Stirring the Pot
“Seinfeld” alum Larry Thomas spreads the word of the craft soups he helped make famous
by Theodora Malison

When ordering soup, there are three essential rules one absolutely must follow: Know your order; have your money ready; and promptly step to the “extreme” left.

At least, that’s how Larry Thomas sees it.

Famous for his iconic slogan, “No soup for you,” actor Larry Thomas—or, as devout “Seinfeld” fans know him, the so-called “Soup Nazi”—visited three area Acme locations last month to—you guessed it—serve soup. In something of a reprisal of his role from the hit TV show, Thomas ladled out various soups made by The Original Soupman, the company now sharing those signature soups with the rest of the world.

“The character is based off of a real man named Al Yeganeh, who still has a soup stand on 55th Street and 8th Avenue,” Thomas says. “It’s a small walk up that became exceptionally famous for its craft soups. Yeganeh went around the world in search of secret spices others didn’t necessarily know about. People eventually began to line up at his stand, and word got out.”

Word traveled so quickly, according to Thomas, that late-night TV host David Letterman and his team of writers joined the throngs of lunchtime regulars who lined up for Yeganeh’s savory concoctions. Thomas suggests the Letterman team takes responsibility for Yeganeh’s infamous nickname, which ended up becoming the basis for one of the most popular episodes in the “Seinfeld” catalog.

“One of the writers named Spike Feresten got hired as a writer on ‘Seinfeld,’ and when he was pitching ideas to the show, he said, ‘I really wish we had the Soup Nazi here,’” Thomas says. “Everyone kind of looked at him funny, but then [‘Seinfeld’ creator] Larry David bought into the idea and said, ‘Well, OK. Let’s make a story out of it.’”

Thomas adds that he never expected to land such an iconic role, especially on one of his favorite TV shows.

“I was an actor living in L.A. in need of a job,” he recalls. “I had been doing ‘beg, borrow and steal’ theater for years. At the time I was in an acting class [with another actor] who set up a meeting between me and the casting director of the show he was currently on. This casting director also happened to be the casting director for ‘Seinfeld’ … so I ended up getting called in and got the part.”

When developing his character, Thomas says the Soup Nazi was unlike anyone he had previously encountered in prior roles. In fact, the night before the audition, there was nothing about his character to review on paper—something he says is a rarity for actors.

“My friend who was a standup comedian told me I had to adlib things,” he adds. “So I started randomly saying and repeating ‘No soup,’ and he liked it, saying it had a ring to it. At first I didn’t see how it had one, but eventually realized it could work. [Yeganeh] was known to say to someone that didn’t follow his rules—‘No soup for you!’ Regardless, Spike came up with a brilliant script.”

Of his time on set with the cast of “Seinfeld,” Thomas laughs while recalling memories with each individual member. He refers to his episode as “a miraculous four days.” Fans might recall that he reprised the role in the series finale.

“It was enjoyable from every standpoint,” he says. “I was already a huge fan of the show, and now here I was working on my favorite show. On top of that, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the rehearsal process of Jerry [Seinfeld], Julia [Louis-Dreyfus] and Michael [Richards]. By Season 7, they were so used to one another. I sort of came out of nowhere and yet they were all nice and incredibly generous to me. Jason [Alexander] was calling me ‘Lah’ (short for Larry) by the middle of the first day.”

Luckily for Thomas, his ties to the show live on. Locally based fans of the show—and, of course, those distinctive soups—got a taste of both on Oct. 8, when Thomas appeared at three different Acme locations in Paoli, Wayne and West Chester. There, he took photos with fans, discussed the legacy behind the Soupman fame and ladled up Yegenah’s widely renowned soup flavors, including the No. 1 seller lobster bisque, as well as chicken gumbo, gluten-free vegan lentil and, the newest flavor, shrimp bisque. And yes, he even uttered the line he made famous.

Thomas was excited to return to the Greater Philadelphia Area, in part because he saw it as an opportunity to revisit old haunts.

“I do love Philly—especially a good cheesesteak ‘wit-wiz’ or ‘wit-out’” he jokes. “The last time I was in Philly, I was in a bar … on South Street. On the TV behind the bar, ‘Seinfeld’ came on, and the show was just starting. A guy at the bar looked at me and said, ‘You look a lot like the Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld.”’ Turns out, the actual Soup Nazi episode was playing on the TV at the bar! The guy looked back at me and goes, ‘That is you!’ It was a really funny experience.”

Photograph courtesy of The Original Soupman