Marjorie Druker, owner of the New England Soup Factory in Newton and Brookline, is more than just the “soup lady.” She is now also the “chicken lady,” since opening an addition to her Newton store late last year that features rotisserie chicken.
Why chicken, you may ask?
“When I was a little girl growing up, there was a rotisserie restaurant in Newton Centre called Cinders, and we’d walk up from our house to get a nice dinner,” Druker recalls. “Then I opened Boston Chicken in Newtonville, in 1985, I created the menus (with that restaurant in mind). People always felt I should do that on my own.”
But Druker’s chicken – and the other fare prepared in the large oven that dominates the New England Soup Factory’s expansion- isn’t your everyday roasted food that you can pick up at the grocery store. She proudly labels her latest creations “modern rotisserie.”
“To take the idea of having those home-style chicken dinners, but bringing them into the modern age, that’s what we’re doing,” explains Druker. “I reformulated the original Boston Chicken brine recipe, and I reformulated it to make it better. I mean, that was 30 years ago!”
There is a lot more to the new offerings than just chicken. To accompany the savory fowl she prepares every day of the week, on Fridays Druker also prepares latkes and chopped liver (and, of course, matzo ball soup) so that her Jewish customers can easily put together a traditional Sabbath dinner.
Being Jewish and an active member of Temple Shalom’s community was actually a big motivator to Druker in expanding the offerings and floor plan of her restaurant.
She recounts a story of participating in the temple’s Caring Community that goes to the homes of elderly members and provides them with Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner. Another aspect of this charitable undertaking is visiting the sick and those who are in mourning and helping provide them with food at times when they are less able to provide for themselves. Druker saw that it was difficult, not only for these families but also for those who wanted to support them, to put together a full meal. So she decided that the expansion she was creating for New England Soup Factory would also have a retail section that would allow customers to “pick up whatever they need, everything they need, in one stop.”
“Life, at this point, for a lot of people, feels really really difficult,” Druker states, sympathetically. “When people come in here, I want them to shut all of that off and then it’s just pure fun, joy and deliciousness. That’s all I want.”
To help make things better for her customers, Druker has different specials nearly every day of the week. For example, on Saturdays she offers a French dip sandwich with rotisserie onions, and on Fridays she puts together a hearty lasagna that features her homemade sauce. During the week, she also has what she calls “fun specials” that make it easy for busy families to have a different, home-cooked meal on the table every night- even if that meal isn’t cooked in their home.
But at the heart of Druker’s new concept is her chicken. And while she has based the recipe and preparation on the model she originally used at Boston Chicken, this new variation is a far cry from the original. To begin with, the chickens are all natural, locally farmed, hormone-free and certified humanely raised. Then there are the modifications she makes to the brine itself. Apples and lemons are among the ingredients added to give the chicken a unique flavor profile even before it is slow-roasted in the rotisserie oven Druker and her husband, Paul, had specially made in France.
Speaking of Paul, much as he was the impetus for her opening the original New England Soup Factory in Brookline, he too was the idea man behind the expansion of their Newton location.
“My husband, in typical ‘Paul style,’ came home one day and said, ‘We’re taking over Pizzapalooza,” Druker says with a laugh. “I’m going to put in a rotisserie chicken place.”
While Druker is only in the Newton store on Fridays and Saturdays, you can find Paul, their daughter, Emily, and de facto family member Abe Pilsmaker there more often. But make no mistake about it- this really is a “Marjorie-esque” take on things.
“The fact that I’m always using interesting fresh vegetables and we have things like creole corn and okra, and these traditional dishes are modernized, that’s what I am trying to do,” shares Druker, warmly. “We are offering the kind of food I’ve been cooking as a mom, because it creates such a sense of hospitality and welcoming.”