“Soup is a lot like family,” Marge Kennedy once said. For Meagan Kleven, soup is family, at least as far as her business goes, having her immediate family intimately involved in her business, “Mama Soup,” which opened it’s newest location in Mineola on Tuesday.
“The family has been a huge support for me, not only just emotionally and mentally but they’ve physically been here and at times financially because I didn’t have any financial backing when I opened this,” Kleven said.
Her sister Keri is both head of marketing, designing the restaurant’s logo and operates the location in College Point, where the family is from, and her parents Cheryl and James both help out where needed. There is also another location in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.
“It’s not a franchise, hopefully one day it will become a franchise,” Kleven said, “right now they’re all individually owned by myself.”
Then there’s Valentina, the titular “Mama,” whose recipes form the menus at each of the locations.
“She was the type of grandmother who even if she wasn’t your grandmother, you still called her ‘nanny’,” her granddaughter said. “She was that type of warm person.”
It was also the woman affectionately known as “nanny” whose idea of having soup in the family formed the concept of the restaurant.
“The whole concept of Mama Soup is really about community and family and tradition and bringing people together and kind of like a warm, welcoming feel,” Kleven said. “Soup is a feel-good type of a food to eat, when you’re sick it makes you feel better.”
The restaurant has also donated soup to victims of Hurricane Sandy in the Rockaways and allowed people to come in and eat and recharge their electronics for free.
In 2007, Kleven was a college graduate holding a degree in exercise physiology and business from Adelphi University.
She was working for an energy efficiency company, moving from reception to operations to sales where she did over $1 million.
“I’m the type of person who I like to control my own success and with sales you can until they cap you at some point,” she said. “When you hit those numbers and you’re only compensated so much I really wanted to start putting my hard work into something that I could control a bit more and something that was more in line of what I loved which is being involved in the community.”
Then the recession hit.
“When I opened the business it wasn’t for my passion for soup,” Kleven said. “It was really that when I was opening it was the beginning of the recession and I had a lot of business ideas but this was one that seemed to be somewhat recession-proof because it’s a cheaper option and it makes people feel better when they’re down-and-out.”
Mama Soup officially opened in mid-2009, but far too late for her grandmother to see it, having passed away in 2008. Since then the business has opened up it’s two other locations, which now total three.
The Mineola location will take over the space once occupied by the Benchmark Café, which had offered a buffet-style dining experience and changed owners at the start of the recession before going out of business. Mama Soup took over the space at the start of the summer and began renovating the interior to mirror that of it’s College Point location, with a copper-tin ceiling and a replica pot hanging on the rear wall.
“It’s kind of like we’ve created a look and we’ll expand from there to other location,” Kleven said. “In this area, the customer base really, they need to be in and out quick for lunch and they really want that warm, welcoming community feel also. They’re trying to change the neighborhood a little bit for a more boutiquey feel and we kinda fit right in.”
Kleven said that will be managing the Mineola personally until a manager who is local to the Mineola area is found.
“This way they have more of a vested interest in the actual area and they’ll know what events are going on and they’ll kind of give that more community feel,” she said.