With autumn in the air, people are craving bowls of warm, cozy comfort food.
At Richland’s Stone Soup, pots are always simmering, no matter the time of year.
A different soup is offered daily (tomato pasta, baked potato, creamy mushroom, broccoli cheese, clam chowder and southwestern corn chowder were in rotation recently), in addition to chicken enchilada soup, which is ladled out every day.
Specializing also in sandwiches, burgers and salads, Stone Soup celebrated 21 years in business in August at 703 The Parkway.
It’s one of the longest running businesses in The Parkway.
Stone Soup came to Richland after founders Dave and Pam Leen brought the business from Arizona to Walla Walla in 1999. The Walla Walla restaurant is open at 105 E. Alder St.
The Leens’ Scottsdale cafe was already named Stone Soup when they bought it in 1995, but it could seat only 15 to 20 people.
To boost profits, they decided to offer delivery and drop-off catering, a move that paid off.
“Back then, only pizza places delivered,” said Rich Schleede, owner of the Richland Stone Soup.
Schleede and Dave Leen owned a landscaping and Christmas tree selling business in Portland. Schleede, a Pendleton native, was looking to move closer to home.
“(Dave) had bugged me for years and he wanted me to open three (Stone Soup cafes) in Tri-Cities,” Schleede said.
With the help of a third partner, Richland’s Stone Soup launched in 2001.
The team subsequently ran out of steam for additional Tri-City locations and the third partner later dropped out, but Schleede gained ownership of the Richland shop and has been at the helm ever since.
Now 57, and having recently purchased the building Stone Soup occupies, he’s not ready to slow down.
Schleede and his wife, Tina, both commute from Walla Walla six days a week to work alongside their five-person crew for eight to 12 hours per day.
Schleede said he loves the fast pace.
“We basically make it on the lunch rush,” he said.
Schleede recalled there being only three restaurants at The Parkway when he arrived at the former Huck’s Floor Coverings building, which before that had been an ice cream parlor.
He said he’s seen at least 20 other restaurants come and go around him over the years.
His secrets to success?
“We treat people good, and we give them a good product at a fair price,” he said, adding that quality service and genuine friendliness create a “homey” atmosphere for customers.
He thinks another key factor is that “our food isn’t fancy.”
He pointed out that the restaurant’s atmosphere itself isn’t fancy either, indicating the linoleum tile floors from the Huck’s Floor Coverings days.
“This is a real dive,” he said, describing it as “mom and pop.”
“We have kind of a unique menu, kind of old style,” Schleede said. “I’ve had people come from New York and say it’s like what you get in a New York deli – chicken salad, egg salad, smoked turkey salad, tons of vegetarian varieties.”
Schleede makes his own veggie patty in-house and stocks a variety of plant-based meat substitutes that enable customers to make almost any menu item vegetarian.
Their bread is made in Walla Walla by Wheatland Bakery.
“We also have this little cookie we add to each plate, just a sweet touch,” he said. “It’s the nicest little cookie made out of cake mix and is a perfect ending to the meal. It’s amazing how that little touch goes so far with people.”
Though the ambiance is humble, Stone Soup’s food has a loyal following.
Doug and Christine Klein, who used to own a nearby dental office, were in line the first day Stone Soup opened. It fast became a several-times-a-week habit.
They said the friendly staff and delicious food kept them coming back.
“We strongly believe in supporting local business – it’s very important to us. This has been a very nice one to support,” Christine said. “It’s still our favorite.”
Now retired and living in Pasco, they still regularly make the drive for lunch.
“We’ve made acquaintance with a lot of people (Rich)’s had working here over the years. I think the Richland community is small enough that you see friends here, it’s a really nice meeting place,” Doug said.
Being vegetarians, they voiced their appreciation for the veg-friendly menu, noting that, in their experience, Stone Soup is among the best in Tri-Cities.
Christine loves the Summer Salad and said she could eat it every day.
Doug usually gets a sandwich and soup. He said the New Yorker or Reuben sandwiches are his favorites.
A friend they’ve made during their frequent visits is Don Perry, another regular who has likewise been coming to Stone Soup for 20 years.
It started as a lunch date for him and his late wife. They used to stop in regularly during her cancer treatments.
“You can’t really pick one favorite out of the entourage,” he said of the menu, though he added he most frequently orders an egg and pastrami sandwich. He said of all his favorite restaurants, it is tops.
“Friends and service. Good food, good atmosphere. It’s just a comfortable place to be,” Perry said.
Schleede said he has hundreds of customers who have been coming for 15 or more years, though he added that they are working on trying to attract a younger crowd.
The community-gathering aspect of Stone Soup evokes its namesake story.
The old story goes that during the Hundred Years’ War in France, three battle-weary and hungry soldiers stopped in a village on their way home. The townspeople, their larders thin from wartime, said they had nothing to give.
In desperation, the soldiers set up camp in the town square, found a large cauldron and filled it with creek water, placing stones inside. Naturally, people asked what they were doing, to which they replied, “Making stone soup, but it would be better with some seasonings…”
Soon some herbs were provided and as the pleasant aroma rose, more townspeople began making contributions until everyone had added something to the pot. With a little something from everyone, the stone soup transformed into the best meal all had experienced in years.
Schleede said he’d like to have a mural done in the restaurant one day depicting the soldiers and townsfolk gathered around the cauldron sharing the meal.
Though the Covid-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions and inflation have challenged the restaurant, he said Stone Soup is making a comeback.
The cafe utilizes Chow Now for pickup orders and replaced its delivery drivers with Door Dash, which, despite the fees, has helped make up for the loss of business clients who used to hire more catering services prior to the pandemic.
Stone Soup is hiring and Schleede said the cafe’s positive atmosphere extends behind the counter.
“We make it fun to work and have a good time, always laughing and joking,” he said. “We become like family.”
The positions are part time, two to four days per week, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Stone Soup: 703 The Parkway, Richland; 509-943-4542; stonesoupcafe.net; Facebook. Hours: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.
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