By Steven Cooper in Life
In August 2013 a small restaurant started serving soups and sandwiches in Portland’s Pearl District. Only one year later they have a new location at Clark and are in the process of opening a third location.
Supa! started serving customers the first day of Fall quarter in Joan Stout Hall.
Despite its success, Supa! isn’t overseen by someone with years of restaurant experience. Jae Larson, chief operating officer of Supa! Groups Incorporated, spent 20 years running her own design and build firm. Then, in what Larson jokingly describes as a mid-life crisis, she decided to start her own restaurant.
She partnered with Julie O’Neal, someone she knew working as a financial analyst at the University of California San Francisco. They opened Supa! Aug. 24, 2013.
Larson said O’Neal oversees more of the financial and business tasks like recruitment, while Larson deals with more “boots on the ground” jobs. “I wouldn’t be here without her,” Larson said.
Larson decided early on what would make Supa! different from other restaurants. “I started doing a bunch of research,” Larson said. “What was just staggering to me was that in this country 45 percent of all the food we produce as a nation ends up in landfills. And out of that it takes 80 percent of water we consume to grow that food.”
Research into sustainable food was a major reason Larson decided her restaurant would focus on soup. “Soup is the most sustainable food product there is,” Larson said. “There’s no waste. Everything goes into soup— whether it goes into the stock or the actual soup.”
In addition to picking soup as a product, Larson said they take other steps to make Supa! environmentally friendly and sustainable. Approximately 70 percent of all the food they serve comes from within 400 miles of their location, Larson said.
Any soup that Supa! isn’t able to sell to customers gets donated to Union Gospel Mission, a local organization that reaches out to the homeless.
Larson also said Supa! attempts to minimize waste by offering smaller meal portions. “Nobody walks away feeling hungry,” Larson said. “But it’s not the typical American oversized portions.”
“We’ve created a closed-loop, zero-waste system for our restaurant,” Larson concluded.
Earlier this year, Andersen Grill occupied Supa!’s current space. The Washington State Department of Revenue shut them down in May after failing to pay tax debts.
Clark’s Director of Business Services Sabra Sand said the college started looking for a new vendor by putting out a “request for proposal” on June 20. Each applicant had to submit paperwork and go through a vetting process. The list of applicants was eventually whittled down to three.
Sabra said they put together a board of eight taste testers that sampled each vendor’s food. The taste testers included President Bob Knight and several faculty and staff.
Clark selected Supa! on Aug. 6.
According to Sand, Supa!’s business model, quality of food and willingness to hire Clark students were all major reasons why Supa! was picked.
Many of the Supa! employees at the new location have ties to Clark. Employee Jeff Kimball graduated from Clark last June with an associates in culinary arts management. Employee Carol Johnson said she isn’t going to Clark this quarter, but will be attending during winter and spring.
Every Supa! employee agreed they have been extremely popular and busy so far this quarter. Some customers said they’ve eaten at Supa! up to five times since the beginning of the quarter.
Johnson said one of the most popular choices so far has been the “half-a-melti and cup of soup” special for $6.95. Larson said the special is one of their most economically friendly choices. Another lower price option is a cup of soup for $3.95.
Customer Kristina Figurazh identified herself as a health and wellness coach. She said Supa! is her favorite vendor on campus because of the health benefits. “We definitely need more healthy options,” she said.
Clark student Debby Corzine thinks Supa! is much better than Andersen Grill. “This is more healthy, she said.” Her favorite meal is the “Izzy Sandwich.” “I get it every time,” she said. “Sometimes I take it home for dinner.”
Student Christine McEwen said she’s been to Supa! about five times this quarter. She said she’s gotten something new each time and so far prefers Supa! to Andersen Grill or any current vendor on campus.
Supa! is currently in the process of opening a third location in downtown Portland at the U.S. BanCorp building by the end of October.
Supa! has a large industrial kitchen where the food is prepared each morning before being transported to other locations.
According to Larson, it allows them to cook fresh, high-end restaurant food without needing large spaces at each restaurant location. Larson said she could service five to six restaurants with their current facility