Recipe for Growth

Stepping back from the franchise model, the Piping Kettle Soup Company pursues expansion on its own terms

Photo: Jim Phillips

FROM THE DAY they opened the Piping Kettle Soup Company in Covent Garden Market in 2007, Jim and Janice Phillips have heard the same ­comment from different customers time and again: “This is a great concept! You should franchise.”

So, in 2012, the couple set out to prove their concept—freshly made soups, sandwiches, salads and smoothies, using locally sourced ingredients in season—was franchisable, by opening a second location at the corner of Commissioners and Wellington roads.

“We figured being close to the hospital would be an ideal location,” Janice recalls. They ended up leasing space that had formerly been used as a children’s haircutting salon, and had to totally renovate, putting in ­plumbing and electrical to create a kitchen, and installing ­seating for 29 eat-in customers.

“It didn’t turn out exactly as we had hoped,” the couple says, “but we learned a lot of valuable lessons.”

At the time, Janice was taking courses towards an MBA and was learning more about franchising, and that ­information gave them pause.

“We talked to a franchise lawyer, who recommended we approach it like you would a marriage,” she says. “There can be a lot of problems if you don’t see eye to eye, and you want to be in a relationship with people you can work with over the long term.”

The couple had invested a hefty amount (opening the Commissioners location cost almost triple what it had cost to open in the Market), and were still experimenting with menu items, hours of operation and other things that differed from the original location—and now they were not so sure that they wanted to bring in a franchisee. So, they continued to operate it themselves.

“We have a fabulous staff, and each store is a little different. We have more than 150 soup recipes—five of them are always available, and each location has five in rotation, depending on what customers are requesting” —Janice Phillips

Earlier this year, the couple opened a third location at the corner of Highbury Avenue and Huron Street. This was a much smoother and less expensive conversion since the space had previously been a sub shop and the couple did some of the work themselves. The 36-seat eatery has a ­comfortable feel to it, says Janice, and she and Jim are finding that there aren’t any more headaches running three stores instead of one.

“We have a fabulous staff, and each store is a little different. For example, we have more than 150 soup recipes—five of them are always available, and each location has five in rotation, depending on what customers are requesting.”

Having established a Piping Kettle Soup Company presence in central, south and east areas of London, Janice says, “We’d like to open another location next year in the west or northwest part of the city.”

Will that be another fully Phillips-owned ­operation or a franchise?

“We don’t want to grow just for the sake of growing and we prefer to grow slowly, but if someone came by who was a perfect fit…,” says Janice, letting the thought hang for a moment. Expansion through franchising is still a possibility, and it may take the Piping Kettle concept far beyond the London region—but only if she and Jim are able to find the right people.  Kym Wolfe