your personal favourite?
Paula: I have a few [smiles]. Depending upon my mood, it varies between roasted vegetable, spicy Thai, red lentil and sweet potato Thai.
Pam: Hands down, it's spicy Thai. It's my ultimate favourite. I love the julienne carrots, the bamboo shoots, the peas, the rice and the little chunks of chicken. Yum! The funny thing is that I didn't even like soup much until I got into this business.

What's the secret to making great soup?
Paula: Quality ingredients, time and love. One of our biggest sayings around here is ‘let it love,' which essentially means, giving it the time it deserves to reach a full and balanced flavour. You can't rush soup making. A proper cooking method is key.
Pam: We make all of our broths in-house, so that's really our secret. Our vegetable broth, for example, has a real earthy deep flavour because we juice our own carrots to make it tastier. We also use reverse osmosis water from Aquamart, which is very clear and fresh.

Why do people love soup?
Pam: What's not to love? It's a healthy comfort food that's heartwarming.
Paula: It's fast, healthy and easy — as long as you buy it from us [laughs]. Soup also makes you feel satisfied without feeling uncomfortably full.

Can you explain the recipe development process?  
Paula: The first recipes were family recipes from Pam's old deli. Over time, we've added to the roster by scouring the Internet and checking out magazines. We find interesting recipes and tweak them like crazy until they become our own. We honestly get inspiration from everywhere. Our spicy Thai was born after I ordered a spicy Thai soup at a restaurant. It was so terrible that it became my mission to develop an amazing spicy Thai soup. And we did!
Pam: We will literally work on soups for months to get the taste just right. Good soup making is a true science!

What's the final test for the soup before it hits the menu?
Pam: The soup must have depth of flavour. It needs a tasty beginning, a savoury middle and a subtle lasting finish.
SoupHerb Soups are thickened with vegetables rather than cornstarch or flour. Can you expand?
Pam: We thicken our soups with vegetables because it makes the soup healthier and tastier. The goal is for our soups to be both tasty and healthy.

When did you move into this facility? 
Paula: Almost three years ago, and it's already too small. At any given time, we have about 700 to 1,000 litres of soup on hand.

Where else is your soup available?
Pam: The Barrie Farmers' Market, the Collingwood Farmers' Market, the East Gwillimbury Farmers' Market, Nicholyn Farms (along with frozen containers, they also sell it hot), MacLaren Radio Cafe (sells it hot), Clancy's Meat Company in Newmarket, Nature's Best in Barrie, Barrie Hill Farms (seasonal), Georgian Health Foods with locations in Collingwood and Wasaga Beach and most recently through Farm Gate Fresh (an online food delivery service for farmers' market products). It's always sold frozen in 500 mL, or 1-litre paper containers, or 4-litre packaging as wholesale. We sell it frozen because we don't use preservatives.

You like to support the locals. Please expand.
Pam: We source as much as we can from a 100-mile radius. Quality is very important to us and we love dealing with local farmers.

SoupHerb's extensive menu caters to various dietary restrictions. Can you offer up more details?
Paula: We offer various gluten-sensitive, vegetarian, vegan and lactose-free options, which are labelled on our menu. We will even personalize a pot of soup for a customer within reason (for example, replace chicken with tofu). But the customer has to buy the whole batch, which works to about 12 to 14 litres. 

Do you eat soup at home?
Paula: We never tire of it, and we always eat soup every day for lunch at work. The kids also get red lentil soup packed in their lunches once a week. We will also eat it for dinner, if I'm too busy and don't have time to cook anything else.

Beyond soup, what's your favourite type of meal to prepare at home?
Paula: I love making dinner, so at our house we try to eat around the world. Last night was Indian food, the night before was Mexican, and then it's homemade pizza night. On Sundays, we often have a Portuguese roasted chicken. I love the idea of exposing the kids (aged four and six) to different culinary flavours and experiences.
Pam: I love making roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and lots of vegetables. I come from a farming background, so I'm crazy for vegetables.  

Sounds like your business is chugging along nicely.  Are there downsides to soup making?
Paula: Having to always wear nasty hairnets [laughs]. And always smelling like a mishmash of garlic, onions and more after working the kitchen shift. If I don't have a chance to shower after work, our six-year-old son, Jack, will literally say to me, “Mom, go take a shower because you smell like onions.”

What about specials?
Paula: We offer a ‘soup snob' loyalty card where you can buy 10 and get one soup free.

Beyond SoupHerb Soups, what's your favourite culinary destination?
Paula: Some of my favourite places to eat in Barrie are Bohemia, the Lazy Tulip, the North Restaurant and at home, of course.

What about the future?
Pam: Expansion is definitely in the plans for this year because we have outgrown our current facility. Either we add a night shift, or move to a larger space.
Paula: We are also working on developing a recipe book showcasing how you can use our soups as a base for various other culinary dishes. 

You've got the ear of thousands of local diners, anything you'd like to add?
Pam: Come in and give us and try. I think you will be hooked!

SoupHerb Soups

130 Saunders Rd, Unit 2
Barrie, ON L4N 9A8

Hours: Monday and Tuesday 10 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.


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