The owner since 1984 of a small New York City storefront dubbed Soup Kitchen International, Mr. Yeganeh became an unwitting overnight celebrity following the 1995 "Seinfeld" episode that satirized his temperamental demeanor and the fear it inspired in customers whose failure to follow his rules resulted in "No soup for you!"
250 FRANCHISES SO FAR
Now, a decade later, Mr. Yeganeh has partnered with Mr. Bello, who has become chairman and acting CEO of Soup Kitchen International, to franchise soup kiosks and roll out new heat-n-serve packages for retailer's deli sections. Both will be marketed under the Original Soup Man moniker and feature Mr. Yeganeh prominently.
Mr. Bello said he has so far received commitments for more than 250 franchises in the U.S. and Canada (45 of which should be up and running by the end of the year). He is conducting a test of the packaged soups at A&P in the New York area and has approval from several Giant stores to carry the line (which retails upwards of $5 for a 15 oz. package). To garner interest of more retailers, the company will sample some Soup Kitchen favorites at the Food Marketing Institute trade show this week in Chicago, where Mr. Yeganeh himself will appear. The goal is to go national over the next two years.
"This will sweep America because of the awareness Al has from the `Seinfeld' episode, which drew a lot of attention to him and made his store a tourist destination," maintained Mr. Bello. "This will be soup with attitude and that will differentiate it."
Mr. Bello-who successfully built his own thorny character as SoBe's Lizard King through grassroots PR into a $370 million business he sold to PepsiCo in 2001-is working all the angles. Despite having to honor the "Seinfeld"-loathing Mr. Yeganeh's rule to discourage direct reference to the TV show in marketing materials, his public appearances already on CNN, MSNBC and CNBC, as well as likely stints on "Inside Edition," "The Tonight Show" and "Oprah" all center around his prime-time fame. Those appearances will be featured on monitors at the franchises along with newspaper article clips.
no direct connection
But the lack of a direct connection to the "Seinfeld" episode and the decade that has elapsed since then may prove a challenge to building The Original Soup Man brand, observers suggest.
"Is there enough sizzle left in `Seinfeld' to support a brand launch of something based on the show? I think it's unlikely," said Allen Adamson, managing director of Landor, New York. "Since they can't use the Soup Nazi as a brand, for obvious reasons, I think it's a stretch."
"Companies like this become a little too fascinated with their own PR, which usually has a pretty short life," said John Stanton, professor of food marketing at St. John's University, who caught one of Mr. Yeganeh's recent TV appearances. "He is the character on `Seinfeld,' he's hilarious, yelling at the commentator not to call him `The Soup Nazi,"' remarked Mr. Stanton. "But they are stepping away from the pizzazz to call it the `Original Soup Man.' If I had to make odds, I'd bet against it."