Update Staurday Feb 17. With huge thanks to Katia at The Wee Boulangerie, we've made it past £19k. Now there's hope for Jani's legs. Can you help us save them? It's a big hill and a long road but this is the last, best hope for them.
Very FAQ: you can put every soupon in either a single or joint name so if you want to share a Silver, Gold or Lifetime soupon - you can
In October 2011, I set up Union of Genius, Scotland’s first soup café. The idea was simple - to make the best soup in Edinburgh from locally sourced, seasonal ingredients and reward my customers for recycling their packaging. By offering six different soups everyday I believed there would be something for everyone.
Fourteen months later, even though there are now four of us soupmongers we can no longer keep up with demand. Eight other cafes already stock our soup and several more want to. Many of our friends and customers have asked us to open up in different places in Edinburgh and beyond. We can’t do that (yet) but we can do the next best thing and bring our soup to a café near you.
To do that we need to set up a proper commercial kitchen allowing us to make soup in 20 litre batches to the same standard we do now. Such things don’t come cheap and with banks hoarding their money we have decided to bypass the broken financial system and fund the new kitchen directly.
For that, we need you.
Our new kitchen
We have found a site that is ideal for us. The landlord is supportive, the location is right and the facilities are just what we need. What we have to do is to outfit it. The big-ticket items we need to invest in are a substantial blast-chiller, cabinet fridge, chest freezers, six-ring gas hob, commercial vegetable dicers, food preparation counters, shelving and a whole load of pots and pans.
This will cost us around £10,000 in total. What it will allow us to do is to make each soup fresh, chill it down for a minimum of 12 hours for the flavours to meld then test and season it just before delivery. It is important to us that every soup is made from scratch - no pre-mixed pastes here - and made by hand every single time.
This is very labour intensive but the kitchen equipment will enable us to make sure that every soup is made safely and with the attention to detail we pride ourselves on.
You need soup
Our aim has always been “to make soup the star of the show.” That means every single one of our soups is made by hand from just the ingredients you can get in the grocers. We don’t use pre-mixes and we don’t thicken with flour, so most of our soups are gluten-free. We also work to make sure that we have a soup for everyone. Each day we make two meat-based, two vegetarian and two vegan soups. All of them packed with vegetables and focused on seasonal ingredients.
The secret to it is giving the soup time to meld. We make our soups the day before and leave them overnight so that the different flavours can mingle. Like a good Scotch whisky, a soup needs time to mature. The day we serve it, the soup is tasted, seasoned and adjusted and doesn’t leave the kitchen until the soupmonger in charge is completely happy with it.
The other secret is that the humble soup does not need to be humble at all. It’s too often relegated to a single “soup of the day,” the item on the menu that no one pays attention to. Not with us. To give you a taste of what we do, here are just some of the 60+ soups we’ve made in the last few months.
- Caldo Verde - chorizo and kale in a broth of potatoes, onions and garlic seasoned with sweet, smoked paprika.
- Afghan spiced carrot - a bright and cheerful vegan soup with subtle, fragrant spicing and chunky carrots.
- Broccoli, bacon and chilli - all the goodness of a cream of broccoli soup with the added joy of salty bacon and a kick of chilli.
- Cock-a-leekie - a classic Scots recipe of chicken and leek with prunes.
- Devilled pumpkin with lemongrass & sour cherry - a dairy-free dream that makes pumpkin sexy.
- The Mighty Merguez - merguez-spiced soup with lamb & beef merguez-spiced sausages for a double helping of merguez, which is why we call it “mighty.”
- Moroccan Harira - the classic lentil and chickpea soup with harissa and cinnamon.
- Sweet potato with ginger, coconut and tamarind - a silky smooth soup with a hit of both sweet and sour.
Keeping it green
From the beginning we have aimed to be an eco-friendly, sustainable business. All our take-away packaging is made from compostable plant starch by Vegware. Instead of rewarding our customers for consumption, we reward them with a loyalty point for bringing back their packaging. The charity Edinburgh Cyrenians then compost all our food waste and returned packaging and then the compost helps grow new plants. From making to eating we have closed the loop which is why we call the idea “Full Circle.”
