“Our world is in trouble and I want to be part of the solution,” says Sara Polon, the co-founder of Soupergirl, a company that specializes in fresh, eco-friendly soups. “This company is part of that. And I can’t compromise on that.”
In October, the founders of Soupergirl appeared on reality show Shark Tank to pitch their product to an audience of millions. Watching oneself on the small screen as Polon did this week was a “surreal experience.” And while Polon didn’t get the funding from the Sharks that she had hoped for, she says she is more than alright with that.
Shark Tank recruiters go from city to city, looking for prospective business owners that will shine on television. “There were hundreds of other businesses there,” said Polon. She went, delivered her elevator pitch, and was picked from a pool of 50,000 other businesses.
“Shark Tank is as it seems on TV,” said Polon. “You get one take. One shot.”
Soupergirl, based out of Washington D.C, is approaching its 10-year anniversary on November 6, 2018. They started in the basement of a now-defunct Spanish restaurant, paying a couple hundred dollars in monthly rent. “It was a dungeon,” said Polon. She used to go an hour and a half early, to go sanitize the place before her mother went there. She boiled, bleached and blanched her way to a clean kitchen.
In 2011 she opened her first storefront. Today, in addition to its two retail locations, Soupergirl products are sold in 50 Whole Foods, 20 Costcos and their shipping program.
“A good bowl of soup is more than soup,” says Polon. “It’s like a hug from your mom, it’s memory, it’s comfort…it’s basically all I eat and I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been in my life.”
In fact, Polon runs Soupergirl with her mother, Marilyn Polon (who Mark Cuban called “Bubby”). As Chief Anxiety Officer, Marilyn Polon takes care of all the worrying. “Any growth we do, she’s there saying, ‘Are you sure we can do this?’ There’s no soothing her!”
When Marilyn Polon is not worrying about soups, she’s tinkering with new recipes as the creative mind behind Soupergirl’s selection. Marilyn Polon might be 72, but eating a soup-based diet for the last 10 years has her looking 50, according to her (admittedly-biased) daughter.
On an average week, Soupergirl will sell 10,000 units of soup a week, wholesale. The most popular soup is Pumpkin bisque. Soupergirl’s seen a definite spike in orders since Shark Tank, to the tune of a 500% increase in the Souper meals program, which is a soup cleanse where people eat only soup for 3-5 days.
And Polon takes food seriously. “The whole concept of kashrut is about connecting with your food,” she says. “Understanding why it’s grown, how its grown, and I take that very seriously. We are about reconnecting with your food.” (Not to mention that Soupergirl is Star-K certified kosher.)
When it comes to being socially responsible, Polon doesn’t just limit it to her food choices. She also takes care of her staff of 40, giving paid time off, sick leave and paying well above minimum wage.
Ultimately, Polon is content with the results of her Shark Tank rejection. “In the Tank, they wanted me to compromise for a better bottom line. I believe in what I do, and I’m not going to compromise that for a deal. I have a staff that depends on me for a living. If I just shut down and go to a factory, you know how many people lose their livelihoods, because I wanted to make an extra dollar?”
Shira Feder is a writer. She’s at email@example.com and @shirafeder