When Souplantation closed all locations nationwide amid the onset of the pandemic in 2020, it took the La Mesa location with it. But the community never forgot.
An adult daycare center decided to lease the vacated spot. For a while afterward, the “Souplantation” sign remained outside.
Hannah Romita, who works with Golden Life Adult Day Health Care Center, and is the restaurant's kitchen manager, told NBC 7 that almost every day more than 10 people would stop by the location and ask them the same question: When is Souplantation reopening?
"Every single person was so excited and so happy and I even saw tears on their face when I told them that yeah, we're gonna open," said Romita.
"It's going to take a long time, we've got to follow these instructions. And they [Souplantation fans] were so positive. They were like, 'Yes, just do it, we are here, we're gonna wait until the end, just do it,'" Romita told NBC 7.
"This is where our energy comes from," she added.
The outpouring of support for Souplantation surprised Romita, who had never eaten at Souplantation before and had no plans of opening a restaurant. But life doesn’t always work out as planned – and that’s not always a bad thing.
After so many inquiries from Souplantation fans, Romita and her team decided to find a way to give the people – many of them La Mesans – their restaurant back.
“The difference between Souplantation as a business and the other businesses is just the fact that this business has a community, it has a heart – a soul,” Romita said.
Souplantation has a memory that belongs to the community, she added.
The restaurant's Instagram following has consistently grown, already reaching more than 15,000 followers while the business has yet to open or even create more than a few posts. Under each post is a barrage of support -- some doubters -- but mostly loyal fans open to this new kind of Souplantation.
Romita's team connected with the old restaurant's previous owners and learned they wanted nothing to do with the business. The community is the force bringing it back, Romita strongly believes.
“Personally, I would say I’m just an instrument that listens to the community and is doing the job they need to get the place to come back again,” she said.
What will the new Souplantation menu be like?
When it does open, Souplantation fans can expect the menu to stay the same as before, according to Romita. A soup du jour may even make an appearance, something the old restaurant didn't feature. Overall, they are focusing on making good quality food, she said.
A new kind of business model
This time, fans will even be able to bring their geriatric guests. The location will open for the first half of the day as an adult daycare health facility in a separate section of the building. When that closes, the restaurant opens. The kitchen will be closed and seniors will not be able to interact with Souplantation at all during that time. Customers will not even know the senior facility exists, Romita said.
Some have expressed concern about cleanliness of the new business model. Romita stressed that they are taking great care to ensure the restaurant and facilities are extremely sanitary and separated.
What will the official name be?
The managers are working on getting the rights to use "Souplantation.SD" for the name of the restaurant.
When will Souplantation reopen?
As of September 2022, the inside of the restaurant is not near opening. They have to completely renew the kitchen and fix many issues that were left by previous owners. Equipment will need to be replaced and plumbing will need to be fixed, Romita said. With piled-up permits left from the former restaurant and modern building codes, it will be quite some time before the restaurant can fully open.
There is no set date right now because much of the renovation depends on how fast other entities move, such as city and state entities.
But there is progress. When NBC 7 toured the location in August, the bathrooms had recently been renovated, roomy and ready. The restaurant had announced earlier in the year that they would open July 4, but obviously, that date had to be pushed back.
Currently, the restaurant needs more investors, Romita said. There are many opportunities for anyone who wants to invest with them and grow the business, she said.
"It's a big ship," Romita said. It takes money, time and effort, she emphasized.
NBC 7 asked Romita what she'll feel when the restaurant finally opens after being closed since the pandemic began.
"We are offering for them to come back to life -- to social life. We've been suffering a lot, alone, many of us lost a lot," Romita said. "And we believe that this is the time of celebrating and joy."
Will they open other locations?
Souplantation fans are willing to drive many miles to get their favorite dish. Taking a glance at their Instagram's comments, folks from Temecula, Los Angeles, Florida, Arizona and beyond are clamoring for the chance to taste the recipes they miss.
NBC 7 asked Romita if she can see other locations opening in the future.
"It will take time. But of course, if it works well -- I mean, it did work before -- so why not? There's no reason it won't as long as there's fans," Romita answered.
"They love it, they support the business, it's all for them actually," Romita said, referring to Souplantation's loyal fans.