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That’s Life Soup

by Nat Frothingham
Owner Pam Root outside of her restaurant, That’s Life Soup. Photo by Nat Frothingham.
Owner Pam Root outside of her restaurant, That’s Life Soup. Photo by Nat Frothingham.

In the question-and-answer exchange that follows, Montpelier restaurant owner Pam Root of That’s Life Soup talked with The Bridge about her adventure of opening and running a restaurant in downtown Montpelier.
That’s Life Soup—when did you start out in Montpelier?
September 2006.
What was your dream for the restaurant?
My dream was to bring healthy food to the Montpelier community.
I’m a follower of Weston A. Price. He traveled around the world to 29 different cultures—cultures as different as the Eskimos, the South Pacific islanders and Siberians. He found the common denominator in cultures that ate healthy food—fermented food, broths from grass-fed livestock and saturated fats like butter, chicken fat and lard. I wanted to bring that to Montpelier.
What kinds of commitments did you bring to the restaurant?
Oh, philosophical, emotional, financial—that’s true for any business.
What happened in the eight years of running the business?
There was the economic downturn of 2008 to 2009, two floods, new construction that would descend on you without warning. There was an influx of restaurants in Montpelier. There were 22 restaurants when I wrote my business plan. Today there are well over 40 restaurants.
What did that mean for you?
Our population hasn’t increased. The pie is only so big.
You’ve mentioned parking.
Montpelier is marketed as a tourist destination but we don’t have any parking.
I’ve got patrons who say all the time, “We can’t finding parking. Can I park in a private lot?”
“No,” I say.
When are you closing?
June 20.
And your feelings about that?
Well, I have to say one thing. I rather wish that the City of Montpelier would embrace a city plan that works for everybody.
However, I’m actually looking forward to my next adventure. And originally we were going into a restaurant in (New York’s) East Village. What happened was kind of a joke. I was worried about climate change and somebody said, “You should go on a boat—a barge.” That’s what we’re going to do. It’s going to be totally self-sustaining. It’s going to have solar panels, a permaculture garden and a generator that runs on hemp oil.
Where will it be docked?
I think we’re to be docked north of Manhattan. This move was also inspired by a barge that was sailed down Lake Champlain and the Hudson River by Erik Andrus, picking up fresh eggs and Vermont produce and eventually docking in New York City.
Pam, there’s got to be a constructive lesson to take from your experience in Montpelier. What’s the lesson?
There are so many restaurants serving locally-based, healthy food—grass-fed beef, fresh vegetables—and the City of Montpelier could pull these restaurants together and market its downtown that way. And the city could help them solve their common problems. Financially healthy restaurants are the backbone of a community.
What’s been fun about running a restaurant in Montpelier?
I research soup and one soup I discovered is called “Pho,” a Vietnamese noodle soup. And I enhanced it with local meats and vegetables, and it’s become really successful.
The rest of the world has been eating for a long time and every culture eats soup. When you eat soup, it digests very quickly. Even in hotter climates they know that when it’s digested quickly it doesn’t raise your metabolism. So you don’t get hot.
Other positives, Pam?
I have incredible customers who have supported That’s Life Soup and I have fun, smart, interesting employees. And that makes me happy. Soup is nutrient-dense food. This is food people should eat every day.
Bone marrow? I’ve always used bone marrow. Now, people are talking about bone marrow. Grass-fed beef? That’s become popular as well. I’m not a great marketer. I’ve done all these things.
You hear a lot about “farm to table.” That makes me laugh. It’s all farm to table. But the question is, “What farm? What table?” But I do think that people are going to understand the importance of eating nutrient-rich food. They’re going to have to.