“There are 8-year-old kids who approach me when they see who I am,” says Larry Thomas, best-known as the “Soup Nazi” on Seinfeld. While the sitcom about nothing lasted for nine seasons, no character has remained firmly fixed in the cultural zeitgeist quite like the formidable, mustachioed seller of crab bisque, who unleashed his catchphrase — “No soup for you!” — on any poor soul who dared question his authority. Although he professed to hate his on-screen portrayal, the real-life Manhattan vendor who inspired the Soup Nazi, Al Yeganeh, even went on to franchise his own line of soups.
A veteran character actor, Thomas based his intimidating accent on Omar Sharif’s in Lawrence of Arabia. As part of this year’s Colossal Clusterfest, Thomas will reprise his role and serve the signature soups from his Seinfeld episode — mulligatawny, turkey chili, and jambalaya — to anyone brave enough to ask. SF Weekly sat down to talk about clam chowder in a bread bowl and yelling at people who kiss in his line.
Thomas never dreamed he would still be doing this.
“It’s amazing to me. The Soup Nazi character has sort of become something of its own. I mean, definitely it’s related to Seinfeld and — thank God for me — is one of the more well-received episodes, even though every episode to me is perfect. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own.”
He has his own soup recipes, and even a cookbook.
“When I was writing my book, everyone said that I should develop my own mulligatawny, so I took a few days and had a few trials with different recipes and developed my own. In my book, Confessions of a Soup Nazi: An Adventure in Acting and Cooking, I have 52 recipes of my own, so for Clusterfest I will definitely be judging the quality of the soup — and messing with people!”
His favorite memory of San Francisco is the soup from Salmagundi’s.
“I went to the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco in the summer of ‘79. Right next door was a little restaurant called Salmagundi’s, and it was a soup restaurant. If you bought a bowl of soup, you got one free refill, so we’d pair up and go in, split the money, and one person would get the first bowl and the other person would get the second. That’s literally how we survived. The thing I miss most about San Francisco, oddly enough, is a soup restaurant.”
Thomas confirms the city’s official soup is clam chowder in a bread bowl.
“It would have to be. There’s that whole row of carts on Fisherman’s Wharf where they make seafood sandwiches with sourdough — and, of course, clam chowder in a bread bowl. Yeah, that would have to be the soup of San Francisco.”
He encourages Clusterfest attendees to “play the Seinfeld game.”
“I was once in Albuquerque, doing this thing with Sony called ‘The Seinfeld Food Truck,’ which was like a roach coach that had a lot of free treats on it that were featured in different episodes of Seinfeld. At one point, a couple decided to start making out in front of me, so of course I got to do the whole ‘You’re kissing in my line?!’ thing. That’s only happened like once, and I’ve been doing this for many years, but we’ll see how brave people are at Clusterfest. I challenge the fans out there to get brave and play the game.”