The Soup King at The Parsonage
by Audrey Hanes, photography by Melissa Donner
The Parsonage, a mainstay on Main Street in Downtown Jonesboro, is known for its welcoming atmosphere and home-style food with a sophisticated, Southern twist. Chef John Myers and his wife, Ramey, have a loyal customer base, many of whom come back time after time for the restaurant’s unique and delicious offerings, especially the soup.
John spent the early part of his career as an apprentice at the University Club in St. Louis, where he was in charge of soups for two years. Following the five-year apprenticeship, he first opened an eatery in Marion before bringing his cuisine to Jonesboro and opening The Parsonage almost nine years ago. John knew that soups would be a staple of the restaurant, especially after asking around and hearing that there wasn’t a restaurant in the city that specialized in soups at the time.
“For two years at the University Club, all I did was soups,” said John. “We were doing small batch – a gallon at a time – so I probably made 6,000 soups with all kinds of ingredients.”
The Parsonage’s chef says he draws inspiration from other restaurants, dishes and magazines, but most importantly, he uses what he has on hand from the previous week’s dishes.
“In a restaurant, you want to get the full use of the food and get the most out of the product,” he said. “You want to work at a certain food percentage, and if I can keep that lower, even better. We have a chest freezer in there, and any time we have leftovers, it goes in there. Sundays after service I go through that and start putting soups together. Sometimes it’s not a lot of change – I always make the potato hash with leftovers from the weekend, chicken stock and spinach or something else – but sometimes I like to mix it up. It’s simple. The simpler things are what people can relate to. If you go too far out there, it gets mixed reviews. Last week I did a split pea lentil soup, but I made it a little spicey, and people weren’t quite used to it. Sometimes it takes, sometimes it doesn’t.”
One unexpected hit is The Parsonage’s kimchi, a Korean dish with fermented cabbage as its main ingredient.
“My dad was in Vietnam prior to the war, and he had firsthand experience with the food there,” said John. “He was there for years and traveled all around the area. When he came back to the states, he had experience with fermented cabbage. He had bad sinuses from harvesting, so he would start doing the kimchi, then he wouldn’t have sinus problems. One weekend when we were in Marion, they were harvesting and I was having issues with my sinuses, so I stunk the restaurant up and made kimchi. A couple farmers asked to give it a try, and then came a dozen more when word spread. The next thing you know, it’s on the menu. Here is this Korean food that is now a staple in Northeast Arkansas. Go figure.”
John creates the soup by taking Napa cabbage and putting Gochujang between leaves, then putting it in a jar of vinegar for 20 days. Once fermented, he makes a soy-based Asian vegetable broth and adds peppers, carrots, onions and celery, along with a variety of Asian spices.
“The kimchi is simple – it has nine ingredients – but the best soups are the ones that require some sort of lengthy process. The fermentation is what does it for this soup. When you’ve put all this effort into one item, it shows.”
Ramey says that time and effort are apparent to those who try anything on the menu.
“The passion and love that he has for cooking definitely comes through his food,” said Ramey. “I have had so many people tell me that they can feel the love that he puts into his meals. Everything he prepares truly comes from his heart; he takes it very seriously, and it shows.
“I long for his chili, which is definitely my favorite, but it is usually seasonal. My favorite soup is Chicken Tomatillo. This soup is a process; he has to find the tomatillo tomatoes at the right time, peel them and do some other secretive things, but oh my goodness, it is a perfect soup. The flavors and the consistency, which is not too heavy, is just right.”
Another Downtown Jonesboro business owner, Occasions Publishing Group’s Audrey Poff, is a huge fan of John’s soups and often had trouble deciding which one to order. She suggested a flight of several soups to allow customers to try multiple soups in one order, and the recently implemented menu offering has been well received by The Parsonage’s diners.
“I was needing to clean out the freezer, and Audrey’s flight idea came to mind,” said John. “I ended up making quite a few soups and started offering the flights; it has been a big hit. People absolutely love the idea, and it’s been well received. People have liked paying one price and being able to try three soups as opposed to just one soup. It’s been a pleasant boost in sales, and we are going through quite a bit more product than we were before.”
