Paul Gilis and his son, Franz, were very deliberate in their 18-month search for the perfect restaurant franchise to buy.
The two eventually decided to open Ohio's first Zoup! Fresh Soup Co. restaurant on Dussel Drive in Maumee, offering a rotating selection of 12 soup varieties each day. Sandwiches and salads are on the menu, and a typical lunch costs $6 to $8.
The restaurant joins the ranks that fill specific niches rather than sell a variety of items.
"No one is going to come to us every day, but there's enough population in the Maumee area to keep the restaurant more than afloat," Paul Gilis said.
The reason for a niche restaurant is simple, said Donna Perras, the owner of the Salad Galley in downtown Toledo, which offers nearly two dozen salads daily and has soups and sandwiches.
"People don't have two hours for lunch anymore," she said. "Everyone's eating lighter and faster, and those are exactly the kind of people we're doing this for."
Food consultant Howard Solganik, of Culinary Resources in Dayton, said soup is a pretty good category, especially when coupled with other fare. But, he said, "The real issue is whether you can get somebody to eat [the food] multiple times a week. And you have to have enough financial backing to make it through the slow times."
Eric Ersher, managing partner of Zoup! Fresh Soup Co. LLC, said the company opened its first store in Southfield, Mich., in 1998 and was "pleasantly surprised" when customers ordered soup even in hot weather.
The firm operates five company-owned stores and has six franchise sites in Michigan. The Cleveland area also has stores.
Mike Mancy, president of the Northwestern Ohio Restaurant Association, said Zoup! is just the latest chain to target the area.
"Almost every chain has finally hit Toledo in the past year or two and they keep coming," he said. "I think there's a misperception on the actual size of Toledo."
Mr. Mancy's family has several well-known restaurants in the Toledo area, so a new entry is not necessarily a concern, he said. "But there's only so much of the pie that goes around."
Contact Mary-Beth McLaughlin at