Lately, Garden City has become aware of a hidden asset tucked away between two larger storefronts at 945 Franklin Avenue, or rather, at the intersection of "Bisque Avenue and Broth Street" as the handpainted lamppost inside NY Soup Exchange playfully indicates. This restaurant, which will be celebrating its first birthday on Jan. 22, has already attracted a sizable following with the business communities of Garden City and Mineola. Now it is bringing attention to the re-emerging "Wall Street of Long Island" with businesspeople throughout central Nassau, as a place to grab a quick and healthy lunch Monday through Friday. Owner/cook Ken Kaplan is active in promoting his business in the Garden City community, as well as working for the revitalization of the downtown business district, as a member of the Garden City Chamber of Commerce.
Although the Soup Exchange is located conveniently enough for those on the run, the charming décor and delicious aromas emanating from Ken Kaplan's kitchen just might entice one to stay a while. The interior of the restaurant is small, but cheery, decorated in the "money colors" of green and taupe, and sporting a mural on which the stately NY Stock Exchange co-exists with giant fruits and vegetables. Further inside, the "Stock Tips" menu highlights the featured soups of the day. Kaplan maintains an extensive menu of over 50 soups, six or seven of which he serves daily. He explained that he tries to maximize his customers' options by serving one offering from each of the poultry, beef, seafood, vegetarian, cream soup and stew categories each afternoon. Kaplan's creations range from the traditional chicken noodle to the exotic Jamaican Pumpkin. Some even have names that reflect his sense of humor, such as "U.S. Senate White Bean" and "Madras Mulligatawny."
"I know exactly what I'm putting into my soup," says Kaplan, "and I can ensure a fresh product because I make my soup fresh each day," which he maintains isn't often the case with restaurants that purchase soup ready-made. He researches each recipe in order to get the correct ethnic flavor, and even cuts his own vegetables. Kaplan says his dedication comes from his long involvement with the science of cooking. "You get it in your blood, and you just can't get it out." He grew up in Long Beach and began cooking at age 16. After college, he enrolled in culinary school at Johnson and Wales University, which he credits with educating him in many aspects. "You have to know how to come out and talk to people in your restaurant," Kaplan explains, in order to receive feedback about the prepared meals. "Many chefs never learn these skills."
Kaplan's talents were honored at his successive jobs as a chef in a cafeteria and a group of restaurants/nightspots in Boston's Fanueil Hall area. He went on to become executive chef in Texas at The Bright Shawl, cooking classical French cuisine, and also at Herb Cilantro's, a popular Mexican restaurant in Houston. When he decided to open his first solo venture, Kaplan focused on soup, which he calls, "the epitome of fast food." He doesn't mean fast food in the usual sense: mass produced and filled with fat. Instead, he feels that his creations are not only quick and convenient, but also nutritious.
Kaplan serves a special chicken soup with alphabet letters every Friday, or "Soup Day" for the youngsters at St. Joseph's School in Garden City. He remarked that often, children from St. Joseph's come into the shop, dragging their parents behind them to sample some of the offerings. Kaplan caters to the employees of more than 230 local businesses, including Winthrop Hospital and the courthouses, by faxing out the menu of the next day's "Stock Options" each night. Area employees can put their businesses on his list by calling him at 742-SOUP. Kaplan cites his location on Franklin Avenue as ideal for his first restaurant. "I love the idea of the diverse business community of Garden City... it's the center of the Island!" He, along with the local business community, believes that NY Soup Exchange and businesses along Franklin Avenue will no doubt rise many points during the coming year, particularly in light of the streetscape beautification project to begin this spring.