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, Saint 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 Chief Merchandising Officer Terri Bennis, who had remained in contact with and extremely supportive of Leslie 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 global 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 an 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.
Find Venus Soups hot on the soup bar in our Deli Department of your nearest Kowalski's location.