Hopkins, Minn. — Minding her soups one day at the Pekoe and Java coffee shop, Beth-Alison Bataille heard a customer jokingly refer to her as the “soup Nazi.”

“It may have been funny on Seinfeld,” but not to Bataille, of German heritage.

She preferred ‘Soup Goddess,’ now the brand name of her frozen, ready-to-eat vegetarian soups being distributed to coffee shops, delis and food services across the Midwest.

Soup Goddess comes in African peanut, ginger carrot, cream of lentil, sweet potato curry, Moscow mushroom and Tuscan multi-bean flavors. All six varieties include Minnesota ingredients, Bataille says, and are all-natural. She is negotiating with an organic farmer for custom-grown herbs to flavor the soups.

Bataille first noticed the demand for her soups when she served as treasurer of the Minnesota Coffee Shop Association. Other shop owners wanted ready-to-eat vegetarian soups like Bataille was serving, but they were not easy to find.

“I started finding out what it would take to produce them,” she says. “I made a thousand phone calls” investigating ingredient sources, package sizes and much more.

Then Bataille began working with Charan Wadhawan, AURI food scientist in Crookston, to scale up her recipes. There was a hitch: the recipes had never been written down. Bataille started writing, and the large-scale results were surprisingly good, she says. Wadhawan also helped with nutrition labeling and taste testing.

Bataille was concerned that by “going to a large batch, we would reduce quality.” The soups have to be able to retain flavor and texture even when heated up and cooled down numerous times in a typical coffee-shop kitchen, she says.

Captain Ken’s in St. Paul produces and packages the soups. The first production run was in July 2001 — not a great soup sales month, but demand was adequate and Bataille received “very pleasant reactions.” A River Falls, Wis. deli owner reported that the 5-pound portions were just right — no leftovers as with more commonly available 8-pound packages.

Customers like the exotic flavors, and the soups are cost-effective for small shops, Bataille says. She targets coffee houses, cafes and delis because they often do not want to produce their own soup, or they want soup available on weekends when the chef or owner may be away.

Soup Goddess sales now range from $1,000 to $1,500 per month, and Bataille is looking for more customers and distributors. Her brand identity, fashioned by Natoli Design Company, could eventually help launch Soup Goddess into retail sales. She is also cooking more flavors to add to the line, which is distributed by Roots and Fruits and Instant Whip in the Twin Cities.