Pizza Marathon Day 2, Pizza 1: Soup Peddler, The Optimizer of the Money to Headache Ratio

2009 December 2
Soup Peddler David Ansel.  Note what's hanging on the wall.

Soup Peddler David Ansel. Note what's hanging on the wall.

When I had lunch with Addie Broyles last week, she introduced me to David Ansel aka The Soup Peddler.

When I was a McLovin-esque kid (sans scoring with hot chicks and torching police cars), my father dated a wonderful woman named Sue Perlo. She had two daughters, Aviva and Robin. In my awkward throes of puberty, Aviva seemed like the coolest person ever. She moved to Austin, went to Phish shows, had “experiences” (whatever those were), and generally lived a life way cooler than mine as a teenager in suburban Dallas.

One of the people she spoke of was this other hippie Jew named Dave, who made soup and delivered it around South Austin on his bike. Man, I wished that I knew cool friends who did offbeat things like thumbing their nose at the world that seemed hellbent on turning everyone into lawyers and investment bankers. South Austin sure sounded cool, and people like David made it sound cool.

15 years later, Aviva has moved on to Philly, but the soup peddler remains. He likes pizza and I like soup so we agreed to meet up.

We each wore shirts that we thought the other would find amusing. He wore a Dani’s Pizza shirt, and told this incredibly sad story of this little pizza place in NYC that he walked by one night.  It was closed at midnight, which was unusual.  The next day, there was a wreath on the door and a pizza with a slice missing.  The owner had died.

I wore my Matzah Ballstars shirt, which was my softball uniform from when I lived in SF.  As I’m sure all of you know, we made the playoffs the one year I played, not that I helped much in the effort.  But once a Matzah Ballstar, always a Matzah Ballstar.  Represent!

We each got a hot tea to combat the chilly weather.  When it came time to order toppings, I figured he’d go nuts.  After all, his soups are imaginative and ingredient-laden.  I was floored when he said he likes cheese pizza, well done.  I mean, so do I, but c’mon!  I get all the free toppings on the menu.  Garlic!  Fried eggplant!  Roasted red peppers!  I thought these things would set his mind and appetite on fire.  Nope.  He said he likes toppings that add oil, not water.  He likes the meaty toppings and settled on pepperoni for his half.  Still numb from the shock, I decided to play his game.  I only ordered one topping, my beloved anchovies.  The waiter looked a little quizzical, he had his pen out which he usually doesn’t need for most customers, who buy into Homeslice’s mantra “less is more”.  But we ordered a pizza with one topping on each half, first time ever.  David also asked that it be prepared well done.

The pizza came out in record time, and while it looked a little smaller than a large pizza should, my eyes might have been tricked by the paucity of toppings.  The crust seemed a little different, and the cheese seemed to be a more integral part of the pizza than usual.  Overall, the pizza was crunchy and cheesy, but not gooey and rich like my kitchen sink monstrosities.  I easily polished off three pieces.  Usually I can only handle two.  But it was a good experience, and should the unspeakable and unthinkable happen (don’t even think it!), I might have to get used to one topping pizzas.

David is something of a hero to me, in that he’s figured out a way to maximize what he calls the “money to headache ratio”.  After leaving the corporate paradigm-y world, he floated along the fringes of South Austin’s bohemian scene, trying to figure out something to do with himself.  He was good at making soup, so he began making soup and delivering it on his bike.  Later, as his story became widely known and his soup became widely desired, he found a proper cooking space, a truck or two, and somewhere along the way, a calling.

He’s been pitched by those who talk of “brand equity” to grow, find more distribution, etc.  But he’s happy.  He gets to cook and hang out with those he loves, has plenty of time to play with his kid and makes enough to live in South Austin while doing his thing.  As foodie culture explodes ’round here, he could no doubt hawk his stuff at the farmer’s markets, restaurants, grocery stores and wherever else, but he values the simplicity of a finely-tuned machine.  He makes soup with love, and doesn’t want to be a dick to his workers or use crappy ingredients.  It ain’t broke, and he ain’t gonna fix it.

I hope I figure out something equally charming and useful that gives me a similar money to headache ratio.  While the headache factor is low right now, so is the money factor (feel free to hire me!).  Maybe I can learn a thing or two from David.

He’s more direct than I imagined him to be, and he has a very dry sense of humor.  When I stated my theory that Homeslice pizza isn’t that bad for you (not so greasy, good ingredients, lots of veggies, etc), he shot me down quick.  Most folks let me babble on about my theory and chuckle at my presumptuousness.  He honed in on the salt factor, and didn’t buy my story for a minute.

The bill for the pizza was $15.50.  That’s child’s play!  My pizzas usually cost $30.  He picked up the teas, tip, gave me a copy of his book, and credited my Soupie account with $15.  What a sweetheart.  I can’t decide if I want to hold out to use it on his bomb-ass macaroons, which are the best I’ve ever tasted, or to get something warm like the roasted carrot bisque that caught my eye this week.  I hope he didn’t notice the dropoff in my soup ordering right around the time I won free pizza…

On the way out, we saw two of the owners, including Jen, who I’d never met.  I got a clarification that for the upcoming HOES contest, diapers/catheters are not allowed.  We have to rock it the old fashioned way: iron will power.  Competitors take note.

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