The Woman Behind The Soup: A Q&A with Pittsburgh’s Brothmonger

If you’ve lived in Pittsburgh, you’ve probably heard of the infamous Brothmonger, selling some of the most delicious, comforting homemade soups you’ll ever try. She has become a staple for the culinary lovers of the city. But, if you haven’t heard of the Brothmonger, then now is the perfect time to find out who Sarah Coppolo is and why you should indulge in her hearty soups while the temperature begins to drop. TABLE Magazine spoke with Coppolo about the growth of Brothmonger and, of course, soup.

Why soup?

My mom always made soup and was great at it. So we always had soup around when I was growing up. My mom was always a great cook but she also was a single mother and a nurse. So she worked a lot and her shifts kind of varied, so she would always make sure we had soup to eat. It was always something that she and I enjoyed together. But I never really was interested in learning how to cook until I moved out and didn’t have her. I started teaching myself how to cook when I was in my early 20s. Soup was just something that I immediately started to pick up on and was able to get pretty good at, so once I started getting really into cooking, I would make soup all the time. I can never really cook a small portion of something, so I would always make tons of soup and then give it out to my friends and stuff. 

What has the growth been like since starting Brothmonger?

I started Brothmonger in late 2018, early 2019. It was just like a small operation running out of my apartment. I started it because I always really liked cooking, and I was pretty good at making soup. I felt like there was kind of a hole in the market in Pittsburgh for good soup. So, I just started it on Instagram and started selling it out of my apartment. Then it kind of unexpectedly grew a lot, in a somewhat short amount of time. And then in 2021, I started selling out of Mayfly Market and Deli in the North Side, and I did that for the whole year. But for most of 2022, I actually didn’t really sell soup at all, just because I was also working full time. So I did a pretty good job of burning myself out. But, towards the end of 2022, I was ready to get back into it. So at the beginning of this year, I started working with Thyme Machine and left my full-time job in May. Now I’m selling at Linea Verde Green Market, Thyme Machine, and Deutschtown Deli, and I even have my own email newsletter called The Brothmailer

 

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What’s your process of adding a soup to your menu?

I mean, if the first time I make it, it’s good, I’ll sell it. I don’t usually test things in small batches. Most of the time now, I can come up with something in my head and then make it work. So now I can come up with a soup and know what’s going to be in it and tell what it’s going to taste like before I make it. It’s a very fun, creative, and challenging process. I’ve also made so many different soups that I kind of have this rotating list of maybe like 40 different soups that I could make. 

What’s your favorite soup you’ve ever made?

Ultimately, my favorite soup is sausage tortellini. I think of that as the flagship soup of Brothmonger. When I was starting Brothmonger, it kind of started because a friend of mine posted on Facebook that said, ‘I’m sick right now. Where in Pittsburgh can I get some really good soup?’ People were commenting on it and telling her that she should go to Eat n Park. I was like, this is unacceptable. So I made her a sausage tortellini soup, and I took it to her at work. That’s what I used to make for my friends anytime anyone had a cold. It’s a recipe that I got from my mom and it’s definitely my favorite soup. Now I feel like everyone in the city has eaten it and that means a lot to me. It’s from my childhood, but it’s also kind of the soup that started it all. 

Sarah Coppolo, aka Brothmonger

What keeps you going when things get busy?

It is kind of exhausting, but working for myself is so rewarding. I’m really glad that I’m doing it. Owning my own business and seeing something out from start to finish, there’s just no better feeling. It’s awesome to have a place in the community. The fact that people know me, and they know what I do. They see me and say hello to me, and tell me what they ate, where they got it and that it was good, it’s incredible. I really feel like I have such an amazing life, and I never could have imagined that it would be like this. I’m very grateful for the people in Pittsburgh who have supported me. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m doing something right all the time. Plus, being able to feed people has always been my favorite thing. So yeah, it’s totally worth it. Just the feedback that I get from people and being a part of this community, there really is nothing better.

“Take your time. Figuring out what you’re doing and having everything ready is very important.”

What’s the perfect soup to make for the fall season? 

Chili and any bisque are always great. I’m doing this butternut squash bisque right now that I’m really into. I also made chili last week. Since it’s football season now, it’s the perfect time to make it. Plus, it’s very easy to make. Even any stews are great. You really can’t really go wrong with soup during fall. Just don’t make gazpacho, haha. 

What kind of advice would you have for somebody who’s starting to make their own homemade soups?

Take your time. Figuring out what you’re doing and having everything ready is very important. I hear a lot of people say things like, “I can’t make soup” or like, “I don’t know why it doesn’t taste good,” and the number one mistake that people make is that they don’t season as they’re cooking. So when I’m making soup, the first thing I do is if I’m tossing onions, I’m salting them. Then when I’m putting in carrots and celery, I season them. If I have chicken that I’m putting in later, the chicken is already seasoned before I’ve put it into the soup.

Even If you’re boiling pasta, make sure it’s seasoned. Then the whole dish will taste like every single element.  Another important part of making soup is making sure all elements in a rounded dish are present: fat, acid, salts. If I’m making something that is going to take a long time, like something that’s braised or a beef dish, I’m always going to add lemon juice or vinegar at the end. It ties it all together and elevates all the flavors. Just being more of a dynamic cook and thinker when you’re making soup will ultimately produce better dishes for you.

Story by Kylie Thomas

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