The Man Who Inspired ‘the Soup Nazi’ Was Referenced in a Movie Before ‘Seinfeld’ Made Him Famous

A small, unsuspecting food stall in Midtown Manhattan became an overnight sensation back in 1995. The soup stand, famed for its over 200 variety of soups on a constant rotation, was fictionalized on an episode of Seinfeld. Since that fateful evening in November 1995, the owner has been known as “the Soup Nazi.” While Seinfeld is credited with thrusting the postage-stamp-sized eatery into the limelight, the show about nothing wasn’t the soup purveyor’s first pop culture reference.

Seinfeld’s depiction of Yageneh brought a ton of attention to his small soup stall

In 1995, NBC aired an episode of Seinfeld that revolved around the group’s obsession with soup from a small, takeout restaurant. Cosmo Kramer introduced Jerry to the soup experience, and Jerry later turned George onto it, as well. Elaine attempted to ruin the “Soup Nazi” when he refused her service and banned her from the store for one year. The episode ended with Jerry and Newman running toward the stand after Elaine threatened to expose his recipes.

Elaine Benes and the Soup Nazi in 'Seinfeld'
Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes, Larry Thomas as Soup Nazi | Wren Maloney/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

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While Larry Thomas portrayed the fictional “Soup Nazi,” Yev Kasseem, a real person, inspired the episode. The inspiration for “The Soup Nazi” was Ali ‘Al’ Yeganeh, a chef who moved to the United States and opened his food stall. The International Soup Kitchen, in the late 1980s. Yaganeh hated the character that Thomas played. He even once tossed Seinfeld out of the eatery, claiming that he had ruined his business. The famed NBC series, however, was not the first time Yeganeh’s soups were mentioned in pop culture. The first reference to Yeganeh was just much vaguer.

Ali Yaganeh’s soup business was referenced in Sleepless in Seattle

While the vast majority of people learned about Yaganeh after “The Soup Nazi” aired in 1995, his soup business was mentioned in a movie two years earlier. In Sleepless in Seattle, Meg Ryan’s character, Annie Reed, pitched a story about Yaganeh’s soup business. In the flick, she says, “This man sells the greatest soup you have ever eaten, and he is the meanest man in America. I feel very strongly about this, Becky; it’s not just about the soup.”

Ali Yaganeh’s soup stand in Midtown Manhattan
the Soup Kitchen International on West 55th St. in New York. | Misha Erwitt/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Yaganeh’s name, nor the name of his soup stand, was mentioned in the movie, which allowed him to maintain his anonymity. The film was referencing Yaganeh’s business, though. Nora Ephron later confirmed that the story pitch was about Soup Kitchen International, according to a Reddit user.

What were the actual rules at the shop that inspired “The Soup Nazi” episode of Seinfeld

Yeganeh never liked the moniker bestowed upon him by Seinfeld. His shop always had rules, but the actual ordering process was not nearly as extreme as depicted in the show.  Yageneh had exactly three rules for his customers at Soup Kitchen International, the soup shop that inspired the episode. Soup enthusiasts were asked to know their order when they got to the front of the line. They were also expected to have their money ready and to move to the left after they ordered their food.

The Halal Guys cart returns the its post during the Coronavirus pandemic
the Halal Guys cart | Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

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, The rules, which may sound extreme, aren’t exceptionally uncommon in a packed metropolis. The Halal Guys gyro carts operate similarly, although their rules are unspoken. Patrons at the trendy late-night cart are expected to speak their order quickly, pay for their food, then move to the right-hand side of the cart to wait for their plates. The goal is to serve a steady stream of customers quickly and safely. The rules are, more or less, a necessity for popular carts and food stalls. Lines, during peak hours, can stretch around the block. Yegeneh had shuttered his food stall located on 55th street in 2004 but has since reopened under the name, The Original Soup Kitchen. The Halal Guys maintain their original cart, on the corner of 53rd street and 6th avenue. They have also expanded into storefronts throughout the United States.