“We are grateful to Audrey Poff for suggesting the soup flights; who knew it would become so very popular?” added Ramey. “The remarkable thing about chef John is that he has an unbelievable skill to put a soup together that you would never imagine would work as a soup, and it comes out perfectly. I have heard him say many times that the simplicity of a soup will allow you to use all of your senses and become a memorable soup that you crave over and over.”
Poff says all the credit for the success of the soup flights goes to The Parsonage.
“Our office is across the street from The Parsonage, so we eat there frequently,” she said. “We see soup ordered at nearly every table, so I knew their customers were very fond of John’s soups. I just thought a soup flight would allow people to try more of his creations. I have never had a soup at The Parsonage that I didn’t like. Sometimes you don’t want to choose just one. A soup flight at The Parsonage is a memory in itself.”
Ramey says customers are often excited to hear about the daily specials, too.
“I love his menu, but I can't wait every day to see what his specials are,” said Ramey. “That is where he can be as creative as he wants, and it is also a way for him to allow people to try things that they typically would not. It is very cool to see people fall in love with his food.”
John credits his wife with being the one who sells his dishes to customers, especially when it comes to trying something new.
“Ramey is the personality that sells the soups,” said John. “She is the taster. There’ve been a couple that she has been hesitant about, and sometimes those are well received, and sometimes they aren’t. She is my barometer. When she finds three or four she likes, she really sells them to our customers.”
In addition to soups, The Parsonage offers sandwiches and salads, as well as brunch on Saturday and Sunday, complete with cinnamon rolls, omelets and more.
“With the food and environment, we just want to continue to focus on a casual, homey environment,” said John. “When I started in Marion and now here in Jonesboro, it’s the whole idea of eating at grandmother’s without having to do the dishes. It’s relaxed, and we try to keep the food unpretentious, but I add flair that you don’t see too much of around here.”
His passion for food is something he tries to cultivate in others whenever he meets someone who is similarly interested in the culinary arts.
“There’s a book called ‘Culinary Artistry’ that gives you all the pairings that every single food possible goes with; it was given to me by an Austrian chef I worked under, and he said chefs are put on this earth to make good food memories,” said John. “It’s generational. Kids we used to cook for are now bringing in their kids to try the soups and cinnamon rolls they remember.
“It’s about the memories we’re creating. I’m not trying to be as good as mom, I’m just trying to find that niche and that memory that will stick with them. I’ve now ordered 30 of those books. When I see someone really interested in food, I give them that same book that was given to me. I recently gave one to a 12-year-old who cooks for his family at home and is very interested in food … When (the chef) gave me the book, he saw in me what I have seen in some of these kids. That’s what food is; food memories stay with you forever.”
The couple has certainly found a winning recipe for creating those lasting memories for patrons in Downtown Jonesboro. Frequently voted a favorite in Occasions’ annual Readers’ Choice contest, the eatery and its soups have become a local staple.
“We have got to be the luckiest small business owners in the world,” said Ramey. “I have never seen such a loving, caring, thoughtful community in my life. The love we receive daily is phenomenal. We have established the most amazing Parsonage people during our nine years here. Their loyalty is astronomical, and do not think for a second that we are not beyond appreciative and grateful for each and every person that walks through our doors.”
For more information about The Parsonage, located at 305 S. Main St., call (870) 203-6116 or find it on Facebook. The Parsonage is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Soup It Up
There's nothing more comforting than a warm bowl of hearty soup on a cold winter’s day. From a soothing bowl of rustic potato hash to an invigorating serving of spicy kimchi, The Parsonage in Downtown Jonesboro offers a range of soups throughout the year that keep patrons coming back for more.
During the month of January, The Parsonage is inviting soup lovers to submit their own idea for a soup they would like to see featured on the menu. No recipe is required. Readers are asked to simply submit a soup that they would like for Chef John Myers to attempt. From those submissions, Myers will then choose three soups to create and feature in a soup flight from Jan. 23-28.
During that time, patrons may order a soup flight to sample the top three submissions and vote on their favorite soup. The winning submission in the inaugural Soup It Up contest will receive a $100 gift card to The Parsonage, with the soup submissions claiming second and third place also receiving prizes.
To enter, follow The Parsonage on social media and watch for the Soup It Up contest announcement in January for more details on how to submit an idea for the next great soup to be featured on The Parsonage’s menu.