Soup’s on for Reno business
Building from an experiment in creative soup making that made $500 in 2008, Gino and Juli Scala’s Reno-based food business is on track to gross $3 million in 2015 with plans for additional expansion.
Great Full Gardens includes two restaurants and the GinoTheSoupMan label of natural soups.
GinoTheSoupMan started with an abundance of home-grown tomatoes and an idea to make a healthier, non-traditional tomato soup, using almond milk, fresh herbs and vegetable broth. The result was delicious.
“You could taste more tomato,” Gino said.
When they realized they had something good — really good — they started giving containers of soup away at the yoga studio where they took classes, drawing the attention of Reno’s Great Basin Food Co-op and an opportunity for commercial distribution.
“We had to really get real with the business,” Gino said.
Later they were approached by Whole Foods to start distributing in their stores in the region.
“Whole Foods came to us,” Gino said.
The natural foods giant took GinoTheSoupMan through a 10-month audit looking at wages paid and business practices as well as ingredients, before beginning distribution at Whole Foods in the region.
Although Gino is the face of GinoTheSoupMan, he’s quick to include Juli as his collaborator in the businesses and creative process, and his staff of 54 for ensuring the success of the enterprises.
Juli took the creative lead in development of their second soup recipe: Coconut Corn & Sweet Potato Chowder.
“In a series of creative moments over the next two years, we made 18 soups in our home,” Gino said.
They test recipes at home, then roll them out at the Great Full Gardens Café & Eatery in the Midtown District, which they opened in 2013 to extend the reach of their soups and their passion for healthy eating, and at Great Full Gardens Express on the campus at the University of Nevada Reno.
Their latest creation, Curried Cauliflower Bisque, is now ready for café trials.
The GinoTheSoupMan label is sold at their restaurants, and the freezer sections of Great Basin Food Co-op, and Whole Foods stores.
In 2015, “we’re definitely going to hit $3 million,” Scala said during a break at the café, which still bustled with lunch business at 2 p.m.
Scala said they hope to open a third Great Full Gardens next year in the south area of Reno with a kitchen large enough to expand the soup production. Whole Foods would like to distribute their soups in more stores in the Bay Area.
Although the Scalas’ success in the food business developed in a few short years, preparation began years ago.
His appreciation for great food started as a child in his mother’s kitchen.
“My mom was a great cook and I was always making soups with her,” he said.
Following any big gathering, they turned the leftovers into soup. Being an Italian family, there were a lot of big gatherings and a lot of soup.
He also learned the benefits of freezing.
“Mom froze everything. It was always better after freezing,” Gino said.
Before he became GinoTheSoupMan, Gino worked in sales for a food brokerage firm in the Bay Area. Some food clients would take him into their kitchens to understand their food production process and end products.
“It was a great platform for learning how to run a restaurant,” Gino said.
He also learned how superior homemade soup bases are compared to commercial products.
Each week, the Great Full Gardens staff chops 5,000 pounds of vegetables that are cooked to a mash and reduced to a glacé that becomes the base of most of their soups.
“People always say there’s something different. What’s different is that we make our bases from scratch.”
The Scalas have also received “masterful help,” Gino said, from the Nevada Small Business Development Center, which supplies demographic studies.
It makes writing tax checks easier since the funds help support the NSBDC, he added.
Beyond a successful food business for the Scalas, Great Full Gardens is a community business.
The Scalas employ 54 people, most of whom are full-time, for a payroll of “well over $1 million,” Gino said. They provide some benefits and hope to increase health coverage in the future.
They consider their staff and clients family.
“Sometimes I get choked up when I think of all the full-time jobs that we have here” and the families that they support, he said.
They also go out of their way to support local produce growers. They have a “don’t say no” policy for any produce brought in by a local farmer who can show that it’s organic. A large white board in the kitchen lists the locally grown produce currently in stock and where it came from.
Great Full Gardens even gets grassroots financing.
“Our investors are two docs in town,” Gino said. “They’re amazing. I don’t use traditional financing.”
The Scalas have enjoyed a lot of success at Great Full Gardens and GinoTheSoupMan, something they attribute to the dedication of their staff and commitment from the community.
“We never take anything for granted,” Gino said.
“I point out many cases of where privately owned companies do just as bad a job as publicly owned companies,” says Reno resident and former teacher Robert (R.D.) Gardner.