As we have moved into delivery we have taken the same approach. Our soups are delivered in Edinburgh by bicycle courier, Pronto Pedal Power. The containers we use are returned, washed, sanitised and reused so there is no plastic waste. The courier even gets fed soup to keep pedalling. Now we are looking to expand our wholesale supplies, we can build on the success of our bicycle deliveries to keep our impact on the environment to a minimum. It is more expensive than sending a staff member around Edinburgh in a van but we think it’s worth it.
Meet the soupmongers
Union of Genius is the brainchild of Elaine Mason, once a geologist and bookseller, now Scotland’s first soupmonger.
Amy Brewer has been with us since day one. Drummer in a rock-band and former linguist, she’s the one who keeps the café running smoothly and makes sure everything is in its proper place.
Cheryl Donohoe is our newest recruit. With many years of experience in catering, she makes soup like a well-oiled machine and is helping us expand our repertoire.
Janahan Balasubramaniam is our ace server, barista and self-declared eye-candy. With a background in sales and marketing, Jani is the one who will be looking after our new customers.
Bruce Mason likes to be called “Dr Genius” and thinks of himself as a soup Svengali. In reality, he helps with the books and washing up.
Union of What?
Union of Genius is a big name for a small cafe. But it does represent what we think a soup should be: a union of diverse flavours that is more than the sum of its parts. It is also how we think we should be as a team and how we work with local companies such as Vegware, Pronto Pedal Power and Edinburgh Cyrenians.
We have been utterly delighted with how our first year has gone. We thought it was a good idea but even we didn’t expect it to have the impact it did. If you want to have a look for yourself we have put some links to reviews in the FAQ at the end.
Kickstart our kitchen
We realise that many of you reading this won’t have seen Kickstarter before and you might be puzzled by it. The main thing you need to know is that this is an “all or nothing” deal. You pledge a certain amount. If the total amount pledged meets the goal (£10,000) then the project gets funded, your payment card gets debited and we arrange for you to receive the reward you asked for. If we don’t reach our total then nobody’s card gets debited and nobody gets any money.
We think that Kickstarter is a way of expanding our business that matches our ethos. Everyone who backs us, no matter how much or how little, is important to us. Our first year of trading has given us the track record and confidence to know that we are ready to take the next step. Working with backers through Kickstarter means we can bring the best soup we can possibly make to cafés across Edinburgh in the greenest way we know. We are excited. We hope you are too, and hope you want to become part of it.
---Elaine & the soupmongers
Kickstarter veterans will know all about these. Basically if we manage to reach a certain total above our goal we add something extra to the rewards.
£11,500 Everybody gets one - achieved!
Everyone is getting a sixth recipe card - The Big Green - added to their rewards for free. The Big Green is one of the soups we are most proud of. It is as good ambient (lightly chilled) as it is hot. It is the soup that was awarded Lunchquest's "exceptional" status and is one of our most popular spring and summer soups.
£13,000 Help us help others - achieved!
We will provide free soup to Edinburgh's Care Van in perpetuity or for as long as they want.The Care Van is run by Bethany Christian Trust in partnership with the Edinburgh city mission. It provides provides soup, rolls, clothing, blankets, support and homelessness information to between 20-60 rough sleepers in Edinburgh city centre every night.
£18,000 A year in soup - achieved!
We will replace the six indvidual recipe cards with a collection of 12 soup recipe cards in a sleeve: one for each month of the year. Everyone who has pledged for the soupmongering kit or higher gets this added for free to their reward. Everyone else gets a second recipe card (Big Green and one other) added for free.
£19,000 T-shirt upgrade - achieved
All the t-shirts will be upgraded to bamboo at no extra cost to you. That way you will have a much more ecologically sustainable fashion item. If anyone knows of bamboo aprons, let us know!
£21,000 Save Jani's Legs
Shortly after we agreed on the Leith premises we discovered something. You see, Leith is at sea level. Union of Genius is about 110m above sea level. Perhaps this picture will explain the issue.
As we're committed to pedal power we had been taking advice on electric assist. It was that or we need to feed Jani a lot of high protein soup. Then we discovered that Uula, who is making our soup trike for us, has been making his own assist out of the same recycled materials he is making the bike from. What's more it has enough oomph to get 60kg of soup up a hill. This will keep the bike as green as possible but it doesn't come cheap. We're looking at the best part of 1.2K. So...
