Ask Monty Todd, Executive Chef and owner of Spoon & Ladle, about how he got where he is today as one of the best fresh soup makers in town, and it all makes sense. Originally from Montgomery, Monty moved to Birmingham after college, and became General Manager of a new fine dining restaurant on the edge of Mountain Brook Village, Dexter’s on Hollywood. It opened “around the same time as Frank Stitt’s Highlands Bar & Grill,” Monty said, at a time when people were developing a real interest in good food. “The menu was updated every day. When the chef was off, I’d help the sous-chef in the kitchen. I was always a pretty good cook, but that’s where I learned how to take cooking more seriously.”
Though he enjoyed working with the chefs at Dexters, working holidays and weekends began to lose its luster. Monty’s people skills had made an impression on a major beer & wine distributor, who recruited him to grow the company’s wine business by working directly with restaurants. Monty knew chefs, he knew good food and wine, and, it turns out they were right – he was a pretty successful salesman too. For twenty-seven years, Monty worked hard at his day job, and continued to enjoy cooking for his family and friends when he had time. Then one day, he got that familiar burned-out feeling, and realized it was time to quit.
When he told his wife he wanted to retire, she had a better idea. “Try selling your soup. Yours is the best in the world. The business might work!” They set up a Facebook page, got 3 orders overnight and have never looked back since. Now Monty and his wife Kelly operate Spoon & Ladle full time out of a 2700 square-foot commercial kitchen in Pelham. They have a retail spot there as well, “because people are always asking for our soups and we were already here anyway.” At any given time, they offer 10-12 fresh soups. Because soup sales slow down a bit in the warmer months, they’ve added chicken salad, pimento cheese, queso, guacamole and salsa to the menu and those have become quite popular too.
“Our products are in a few grocery stores and we sell at several farmers markets too. Pepper Place has been great for us. Building relationships with the farmers at the market has made a big difference in the quality of the ingredients we use. I can tell you, a tomato from Florida is not as good as a tomato from Alabama. Fresh ingredients make soups taste better,” he said.
Spoon & Ladle had a shop at the Pizitz Food Hall, but it recently closed because so many offices and the nearby theatres have been shut down during COVID. “Without the business crowd at lunch or people coming to eat before a show at the Lyric or Alabama, it just wasn’t possible to keep going.” He continued, “Before COVID, there were 5 people on my cooking team. Now it’s down to me and one other person.” Like a lot of restaurants and food producers, he said, “sales have been terrible since this March. But we’re ok. Things will get better.” When asked if, looking back, there was anything in his life he might have done differently, Monty answered, “I wouldn’t have stayed as long in sales. I would have gone into food sooner. That’s what I love.” Does he dream of going back to fine dining, or adding more items to his menu? “No,” he answered, matter-of factly. “I like making soup. That’s fine for now.”