Let’s just get one thing straight right away: I love soup. When I heard about a soup delivery business based in the North Boroughs, I knew I had to find out more. It sounded to me like the greatest idea for a business ever. I had the pleasure of meeting Katie Renkes: owner, chef, and mastermind behind Lovin Spoonful PGH at The Muddy Cup Coffee House in Bellevue in March. She arrived, a quart of Italian Wedding soup in hand (for me!), smile on her face.
Immediately upon meeting Katie, a fellow Bellevue resident, I could tell right away that she is passionate about fresh, healthy food (soup in particular, of course) and she is excited about our North Boroughs. Originally from the Wexford area, she went the way of so many Pittsburghers before her and did stints in various other American metropolises as well as European ones before making her way back to the Steel City and choosing to call Bellevue her home. She comes by her love of the food industry honestly, too. Her mother opened the Wexford Post Office Deli in the mid-1980s (a few decades after the building was literally moved down the street from its original location). Though the business was sold years ago (and the building moved again, this time to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum near Washington, PA), Katie continues to find inspiration for her soups in the recipes her mother used in her store.
Lovin Spoonful PGH (yes, named after the band popular in the 1960s. Katie is passionate about music, too) has only been in business for a few months now, believe it or not. Katie was working in the market research industry until early 2019 when she was laid off and realized that the closing of that door meant the door was open for her to give business ownership a shot. Beginning in December 2019, she was cooking soup for and delivering to just a handful of friends. By January 2020, she had expanded and, at the time of our meeting, was averaging about 16 quarts delivered each week. She typically offers two soups per week. These are prepared and cooked in a commercial kitchen in an Aliquippa restaurant owned by a friend of Katie’s. The restaurant isn’t open on Mondays, so she takes over the kitchen, buying ingredients for and cooking only what she needs to fulfill orders (which can be placed on her website). Food waste is minimal with this approach. She also uses scraps to make stock and hopes to keep up these environmentally friendly and sustainable practices as she moves forward in growing her business. Frozen quarts of soup are delivered on Wednesdays.
Of course, she answered all of my soup recipe questions. Not only does she find inspiration in the recipes her mother used in her shop, she also gets inspired by recipes belonging to both her uncle and her grandmother. She regularly consults cookbooks by household names: Julia Child; Jacques Pepin; Martha Stewart. Katie likes to have one vegetarian or vegan soup option each week, so she also regularly reads through vegan and vegetarian cookbooks for inspiration. She never makes the same soup twice. She is constantly modifying recipes and preparation methods to make her soups more delicious every time she cooks them. She’s thoughtful when asked about her favorite soup to make and, after some internal debate, answers that it is probably her cabbage & sausage soup or her vegan minestrone. When asked which soup is her favorite to eat, she doesn’t hesitate: her mother’s chicken noodle.
Lovin Spoonful is growing steadily but is still manageable enough to be a one-woman show. Renkes has big plans for the future. She would love to get ingredients directly from local farms as much as she is able. And in two years? She would love to see Lovin Spoonful in a brick and mortar location where she could expand her offerings to include other fresh, healthy options like salads and sandwiches. Until she has a physical location, though, she will continue to come to you. Visit her website to place your order (see note below- business is on hold for now), and follow her on Facebook and Instagram for updates.
**Since our meeting, Katie has made some changes in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic. She will be putting things on hold for now, but hopes to be back in action as soon as possible. Check out all of the details in her recent Instagram post.**
Author’s note: the Italian Wedding soup I was gifted was seriously a delight. The meatballs were substantial and could have been a meal on their own. The broth was really flavorful, and the whole soup was well balanced and delicious.