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Eat and Drink

Hale and Hearty' Bushwick commissary: Behind the scenes at the secret soup kitchen

Soup's on!

Before you sample a new soup at Hale and Hearty (and yes, trying it out is encouraged) or sip up your daily favorite, go behind the scenes to see where all that soup is coming from.

Hale and Hearty's commissary kitchen at 276 Stagg St. in Bushwick is closed to the public, but amNewYork took an exclusive tour to see where your liquid lunch is created.

First, some history ...

Hale & Hearty was founded in 1990 on
Photo Credit: Rhonda Vanover

Hale & Hearty was founded in 1990 on the Upper East Side by brothers Andrew Schnipper and Jonathan Schnipper, now of the popular lunch spot -- you guessed it -- Schnippers.

The original store on 64th and Lexington Avenue specialized in catering and healthy lunch foods, with soup being just one of the menu items.

After selling the business briefly, the brothers bought it back in 1995 and made it all about sippable lunches. At that time, an 8 oz. soup cost just $1.95, according to The New York Times.

''That was before the 'Seinfeld' episode,'' Jonathan Schnipper said in a November 1996 New York Times article, saying that the customers' desire for soup led Hale & Hearty to devote themselves primarily to a liquid lunch. ''It just brought a ton of soup interest in Manhattan,'' he said.

New Yorkers started wanting more and more soup, and cooking soup at the original store was becoming impossible to help fit New Yorker's growing soup needs. In 1996, the business relocated to Chelsea Market where it produced giant kettles of soup each day to feed uptown and downtown Manhattanites and soon after, Brooklynites too. Pictured above was the formerly popular World Trade Center Hale & Hearty, which opened in late 1996 and was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks.

After 10 years, the Schippers sold their soupy starter spot. CEO Andy Taylor now leads the business, and head chef Bruce Rogers creates hundreds of soup recipes to feed the hungry lunchtime masses.

Hale & Hearty continued to grow and in 2002 production increased to food service in cafeterias, cafes and food retailers beyond the Hale & Hearty shops in New York. Large demand and a desire to keep the soups as fresh and homemade as possible led the production to relocate to a massive 20,000-square-foot Bushwick commissary kitchen in 2008, though the corporate offices are still in Chelsea Market.

Since its founding 20 years ago, Hale & Hearty has expanded to 32 stores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, one store on Long Island and another in Boston. The chain plans to grow even further outside of New York, but all the soups still come from the commissary, which employees 70 skilled soup makers, some who have been with the company since the start.

The original Hale and Hearty on 64th Street can be seen in early 'Friends' episodes

This New York City street shot used in
Photo Credit: Pix 11

This New York City street shot used in early transitions during some "Friends" episodes shows the first Hale & Hearty on Lexington Avenue.

Meet Chef Bruce

Executive chef Bruce Rogers has created more than
Photo Credit: Hale and Hearty

Executive chef Bruce Rogers has created more than 500 types of soup for Hale & Hearty. Brooklyn born and raised, Rogers oversees production of all of the company's soups, creates new recipes and helps scale those as well as donated star chef recipes (including soups by April Bloomfield and Mario Batali) to serve the masses. Rogers has never served a soup he didn't like, though his rendition of tuna noodle casserole was quickly nixed off Hale & Hearty's menus. Take a look around the commissary kitchen with Chef Bruce ...

Every morning starts with a USDA inspection

Before dawn, a USDA inspector will check out
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Before dawn, a USDA inspector will check out the commissary to make sure that everything is up to code. These red doors signify that this room is an area of cross-contamination, meaning raw meat is inside, while another room is packed separately with fresh and frozen vegetables. Once everything checks out, soup production starts.

Step into the pantry

It's filled with dried goods, seasoning and spices
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

It's filled with dried goods, seasoning and spices that are all used in the soups.

Many of the products used in Hale & Hearty's soups are the same brands you'd use at home

Uncle Ben's rice and De Cecco pasta, for
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Uncle Ben's rice and De Cecco pasta, for example, make their way into Hale & Hearty's most popular recipes. They've also had a special curly egg noodle developed that doesn't get soggy while sitting in soup.

Beans are essential to Hale & Hearty's success

Hale & Hearty goes through two tons of
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Hale & Hearty goes through two tons of dried white beans a year, as well as massive quantities of additional bean varieties.

Produce is delivered fresh every morning

Kale, like this, is de-stemmed and chopped by
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Kale, like this, is de-stemmed and chopped by hand. Hale & Hearty tries to source their fresh vegetables from local farms and producers on Long Island and the greater New York area.

Everything is processed by hand

This ensures all the ingredients are fresh.
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

This ensures all the ingredients are fresh.

Almost the entire commissary is refrigerated, keeping everything cool and safe

Actually, it gets really, really cold in there.
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Actually, it gets really, really cold in there. Workers spend all day bundled up, chopping vegetables for your soups.

Your potatoes are peeled by diamonds

This machine loaded by diamond sandpaper is used
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

This machine loaded by diamond sandpaper is used on vegetables with rough skins.

A special machine dices vegetables evenly

The machine is fed whole potatoes and carrots
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

The machine is fed whole potatoes and carrots by hand, but saves a lot of manual labor by doing the actual chopping.

Every ingredient on the line follows a very specific recipe

This cream has been selected for lobster bisque,
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

This cream has been selected for lobster bisque, the recipe for which is posted above. The recipe card follows the ingredients throughout the production process.

Beyond the prep kitchen is the soup room, which smells like every amazing type of soup combined

It's also the only non-chilled room on the
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

It's also the only non-chilled room on the whole production floor, so it's extra cozy.

Here, vegetables and meat are roasted and stock is made

This is where the flavor happens.
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

This is where the flavor happens.

It's also all about the stock

Made from antibiotic-free chicken backs and necks, Hale
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Made from antibiotic-free chicken backs and necks, Hale & Hearty's chicken stock is essential in several soup recipes. The commissary goes through 7,000 lbs. of chicken bones each day, in addition to six tons of onions and five tons each of celery and carrots.

7,000 tons of soup are made here each day

The commissary makes more than 25 different types
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

The commissary makes more than 25 different types of soup. Stores around the city will put in their requests by early afternoon to have fresh soup trucked over after rush hour for the next day's service.

And the largest kettle holds 500 gallons of soup

That's basically a year's worth of lunch.
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

That's basically a year's worth of lunch.

A stove in the prep kitchen works for testing small, five gallon recipes

Before recipes are made to scale, they can
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Before recipes are made to scale, they can be tested here. The stove also functions to prepare the cooks' staff meal.

Once soup is cooked, it's packaged in a bag

It may not look as appealing as the
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

It may not look as appealing as the soup in a cup, but it's the exact same soup. And it's never frozen. The soup passes through an X-ray to confirm that the consistency is correct and there are no strange objects in the soup.

Soups are then cooled in an ice bath

In order to preserve the flavor and food
Photo Credit: Hale & Hearty

In order to preserve the flavor and food safety of the soups, they're slowly cooled in a cold bath at just-above-freezing temperatures.

The packaged soups are almost ready to go out

They're trucked out to stores all over the
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

They're trucked out to stores all over the city after rush hour after getting packaged to order. The soup bags stay fresh in a refrigerator or walk-in for about one month.

And they're ready to go.

Soup's on, NYC.
Photo Credit: Melissa Kravitz

Soup's on, NYC.

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