MILWAUKEE — While quarantines, layoffs, and the uncertainty of the future with COVID-19 may be depressing, The Soup Otzie's on South Howell Ave. is helping bring some comfort with some home cooking.
"Soup is something that just speaks to people," Scott McCowan, owner of The Soup Otzie's, said. "It makes them feel comfort. It makes them feel at home."
McCowan and his wife bought the soup spot about two years ago. The previous owner, Joan Otzelberger, opened it about 20 years ago.
"Joan was a hard charger," McCowan said. "She was a go-getter. She'd be doing the exact same things we're trying to do. Everything we do, actually, we try to consider what Joan would have done in the same circumstance. It's a very important part of her life and livelihood. She'd be doing the same types of things. Reaching out to neighbors and making sure people are ok, staying open, and just working as hard as humanly possible."
For now, the seats remain empty inside The Soup Otzie's. However, the phone is steadily ringing. Several customers say they had trouble getting through. They say it's a testament to the character of McCowan and how he's operated the restaurant.
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"Last week, when I came to pick it up, [McCowan] said, 'It's on me," Kent Carter of Franklin said. "It was only because they didn't want to do any transactions. I said, no. You can't stay in business that way. Today when I ordered, I asked to be put on my card so we wouldn't have to mess with that. I tried to get the other two on there, but they wouldn't do it. Joan was salt of the earth, and when [McCowan] took over, it was seamless. His heart is in the right place."
McCowan says it's more important to be an excellent corporate neighborhood citizen than make money right now. He says he's working with other local businesses to make sure they can stay afloat during these trying times.
"Small business owners get into this for a lot of different reasons," McCowan said. "One of them is to just find a way to connect with the community. We have a little more time to consider what we're doing here over the next month and a half or so. We can develop some strong relationships."
But what also weighs heavy on McCowan's mind are his ten employees. He knows they depend on this business, staying open for their financial safety.
"It's a huge responsibility," McCowan said. "Something people come to you with their concerns about regularly. It's a great, great staff we have and a great community we're a part of. That comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. We're trying to find the right way to make sure we're servicing them well. Is it about making sure we grew the business, or is it about how we give back to the community? When we're in times like this, circumstances like this, which part do you focus on most? That's where my challenge comes in as a leader right now. No matter how worried I am about business and things like that, to make sure I'm standing up and feeling confident. Letting everyone know how confident we are about how strong we'll be in the future."
These times also call for creativity. McCowan has always tried to engage with customers on the restaurant's Facebook page. He encourages people to post photos of their "Soup at Home" and even offer gift certificates to people supporting other businesses.
"We're extremely fortunate," McCowan said. "We have had a great outpouring of support. We want to make sure all the small businesses in the area have that same outpouring. We want to bring light to all the great things people are doing, and it's an opportunity for us to do that."
The Soup Otzie's is open Monday to Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.