MONROE, Conn. -- Ron Lee stepped inside the doors of the soon-to-be-closed delicatessen in Monroe and knew instantly. The site provided the perfect locale, size and furnishings to fulfill his lifetime dream.
Lee, a resident of Monroe, opened Soup Thyme at 450 Monroe Turnpike in 2005. Now, 12 years later, the award-winning restaurant has become a favorite for locals, business people and even visitors seeking soups that simply can’t be found anywhere else in the region.
- Who : Ron Lee, Monroe Resident
- What : Owner Soup Thyme in Monroe
- Did you know?: January is National Soup Month
- Info : Click here for the Soup Thyme website
“It was always a dream of mine to have a soup restaurant,’’ said Lee, who worked as private chef for a Fairfield family of five before opening Soup Thyme. “I visualized it and was looking for a space to open up. As soon as I opened the door, I knew this was it. I didn’t know anything about Monroe at the time.”
Soup Thyme is open Mondays through Fridays from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. and Saturdays until 4 p.m. It also offers salads, paninis and sandwiches. It has a small eat-in space, but most visitors take out Lee’s wide assortment of soups to enjoy at home.
Lee worked for nearly nine years in banking and part-time for the Fairfield family. He left banking to work as a full-time private chef. “I enjoyed my time at the bank,’’ Lee said. “But the banking world changed a lot. Bigger banks were coming in. My wife was in nursing school, and I thought a lot about job security. I valued the relationships that I had with the customers, but just didn’t feel the big banks had that same mindset. I thought it was time to get out.”
Lee enjoyed his work as a private chef, but also longed to open his restaurant geared toward soup. “I thought about it since I was in my 20s,’’ said Lee, who is now 53. “I didn’t want to leave as private chef, but this was my dream. My daughter was going to college, and I thought this was a good time do this.”
Lee had the business acumen from his banking background. From the beginning, he strove for perfection with every soup creation. “There are no shortcuts,’’ Lee said. “All the stock is homemade. It’s the best of everything. This is what I was brought up on. My rule is if I don’t eat it, no one is eating it. I’m real stickler about things being homemade and fresh.”
Lee makes 15 to 20 soups each day. His menu consists of six to seven staples -- including chicken noodle -- but he also varies his menu. Three assistants help with prep work, and Lee takes over from there. He begins each day at 5:30 a.m. and stays until well beyond the close of business.
“I just make what’s in my head,’’ Lee said. “A lot of times I’ll be driving to work and I’ll create something. I just play it by ear every day.”
He’s unafraid to take chances. A recent menu included baked potato soup, chicken artichoke with sun-dried tomato, macaroni and cheese, chicken marsala and chicken spinach gorgonzola.
“One of the things I love is creativity,’’ Lee said. “My sister, Kim, makes the salads and we have a wide assortment of them as well. I don’t like to have a stale menu. I like it to be different every day.”
The first soup Lee made was chicken noodle, ‘’like the kind your grandmother made,’’ he said. He spun ideas off that, including a chicken pot pie soup that won an award as the best in Connecticut at a recent Chowder Fest. Lee now makes 20 gallons a day of the soup. Another favorite for Lee is a stuffed cabbage soup that he learned from his grandmother.
Most reviews are resoundingly positive. “Such a basic concept, but it's executed to perfection,’’ one reviewer wrote on Yelp! “Everything about this place is done right.”
That sounds right to Lee, who strives for perfection with each and every soup.
“This is my passion,’’ Lee said. “I’m here every day, and customers know they can talk to me. I just know what people like. We all work very hard, and I try to take care of my customers and my employees. I think being involved 100 percent is key.”
For more information on Soup Thyme, click here to visit its website.
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