Stirring the Pot
Best known for his role as the so-called Soup Nazi, “Seinfeld” alum Larry Thomas returns to Philadelphia this weekend to spread 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”—will be showing a much more placid side of himself on October 8, when he visits three area Acme locations to—you guessed it—serve soup. In something of a reprisal of his role on the hit TV show, Thomas will be ladling 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 states. “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 very rare 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.

“You can really see where ‘Seinfeld’ took off as a show that had primarily one story line, that in later seasons, evolved to three or four all coming together,” he continues, regarding how the writing team revolutionized the show’s distinctive formula. “Allowing different plotlines to seamlessly come together ultimately made the show better and even more entertaining.”

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 show’s 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’ (abbreviation for Larry) by the middle of the first day.”

Thomas also mentions the sweet and lively personality of Louis-Dreyfus, who welcomed him with frequent compliments—and even a spontaneous jam session, of sorts.

“Every time you made Julia laugh, she would actually let you know,” he states. “The first rehearsal, she took me by surprise when she came in and started playing metal drums on the counter. On a purely artistic level, it was like watching pure magic. Everyone in the cast was so creative.”

Luckily for Thomas, his ties to the show live on. Locally based fans of the show—and, of course, those distinctive soups—can get another taste of both this weekend, when he will appear at three different Acme locations in Paoli, Wayne and West Chester. There, he will take photos with fans, discuss the legacy behind the Soupman fame and ladle soup. And yes, he even promises to utter the line he made famous: “No soup for you!”

“These are the actual same soups at the 55th Street stand,” he adds, saying the idea behind mass producing Yeganeh’s soups didn’t come to fruition till the advent of Tetra Carton technology, which holds a shelf life of two years. “Al would’ve never sold his soup in a can, because he’s serious about the quality. Now markets all over the country are beginning to carry his soup, because when you sample it, everyone’s faces light up in surprise of how delicious it is. It’s not your traditional soup-aisle soup—it’s extra special.”

Thomas adds his excitement in returning to the Greater Philadelphia Area to serve 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. He also sees it as an opportunity to revisit old haunts.

“I do love Philly—especially a good cheeseteak ‘wit-whiz’ or ‘wit-out’” he jokes. “The last time I was in Philly, I was in a bar [the since shuttered Cheers to You] 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.

“I’m happy I get to work with The Original Soupman,” he continues. “It’s kind of fun having the soup in my life, because it’s actually why my episode exists. I really encourage people to come out to any of the Acme locations and give our soup a try. I can guarantee you’ll be back for more.”

This Saturday, Oct. 8, Larry Thomas will be ladling soups, signing autographs and taking photographs with fans at three Acme locations in the Greater Philadelphia Area: Acme Paoli at 39 Leopard Road in Paoli, from 11 a.m. to noon (the soup demo will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.); Acme Devon at 700 W. Lancaster Avenue in Wayne, from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. (the soup demo will run from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.); at Acme Goshen at 907 Paoli Pike in West Chester, from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. (the soup demo will run from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.).

Photograph courtesy of The Original Soupman