Tender at the Bone is the title of a memoir by Jewish food icon Ruth Reichl.
It doubles as a culinary storyteller’s nod to the alchemy of ingredients that make the Soup Love, an Amy Markman original. Fueled by a foodie father, and a healer’s heart, Markman re-imagined the classic care package. While raising two sons, the Jewish food fairy of Virginia Beach cast her spell on family, friends, and friends of friends with her thoughtful chicken soup and comfort food deliveries. Facing surgery or a serious illness meant receiving a delicious treat that was equal parts comfort and healing—and indulgent surprise.
“My late father Bert was always in the kitchen cooking something. He taught me all about cast iron. Clean or dirty, his big, flat, round cast-iron pan was on the stove at all times, often with remnants of oil-kissed onions and garlic,” says Markman. “I loved the way the house smelled when you walked in.”
For years, Bert Markman and Marilyn Simon Weinberg’s daughter was content making matzoh ball soup, inspired by her grandmother Dorothy’s recipe—as a genuine expression of caring, or a token of friendship. She celebrated Passover with her family, fully embracing all aspects of food prep. Markman never hesitated converting holiday soups to thoughtful gifts for friends of all faiths and cultures.
A culinary caregiver, and former respiratory therapist and geriatric social worker, Markman found her place in the home-based commercial kitchen, and in 2019, turned up the heat on her passion project.
An offer to prepare from-scratch matzoh ball soup for a friend’s coffee shop in 2018 was pivotal. The response from customers made it as clear as a luscious bone broth. Positive feedback from strangers with no skin in the game, gave Markman the push she needed. The idea of making bank out of matzoh balls simmered on low long enough. Now she had a business in mind and the name was Soup Love. Years of nudging from family and friends finally paid off.
Palate met palette in Markman’s 150 square-foot commercial kitchen attached to her home. Pops of pink are the yin to the yang of the sterile stainless-steel prep stations and refrigerators. Her dedicated team, with son Dillon on board, work by her side crazy hours, always eager to learn from a soup maven, while putting their hearts in every aspect of her enterprise. “It’s pretty incredible the way my team operates. I’ve built great relationships with these people,” says Markman. “As you get older, you can feel safer doing that.”
As an emerging business owner, Markman’s core goal was to make things easy for the customer.
“It was all about soup that’s easy to love and receive. Soup Love was conceived in the age of Square and Venmo. Customers get great soup without having to pull out money or talk to anyone. We just drop it off and they grab it. Most of the time we don’t even see the customer.”
Serendipitously timed, Soup Love gained months of traction when it launched, producing a groundswell of customers, on and off Facebook. Markman quickly leveled up the doorstep delivery concept. Her menu consisted of a 24-hour chicken bone broth she developed as the stock/base for the brand’s original Matzoh Ball, Chicken & Noodle, and Chicken & Rice soups. “I only buy organic bones from local farmers for the bone broth I use for my chicken soup.”
Soup Love was already off and running soups around Hampton Roads when COVID hit.
“I can’t tell you how many COVID calls we get. At first, they wouldn’t say the word COVID” says Markman. “It was like leprosy. They would just call and say, ‘we really need your soup.’”
Today is quite different. “Everybody’s an open book,” says Markman. “Now it’s more like, ‘my whole house has it. Just drop off and don’t touch the rail or doorknob.’ ‘My daughter has it and wants her ‘magic soup.’ Last week someone called and said, ‘I don’t live in the area, can you drop off some soup for my son?’”
The Soup Love recipe for success has tripled with 16 year-round soups ranging from Harvest Vegetable, Heart Healer, and Roasted Root—to Lemon Chicken with Orzo, Chicken with Dumplings and Brunswick Stew—and two 24-hour bone broths. Two spring/summer and two fall/winter specials were rolled out in 2021.
When people are vulnerable and unwell, it’s essential that they have nutrition that’s appealing and comforting, and doctor tested. Not only did the retired geriatric social worker study the health benefits of bone broth when she launched, she’s become more mindful about seasoning and is judicious with the use of the finest quality pink Himalayan salt. She says it’s important to her to support the community and buy local, which is one reason why she only uses organic bones from local farmers for her bone broth.
Producing and promoting healthy soup closes a loop. Markman’s soft spot for the geriatric population can be traced back to 10 years as a geriatric social worker at Beth Sholom Home, and then five years at the Catholic Dioceses. She is elated when physicians recommend bone broth to patients preparing for a colonoscopy or other body compromising treatment like chemo.
“I get happy just adding turmeric. I haven’t made my rounds to all the docs yet, but I’ll get there. Right now, we have our Tuesday and Thursday delivery schedule and a set menu. But, if you’re sick, we make an exception. I can’t remember a time we couldn’t accommodate someone. We really try. We want it to be easy for the customer and workable for us.”
By wholesaling to Taste Unlimited with locations throughout Hampton Roads (and for whom she makes an exclusive Tuscan chicken and white bean stew), Markman fulfills her purpose to make sure everyone in the region gets a shot at some soup love.
Soup Love participates in more than 100 individual local markets during market season (and during COVID peaks) when the need to shift to drive-thru markets kicked in. “What really put us on the map is all the local farmers markets. Groceries are great, but people are buying local.”
Giving back to the community has always been a priority. Markman is a life member, with 10 years active, on the Virginia Beach Rescue Squad. She’s served on the board of several Jewish organizations and is a Lion of Judah.
“I really want to be there for the Jewish community. It’s my heritage and I want to be there for them.”
If expansion talks continue, adding kosher could be on the table. “I haven’t considered it yet, but I’ve been asked. I may have to look at a second location. If that happens, I will look at kosher to see if it’s doable. If it aligns with my business I would love to.”
Against mentor advice, when time permits, Markman offers kugel and chopped liver as an add-on to her larger matzoh ball soup orders. She has a waiting list (Jews and non-Jews) for her chopped liver. “My advisors ask me ‘why are you doing this?’ It’s not an efficient use of my time, but it makes me happy to do something special for my people. It feels right to me.”