Jerry Seinfeld made him famous and nicknamed him the �Soup Nazi� because of his strict rules of etiquette imposed before being allowed to buy soup from his tiny take-out restaurant, bristles at the nickname.
�I have a lot of intelligent top-class customers. A lot of Jewish customers. That is so hateful.�
Al Yegenah is the owner of the International Soup Kitchen in Manhattan. He is the original �soup man�. Many have tried to imitate. One group developed a chain of franchises called �Soup Nutsy�.
To him soup is �holy� and he insists that customers follow his simple rules to keep the long lines moving.
Have your money ready, place your order, and move to the left. Keep moving, no small talk, and don't clog the line.
�The soup, it is my life� he said.
�I am the chef, counterman, cashier, and quality control,� he lists a few of his many functions. He works 21 hours a day and has dark circles under his eyes to prove it. The soup kitchen is closed on weekends when he allows himself an extra hour of sleep.
He is his number one critic. He speaks dismissively of a batch not up to his high standards. Soup that everyone else would say is �to die for.�
The Zagat dining guide rates the International Soup Kitchen, a take-out only, higher that some of the finest restaurants in New York City.
Al Yegenah closes the doors of his restaurant from May until October and searches the world for the finest ingredients for the over 200 soups that he makes.
�Everything is old fashioned, slow cooking,� he says.
The costly ingredients that he uses and the attention he gives to his soup pays off.
�The customer comes back,�he says. �I know what I am doing.�
Along with the soup, Yegenah gives extra �gifts� to complete the meal- bread, fruit, and chocolate. He insists on bread delivery every hour- so the bread is always fresh. He deals with 5 fruit companies and personally inspects each case that arrives.
If a customer tries to engage the soup man in idle chatter, they are not likely to get the extras.
If you ask for bread, he will charge you $2.
�To get bread, do not ask.�
�My loyal customers are trained and know how to get everything. We have a powerful mental connection.�
If a customer fails to quickly move to the left after placing his order, he is likely to get a glare from Yegenah and a wordless gesture with his head to move over.
If a customer gets to the front of the line undecided about which soup to choose and stands there debating to himself for too long, he may be kicked out of line with Yegenah's dismissive, "Next!" The same word Elaine on Seinfeld heard when she was kicked out of line for violating all of the rules.
Ask him a question and the answer maybe a finger pointed at a small sign taped to the cash register stating, "I don't know."
"I am not mean," he insists. "When people are waiting as long as an hour sometimes in the rain or snow, they need transactions to go quickly."
Speedy service is his way of being courteous.
New Yorkers are known to go out of their way to get to the best places to eat. With the best soup in town, they seek him out.
Now, with the publicity generated by Seinfeld, tourists and curiosity seekers line up, too. This has thrown off the orderliness of his world.
"Before Seinfeld, I concentrate. I do my work." Now he gets impatient with customers who are ruder than he could ever be.
"They curse, they call the name Soup Nazi."
He has nothing good to say about Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld made him famous, most people would have killed for the exposure. He calls him Jerry the Clown.
The portrayal of his demeanor on the Seinfeld episode is not what seems to bother him. When Larry Thomas, the actor that played him on the show, stopped by, Al shook his hand and told him he was a good actor.
It is the being tagged with the name "Nazi" and the crowds of the curious, including the idiots that do not know how to behave that the show has sent his way.
When Jerry Seinfeld visited him to apologize. Al Yegenah cursed him to his face.
The real Kramer- Larry Kramer, who runs a tour of Seinfeld's New York City, includes a stop at Al's International Soup Kitchen. One morning, he found a sign he made that lists the rules for being served at the soup kitchen splattered with paint. Kramer suspected Al Yegenah.
Al Yegenah has taken advantage of his fame, a little bit. He appeared of QVC and sold some of his soup mixes. He plans to start franchising.
Do loyal customers mind not getting service with a smile?
�I just want the soup. In New York, a city full of eccentrics, who cares if the soup man is a little crazy.