Food

Soup’s On in D.C., Thanks to One Jamaican’s Devotion to Gourmet Broths

D.C. diners lean toward seafood, burgers, chili half-smokes and soul food but if Donna Henry, the owner of Soup Up in Northwest, has her way, gourmet soup will take its place in the ranks of haute cuisine within the District.

“Soup encompasses everything,” Henry said. “As our bodies get older, they need more nutrients. Soup puts everything together.”

Henry first opened Soup Up in Union Market in 2012. A few years later, she opened her first brick-and-mortar store in Bethesda but shut down in less than a year. She went back to Union Market but never lost her desire for a full-service restaurant. In 2018, Soup Up re-opened in a building on Kennedy Street in Northwest.

The Philosophy of Soup

Henry hails from Jamaica and said in her early years, relatives would make soup for meals and she became hooked on it as the heart of her cuisine. She moved to New York City and kept making it a point to eat soup. For years, she worked in the communications industry. When she moved to the District from New York decades later, she made the decision to take a chance and open a soup eatery.

“I like soup but at the grocery store there was too much sodium in the canned soups,” she said. “I know the sodium keeps the canned soups edible but the shelf life of a can of soup can be weeks. At my restaurant, my soups last only a few days. I want to make sure that the soup is fresh.”

Henry said she adds various spices, herbs and uncommon ingredients to make her soups unique. Plus, soup is a comforting, simple meal to make, she said.

At her establishment, customers can select from among three soups of the day. Sometimes, Go-Go Gumbo, a creamy white bean with roasted chicken, or her lasagna soup, count as the available options. Also on the menu, Henry offers handcrafted spring rolls, sandwiches and wraps, jerk chicken wings and even a brunch replete with waffles, grits and grilled cheese sandwiches. Henry said all of her menu items are “from the farmer to the table” and have no additives, preservatives, dairy or oil.

A ‘Souper’ Future

Henry said she wants to expand her business to the Greater Washington Area’s three airports.

“Airport food is no good,” she said. “The food is not good enough to travel on. I can bring a better and a healthier option for travelers.”

Henry said restaurants in hospitals and military installations also count as venues for the future. The Ward 7 resident said building a restaurant east of the Anacostia River, perhaps in Ward 8, has long been a goal.

“I see growth with Soup Up,” she said. “I will work hard to continue to expand in other markets.”

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