Healthy Salads, Soups & Sandwiches, Meet Chef/Owner Jenny Levison, Serving up a New Space of Taste!
Q: Can you tell us what you thought your career path would be after High School?
JL: I went to Carnegie Mellon to study acting … my original plan was to have a fifty-year Broadway career!
Q: When did you know you wanted to be a Chef?
JL: I don't consider myself a Chef, but I realized that I wanted to be in the hospitality business full-time at the age of 30. I always loved to cook and entertain. Even as a kid, I cooked special meals for my parents and set up the dining room like a restaurant.
Q: Where did the idea for Souper Jenny come from? The Name?
JL: The idea to open a restaurant came from a two-year trip around the world where I learned to cook! When I returned home to Atlanta, most of the recipes I collected just happened to be soups! My mother's friend mentioned the name one day and I loved it. I always wanted to be a superhero!
Q: What has the path of the business looked like since you launched in 1999?
JL: We only had one store for the first ten years. I then started to notice other great neighborhoods in Atlanta and slowly we evolved. I opened a few other restaurant concepts - some were successful, and some were not. I currently have four Souper Jenny locations around metro Atlanta.
Q: What keeps it exciting for you to be in the kitchen?
JL: All of the restaurants have a menu that changes every day, all year long. I love coming up with new ideas and searching for new recipes. We also have an urban farm at the westside location, so it’s exciting to create menus using fresh, local ingredients.
Q: Tell us about some of your popular dishes your customers come back for?
JL: My Dad's Turkey Chili, of course! We serve it every day, as it’s our most popular soup. Sales from the chili support The Zadie Project, the non-profit we started in 2017 to help feed and educate children, families and seniors in Atlanta. We also offer a lot of vegan soups and gluten-free options, which I love. People are moving towards a healthier diet, so we offer some great salads, too.
Q: Do you have more locations in the works?
JL: Hmmm. Never say never!
Q: What was your first job? And how did it shape or impact you?
JL: My first job was wrapping meat at a grocery store on Martha's Vineyard in high school. I worked in an area where people could see what I was doing, and I would always chat with customers. I realized that I not only liked customer service, but I was excellent at wrapping meat!
Q: What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get where you are today?
JL: I think it's okay to be afraid, but to realize you've got look fear in the face and go for it anyway. Between four restaurants, we feed about 1000 people a day. Keeping our kitchen clean and observing food sanitation regulations is actually what keeps me awake at night!
Q: What’s one lesson you’ve learned in your career that you can share with our audience?
JL: Dream big and then jump!!
Q: Which woman inspires you and why?
JL: Oprah, because, she's Oprah!! I'm really loving Maria Shriver and her new book, "I've Been Thinking.” It has wonderful insights from her life that can apply to anyone. I’m also inspired by the great wisdom of Maya Angelou. My all-time favorite quote of hers ... "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time!”
Q: What are some of the challenges you feel women face today?
JL: I really don’t differentiate myself from any challenge’s men may have. Women are amazing and we should act like we can achieve anything that men can achieve. We shouldn’t accept anything less!
Q: What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace?
JL: It’s important to start with a clear vision of what you want. Write down where you'd like to be in your life one year for today. Then share it with a close friend so you have support and encouragement along the way.
Five Things About Chef/Owner Jenny Levison
1. If you could talk to one famous person past or present, who would it be and why?
Oprah. Oprah was the first person to talk about finding your purpose on national TV. She is the woman who motivated me to want to create a better life for myself and then work hard to get it.
2. What book are you currently reading?
I usually read about five books at once! I just finished, "What Alice Forgot" by Liane Moriarty and "Setting the Table" by Danny Meyer
3. If you could time travel, when and where would you go?
Definitely back to the 1940's. I love the clothes and the music!
4. Where would your perfect vacation be?
Any deserted island beach with crystal blue water!
5. Which celebrity do you most identify with?
I actually identify with Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. We started our businesses around the same time in Atlanta. She posts her own content on social media and can be incredibly goofy, which I adore. I am attracted to down-to-earth people, whether they are a celebrity or not.