If you can get us up this hill, Jani's legs will love you forever and we will celebrate by adding a free "#soupmonger" iron-on patch/badge/or button (not sure yet and happy to take requests) to everyone who has pledged for a reward of £20 or more. We'll either add it to your post or you can collect it at the cafe. (We'll also make it available as a £10 add-on with free shipping for those who want multiples or lower value rewards.) Furthermore, if you're ever around, you're welcome to come by (just email us in advance) and get a photo of yourself on the Union trike.
The #soupmonger tag was coined by one of our very first backers, Brian (you'll see him on twitter as @teknobot). We instantly fell in love with the idea so it's great to have a chance to use it.
£22,000 The Genius Collective - final goal
We mentioned a recipe book earlier. Want to get involved in doing the research?
If you can get us to this point we will set up a backer-only private bulletin board where we will post recipes as we work on them and you can do the same. We will swap ideas, test them out with you, encourage you to try them and suggest changes to us. This will then be the source from which the recipe book is created. What we want to do is create a book that will have comments and variations from you scattered throughout it. If any of you fancy your hand at food photography we would love to be able to use real photos from real kitchens.
We're really excited by this idea. If it takes off it will take some work from us but the beauty of Kickstarter is that if you, down here in the soupmines with us, want to make it work, it will work. It's your money and your choice. The stretch goal total gives us the financial cushion to develop and host the online community and also to pay staff to cover Elaine as she experiments with scaled down recipes with you.
So much of what makes soup special is sharing. We know that many of you love to make soup as much as eat it. This goal will allow us all to share in the creation of something just a little bit different and a little bit special. We hope this last goal is something you want to aim for as much as we do.
The Silver, Gold and Lifetime soupons can be put in a single name or a joint name. If you use a joint name then both named people can use it (though only one at a time). We have updated the Lifetime soupon to reflect this but we can't change the text on the Gold or Silver soupons because they have already been chosen.
If there are any groups, clubs, societies or businesses interested in a multi-user soupon, contact us and we will see what we can come up with. There will be some extra costs involved though.
Soup buddy promo. For each person you introduce to our kickstarter who backs us for at least £5, we will add a PDF recipe card to your reward for absolutely nothing. What's more, if we are going to be posting you something we will add a printed copy into your pack for no extra charge. All your soup buddy needs to do is to email us with your name or leave a message in the comments. That way we all get closer to our goal and we get to thank you for helping us.
You can pledge for multiple rewards if you wish. What you need to do is to decide what you want, add up the total value and pledge that amount. Then tick the box of the highest value pledge. Once you have pledged, use the contact us link and let us know what you want. We will double check at the end of the Kickstarter. So if you forget to tell us or change your mind, don't worry. For example, Mr Owl wants a t-shirt for himself and a twopon for Ms Pussycat so he pledges a total of £48 and ticks the t-shirt box for a reward. He then contacts us to let us know what he wants.
Do you like graphs and numbers and projections? Kicktraq is tracking the progress of this project. Check us out at kicktraq.com.
This Kickstarter project wouldn't have been possible without the help of many friends. We particularly want to thank.
- Andy Kelly of Andy Kelly Images for the photos. Check him out at www.flickr.com/photos/baldred
- Scott Johnson of Mallard Productions for the amazing video.
- Neil of Pronto Pedal Power for cycling up that hill with a full load of soup.
- Paul at Razzo Coffee for letting us film in his Edinburgh cafe.
- Andy Read of Resilient Systems for giving the website a good going over.
- Phil Harris for expert advice and consultation.
- And of course you, for reading this far.
Risks and challenges
We have set this project up to minimise the risks. The unit we are leasing is a simple shell in good condition. We have done due diligence with environmental health and Edinburgh Planning Department to ensure there are no obstacles to using the unit as an industrial kitchen. The fit-out will be simple and all equipment is mobile so does not need to be built in. All the rewards will be met through the cafe which already has over a year’s successful trading behind it. That way, if you back us you know you will be able to receive your rewards. Most importantly, you can judge us on what we have achieved so far, and help us take the next step.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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