Souplantation : Owners Want to Turn 3 Into 50 by 1990

Times Staff Writer

Tony Brooke and Michael Mack have launched an ambitious plan to expand their three-outlet soup and salad bar operation to 50 by the end of the decade.

The two young entrepreneurs hope their all-you-can-eat, self-serve Souplantation, which they bought two years ago, will ride the coattails of the health-food movement and propel them into the big leagues of the restaurant industry. That journey, they believe, will take them throughout California and, eventually, to other states such as Texas and Florida--and even to Mexico.

The company now generates about $4 million in annual sales, and, if the expansion unfolds, sales by 1990 are projected to reach $90 million.

“We’re concerned about the food products we serve,” Mack said. “People here and in Southern California . . . care about what types of food they eat. Women are more health conscious; they have been educated by the media.”

Brooke, the firm’s 30-year-old chairman and chief executive officer, and Mack, its 34-year-old president, acquired the San Diego-based Souplantation from its original owners, Ron Demery, Steve Hohe and Dennis Jay, in 1984.


The two first considered buying the business in 1984 during a visit to San Diego. Ironically, they were here to study the Souplantation format as a blueprint for a similar business concept in England. (Since 1977, the two entrepreneurs had worked together at Bain & Co., an international strategic management consulting firm in England.)

But the idea of a British outlet soured because of problems of produce importation and the lack of health food consumers in England. Instead, the two pursued purchase of the Souplantation here.

“My father had dinner there . . . and liked what he saw. He told us about the restaurant, and we made several trips to San Diego to check on it,” Brooke said.

“We were sure they wouldn’t sell; it was too good. It took (nearly) three months of negotiations before they finally sold.”

After acquiring the business for an undisclosed amount, their first priority was to add products and streamline operations to increase efficiency and quality.

“Tony and I had the confidence to make a small company larger,” Mack said.

The original owners retained 5% of Souplantation stock. Mack, Brooke and their families own 50%, and venture capitalists and outside investors own the rest.

With two Souplantations thriving--on Mission Gorge Road and on West Point Loma Boulevard--a third opened Monday in La Mesa.

“We’re serving a high-quality product and doing it in a pleasant atmosphere,” Mack said. “We’re spending money on decor to make Souplantation a pleasant dining experience, and I think people are willing to pay for that.”

The restaurant includes about 60 items on its salad bar, at least eight different soups, fresh-baked muffins and bread, and a fresh-fruit bar.