Return to Glory
Posted: Friday, August 1, 2014
Long-time Kowalski's customers may have noticed the return of one of their favorites (and ours!) to the Deli Department. Venus Gourmet Soups has returned with more great flavors than ever before.
White Bear Lake native Leslie Vadnais' stellar soup selections were first introduced at Kowalski's in 2006. Originally available in 24 oz. cups, the soups were such a sensation that Kowalski's asked for bulk product to sell at the soup bars almost immediately. Demand from happy customers was so great that Leslie found it impossible to keep up; less than a year after their debut, Venus Soups were pulled from the markets. Leslie, a long-time shopper at the original Grand Avenue Kowalski's, says this was "the most painful part" of her story.
For many people this may have been the end of a sad story. Not so for Leslie. In the years that followed, the private caterer devoted herself to her growing business serving high-profile clientele in Dellwood, St. Paul and Sunfish Lake (the likes of Minnesota Public Radio's Garrison Keillor and director of the movie Prairie Home Companion, Bob Altman, have both called Leslie "chef"). She also worked on new soup recipes, went to St. Thomas for business counseling and sought advice from colleagues, family, friends and clients. Leslie credits one client in particular with having a big impact on her; the late Vince Flynn was one of her greatest supporters. While at the time he was dealing with his own difficult health issues, Leslie says of the author, "He was one of the ones who most inspired me to continue."
While she is quick to point to the support she received from others, the chef is modest about her own efforts. In the end, Leslie succeeded because she never gave up. In 2013, seven years after her product was first available at Kowalski's, she was able to solve the production problems that had plagued her years before. Kowalski's Vice President of Perishable Foods, Terri Bennis, who had remained in contact with and extremely supportive of Vadnais over the years, had never given up hope on bringing Leslie's soups back someday and was thrilled to help Leslie to reintroduce her phenomenal flavors to Kowalski's customers.
All of Venus' soups – many of which have an exciting ethnic twist – are vegetarian, something Leslie says happened quite by accident (an issue with chicken broth somewhat forced her to experiment without it). As a result, Venus Soups have intense flavor from actual ingredients like tomatoes, lemons, mushrooms, beans, dates, carrots, nuts and spices. Once again, Kowalski's customers can't seem to get enough.
Look for these customer favorite Venus Gourmet Soups on the Soup Bar in your local Kowalski's:
BRAZILIAN STEW – This rich and hearty gluten-free vegan stew is made with green and red bell peppers, ground cashews and finished with coconut milk.
COCONUT CURRY – A gluten-free vegan soup, this is creamy and mildly sweet with red bell peppers, spinach and coconut milk.
CREAMY LEMON – Made with carrots, celery, onions, spinach and cream, this exceptional soup has a distinct and unique lemon flavor.
TOMATO BISQUE – This gluten-free soup is naturally sweetened with tomatoes, cream, onions, butter and a hint of dill.
Also look for Moroccan Stew, Buffalo Chowder, Red Bean Chili, Cream of Mushroom and Vegan Tortilla. Soup selection varies daily by store.