The truth behind the ‘Seinfeld’ character “Soup Nazi”
(Credit: Netflix)

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The truth behind the 'Seinfeld' character "Soup Nazi"

Why does Jerry Seinfeld seem to have a grudge against people serving food? First, there was Babu Bhatt, the Pakistani restaurant owner, who was outraged as his business struggled after following Jerry’s poor advice. Then, there was the squabble over the last chocolate babka in the bakery, meant for a party.

And who could forget Poppie, the unhygienic Tuscan pizza chef who peed on Jerry’s couch? Or, in one of Seinfeld’s own personal favourite episodes of his self-titled sitcom, George’s ingenious stupid plot to steal some marble rye bread that wasn’t shared out. The countless times the entire group got on the wrong side of the staff at Monk’s Café.

But there’s one cook that found himself the butt of arguably the most severe of Seinfeld’s food gags. In the season seven episode entitled ‘The Soup Nazi’, soup kitchen owner Yev Kassem earns that unfortunate title from his clientele due to his overly strict rules for behaviour inside his establishment.

Because his soups are so delicious, the customers keep coming despite his bad personal reputation. One rude cook isn’t enough to spoil this broth, it would seem.

As it turns out, the character Yev Kassem was actually based on a real New York soup kitchen owner. And according to Seinfeld writer Spike Feresten, the real “Soup Nazi” was none too pleased when he heard about the episode.

So, who is the real Soup Nazi?

His name is Ali “Al” Yeganeh, of Soup Kitchen International, a restaurant he opened on West 55th Street in Manhattan back in 1984. According to Feresten, when he brought Jerry Seinfeld himself back to the place the year after ‘The Soup Nazi’ aired, Yeganeh told Seinfeld, “Get the fuck out of here,” and kicked him out of the queue.

In typically bullish fashion, Seinfeld allegedly retorted: “What’s the problem? I made you famous.” But Yeganeh wasn’t having it. “You didn’t make me famous,” he replied. “The Today Show made me famous.” As though playing the version of himself from the show, Seinfeld insisted, “Well, I want soup.”

“And then [Yeganeh] literally said a real version of ‘no soup for you’,” Feresten told Comic book. Except the real version was rather more expletive-laden than the pre-watershed sitcom episode. And Seinfeld was duly booted out of Soup Kitchen International for good.

It is not quite the ending that would have worked for the episode, but it is one that Spike Feresten seems gleefully proud of. Especially since he was the one who wrote ‘The Soup Nazi’, but Seinfeld, as the face of the show, was the one who took the rap for it.

You can still visit the real-life soup kitchen from which Seinfeld was ejected today. It’s still in its original location but has gone through several name changes, particularly after Yeganeh’s operation was shut down for tax evasion in 2017.

Nonetheless, The Original Soup Kitchen, as it’s now called, is exactly where it was when Yeganeh’s manners apparently gave Feresten the idea for the episode. And although the man who inspired ‘The Soup Nazi’ no longer serves the soup himself, he still oversees the business. 

All of the soup recipes remain his own, too. If you don’t believe him, just check the armoire.