Souper Woman Kathy Katz at Cooper Street 20/20

By / Photography By Melissa Petersen | October 01, 2013
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“Good soup is one of the prime ingredients of good living. For soup can do more to lift the spirits and stimulate the appetite than any other one dish.”
 - Louis P. De Gouy, The Soup Book (1949)

Kathy Katz is the self-described Queen of Soup, and just like the scrumptious soups offered at her grab-and-go storefront, Cooper Street 20/20, Kathy is sweet and savory and she never misses an opportunity to give credit where credit is due. While describing the soups and entrées stacked in the refrigerators and freezers at Cooper Street 20/20, she mentions individual produce suppliers and friends who had a hand in each offering — tomatoes from Robert Tims of Ripley Produce, squash and zucchini from Ly Vu of Ly Vu’s Produce, and basil from friends Clinton and Lyn. She is also quick to give credit to her chef, Stephen Sciara.

But, oh, the savory side — Kathy is hysterically funny and peppers the conversation with stories that will warm your heart and make your belly ache from laughing.

For 25 years, Kathy served her delectable delights to the students of the Southern College of Optometry at her 20/20 Diner. Now you can find Kathy (a.k.a. The Soup Lady) at farmers’ markets all over town and at her den of deliciousness in the Cooper-Young District. She offers prepared soups, starters, entrées, sides, sauces, and extras like Cowboy Crackers, pickles, and pitas. You might stop in for the first time because you find yourself hungry with nothing to eat for dinner. You will return again and again because it’s that good.

Kathy takes her motto “Focus on Fresh” seriously. She uses locally grown produce and all of her soups are made without butter, flour, or cream — which should make the vegan heart happy. On the day that I visited, seven of the soups available were vegan, and all but one were vegetarian. If the vegan and vegetarian diets aren’t your thing, never fear. You can easily add meat to the vegetarian options. But be sure to try them first without adding anything. Chances are, you won’t miss the meat.

“Soup is cuisine’s kindest course. It breathes reassurance; it steams consolation; after a weary day it promotes sociability, as the five o’clock cup of tea or the cocktail hour.”
 - Louis P. De Gouy, The Soup Book (1949)

Kathy’s love of preparing meals for others goes back to her childhood. Her parents encouraged her to try new things, but never made her eat the things she didn’t like. This marinated a taste for good food. “When I was four years old, it was nothing for me to be in a restaurant and order medium-rare steak with French onion soup and a side of pommes frites,” says Kathy. “My parents would look at the waiter and say, ‘Bring it to her. It’s what she wants.’”

By age eight, she was preparing meals for her family. “Whenever we went on vacation, my brother, Keith, would ask the waitress at the Holiday Inn if I could cook his eggs. My mom would tell her, ‘Tell the chef to whip the egg whites a little before he breaks the yolk.’ That’s my secret.”

At home, Kathy remembers having a cardboard kitchen set in her bedroom. Once, when she came home from camp, her mother told her that her father had scheduled a cocktail hour with Kathy. Lo and behold, inside her cardboard refrigerator, she discovered party bread, a tiny jar of mustard, and summer sausage — all waiting for Kathy to whip up a treat for her father.

Kathy also talks fondly of getting to prepare the Sabbath dinner with her brother. After the candles were lit and the prayers said, she and Keith would beg their parents to leave the lights off and eat the meal by candlelight. They thought it was romantic. Their parents just thought they couldn’t see their food.

“Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill?...Yet who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don’t catch steak hanging around when you’re poor and sick, do you?”
 - Judith Martin, Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior (2005)

Kathy has moved on from scrambled eggs and cardboard kitchens. Today, she and Stephen offer several soups year round including their two most popular: African Peanut Soup and Tomato Basil Soup. Other soup choices include Potato Leek, Black Bean Chili, and Russian Cabbage. As the days turn cooler, they will add heartier soups as specials, such as Veggie Gumbo, Broccoli Cheese, and Mushroom.

Kathy also stocks the shop with house-made goodies such as Roasted Eggplant Lasagna, Meat Lasagna, Tomato Mozzarella Pie, seasonal quiches, empanadas, stuffed eggplant, spanikopita, hummus, and pimento cheese. Plus you can always find Kathy’s basil pesto, green pea pesto, marinara, and meat sauce if you want a little help to make your own meal. Don’t forget the Cowboy crackers.

Kathy has quite the collection of recipes — all stored in a plain but stuffed recipe box — some handwritten treasures and others torn long ago from newspapers and magazines. Other times she and Stephen, who she refers to as her “kitchen husband,” let their creative juices flow based on the fresh ingredients available.

“Soup is to the meal, what the hostesses smile of welcome is to the party. A prelude to the goodness to come.”
 - Louis P. De Gouy, The Soup Book (1949)

Being able to pick up a wholesome dinner or fixin’s for a party is a great asset for the Midtown area, but getting to know Kathy is that little something extra that makes everything taste better.



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800 S. Cooper Street
Memphis, TN
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