Melissa Elsmo

“Once you add chicken to a soup it is just chicken soup,” says Karl Bader, of Karl’s Craft Soup, as he chops peppers, “but focusing on vegetables forces me to isolate the best recipes and techniques to build creative flavors.”

Bader admits he started his artisan food business in reverse. The passionate cook started with a brick and mortar shop (the former S3 Kitchen on Oak Park Ave) before transitioning out of restaurant ownership a decade ago. After closing his restaurant, Bader focused on catering and personal chef work. Working as a personal chef often meant cooking meals for people with heath concerns and dietary restrictions. As a result of working with clients with special dietary needs, Bader developed an affinity for making vegetarian soups and recognized a need for healthy soups among his loyal fans and customers. He started a weekly soup club and eventually demand for his product grew so large that Bader needed to find a commercial kitchen to support his soup making success.

In that moment Karl’s Craft Soup was officially born.

Bader tried several shared kitchens before finding his way to the Sugar Beet Schoolhouse and enjoys spending time at the shared kitchen and event space located in River Forest.

“I cannot tell you how much I love cooking at Sugar Beet;” says Bader, “its a collaborative environment that inspires creativity and the other tenants give off great energy!”

Today, Bader has a two pronged approach to his artisan soup business. He sells his hand-crafted soups at several Chicago farmers markets during the summer months and offers his soups for sale locally year round.

And, get this, his offerings are primarily vegan and gluten free. 

Embracing this unique brand of niche cookery came as a natural result of his farmers market focused business. Spending time at the markets allowed Bader to cultivate meaningful relationships with farmers growing quality products and Bader began incorporating locally grown produce into his recipes. Customers took notice and appreciated the tasty link between Karl’s Craft Soups and the farmers at the market.

“I used to cook with meat more often,” says Bader, “but  focusing on flavorful seasonal produce has really minimized the need for meat in my recipes.”

Limiting himself to vegan and gluten-free soups forces Bader to boost flavor in creative ways. His ever popular tomato and cheddar cheese soup has all the hallmarks of the classic grilled cheese and tomato soup combo without the gluten, while his vegan black bean soup gets a spicy kick from chipotle chilies. His vegan and gluten-free Moroccan Chickpea soup relies on a custom LFK spice blend from Lemaster Family Kitchen to bring it to life. Bader’s soups are not short on flavor.

As counter-intuitive as it may sound, Karl’s Craft Soup does about 80% of its annual business between May and October. During that time Bader simmers more than 1000 bowls of soup per week. Production dips in the winter when there are fewer farmers markets available, but savvy soup lovers know where to get Karl’s Craft Soups all year long. 

Léa French Street Food partners with Bader to provide one of their weekly vegetarian soup offerings, while Sugar Beet Food Co-Op offers 2 flavors of Karl’s Craft Soup in pre-packaged 12-ounce portions every week. 

“Most recently I’ve partnered with The Happy Apple Pie Shop in Oak Park;” say Bader, “its a new relationship, but they will likely have 1-2 soups on hand weekly.”

Bader considers soup to be the ultimate comfort food and never tires of making it. He credits his soupy success to his dedicated customers; once Bader proves himself they keep coming back for more. Folks appreciate the wide variety of soups Bader offers and have learned to trust the artisan brand.

Want to get in on the Karl’s Craft Soup action? Follow Karl Bader on Instagram @soupison and like Karl’s Craft Soup on Facebook. He’ll keep you in the loop about the soups he has has available each week and where to find them.

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