When you’re lying in bed with a fever, a box of tissues, and Netflix on repeat, the last thing you want to do is get up to make something to eat. That’s exactly how Valerie Zweig felt after one too many bouts with laryngitis, but instead of getting frustrated, she got inspired.
Fast forward a few months and enter Prescription Chicken.
Valerie teamed up with her cousin, Taryn Pellicone, to develop a soup-based food delivery service for those in need of grandmother’s homemade cure. These D.C-based “Soup Ladies” are tackling the food delivery trend head-on, delivering soup to those who are sick, struggling with a hangover (we Bitches can relate), or just in need of a pick-me-up.
We called upon Guest Bitch, Judith Rontal, an active local foodie, to sit down with the Soup Ladies to chat about their business, the changing food scene, and, of course, brunch!
What inspired you to launch a chicken soup delivery service?
VZ: A few years ago, I got laryngitis two times over the course of 6 weeks. I was fairly miserable, obviously, and I just wanted some good matzah ball soup that I didn’t have to make myself, or spend $40 on delivery. That day, I ended up begging for broth (via writing a note on a napkin to the servers, not even joking) at Mandu, my local spot. But, I started thinking about how DC needed an easy way to get chicken soup delivered—not just for sick days, but for any day you are in need of a little comfort or easy healthy meal.
Tell us about your background before you were “The Soup Ladies.” What were you doing before Prescription Chicken?
TP: I graduated from University of Delaware’s Hotel and Restaurant program having no idea what I wanted to do. Just that I wanted to be in Washington, D.C. While in school, I managed and operated a small, family- owned cupcakery and afterwards was hired by Potbelly as a GM to start my post-college career. I then went to work for Levy Restaurants at Nationals Park but traveled a ton to other Sports and Entertainment properties, which has been my most memorable and career-changing experience. Travel allowed me to see how other properties and large venues function, helping me master various-sized venue operations.
VZ: After graduating USC in California, I went to culinary school at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC for “grad school.” I started working at Bullfrog & Baum, helping to promote some of the country’s top chefs and restaurants. I then joined international hospitality consulting firm VSAG, developing new concepts and assessing existing operations. I also did catering and personal cheffing on the side.
You two are cousins. What led you two to working together and starting a family business?
TP: I’ve always considered Val one of my role models, specifically when it comes to hospitality and my profession. She’s helped me make every career advancement/change and I’ve trusted her with all my work decisions. When she approached me with the beginning stages of the concept I thought “why the heck not?” And I love her immensely, duh.
VZ: I always run ideas by my family—they are my best sounding board. I had started to think about this idea and as it started to come together, I kept thinking that Taryn would be the perfect partner for the venture. So, I asked her if she wanted to try it out— and she was totally on board. I knew that her experience running fast-casual operations would pay off. And it has in spades, as she brings the operational know-how to our business every day. It doesn’t hurt that we have a lot of fun, laugh more than we cry, and generally enjoy growing this little thing. Now, how do we recruit the rest of our siblings?
Everyone has their grandma’s famous chicken soup recipe. Where did yours come from?
VZ: Although we call it Grandma, it’s actually not my grandma’s recipe, just mine. However, I wanted it to evoke taste memories, so every time someone eats it, it should taste familiar. For our classic soup, I wanted to stay traditional— so carrots, celery, onions, lots of dill, and great chicken-y flavor.
Food delivery is becoming a staple in people’s everyday lives. How does your soup fit in and what void does it fill?
VZ: Let’s be real: we all need more hours in the day. Food delivery is a total staple and time-saver! Soup is actually the perfect thing for delivery, because when you are not feeling well, to have someone bring hot soup to your door may just be the best thing in the world. (Well, certainly in the moment). Beyond those times, soup is a great, healthy meal at all times and is very versatile.
People often relate chicken soup to being sick. How have you widened the soup-gap and made your soups available to more than those who are stuck in bed?
We think that soup infers comfort. That could mean when you’re sick, but it could be after a bad day, after a great night, a breakup, a stressful deadline at work…the possibilities are (unfortunately) endless. So, there’s a correlation between being sick and soup, but our goal is have people think of us (and order) whenever they need a little comfort and love.
Aside from comfort, we’re seeing a huge trend in soup being a staple for healthy eating. There are a million soup cleanses out there, and although we’re not pushing a cleanse, we know that our Bone Broth is the most delicious, protein-packed liquid out there. Whether you’re watching what you eat, working out like crazy and need some nutrients for balance, or have some funny stomach things going on, our broth is the perfect solution.
There is so much we can do with our soup, which is what makes this so fun. The gap keeps on getting bigger and makes us hungrier to creatively use our product!
We’re fans of brunch here and noticed you have a Brunch Package. Tell us more!
We’ve been surviving on Hangover soup pretty much every weekend so we thought adding a little bit more to round it out would be fantastic! We partnered with a fellow Mess Hall Member Poppy’s Bagel Holes to add a variety of stuffed bagels with our Hangover or Grandma style soup and some orange juice or some ginger ale. You can get it just for you, or two to share with friends. So go and get the Hangover package which will cure all woes—without any of the judgment from what went down last night!
Since launching, you’re now available on a number of delivery platforms and local grocery stores. What’s next for those in need of some curing chicken soup?
We did a pop-up at an awesome food hall in Baltimore called R. House earlier this spring and loved being able to talk to our customers every day. So, we’re looking for spaces and looking to continue to expand not only in D.C, but also in Baltimore and maybe even Philadelphia.
When you’re not slurping soup, where’s your favorite place to brunch in DC?
TP: Room 11 all day. The brunch portabello sandwich is out of control. That, or I’ll stroll down to Glen’s in Shaw and snag something there since
TP and VZ: BURRATA FRITTATAS!!!
TP: We cooked one for Mother’s day once upon a time so whenever we talk about making brunch we joke about it. I love to make avocado toast topped with a beautiful egg, over-easy.
VZ: My go-to is black pepper-parmesan-thyme grits topped with a poached egg. And a great Bloody Mary. (Preferably made by my sister, who is a master.)
Do you prefer to brunch in or out?
TP: Don’t get me wrong, I love it whenever anyone cooks for me. But, I also love to cook and be in the comfort of my own home.
What brunch item do you have to order if it’s on the menu?
TP: Avocado toast.because I’m addicted.
VZ: Eggs Benedict, or anything with smoked salmon.
Do you prefer Bloody Marys or mimosas?
TP: Mimosas all day, every day.
VZ: Bloody Marys!
If you could invite a group of local celebrities to brunch, who would they be?
TP: The Lone Bellow. They’re from Virginia and are just about the most amazing band out there.
VZ: I’m a big baseball fan, so I would say that I would love to have some of the Nats and O’s for brunch. Hey Zim, Jayson Werth, Adam Jones, Manny Machado: do ya’ll want to come over for brunch? I promise to serve more than just chicken soup!