If it weren’t for an aching back, Pamela Matthews’ Dive gumbo, salmon chowder, chicken Florentine, and carrot-ginger soups might not be available to a wider audience than her family and friends. Thankfully, though, when she consulted an acupuncturist in a little strip mall in Southfield, she found relief for her back pain — and a location for her restaurant, SoupDive!
As she was being treated, she told the doctor about her dream of opening a little restaurant. It just so happened that his friend was the landlord of the strip, and Baskin-Robbins had recently moved out of the space next door, leaving it vacant. Would she like it? Indeed. That was last April.
She hired two architects to repurpose the space, and it took about five months to complete the project. “We tore out the floors and ceiling, completely gutted the place, and started from scratch,” she says. “The architects — one extravagant, the other practical — gave me the delicate balance.” One put in the “bells and whistles” while the other kept costs in check.
SoupDive! is the culmination of a lifelong love of cooking. Matthews and her daughter, Nikki Nickerson, who is her business partner, have been in the kitchen together for years, not using cookbooks or printed recipes, but creating their own dishes as they went along.
“We would get in the kitchen and experiment, using our own taste buds and documenting recipes,” Matthews says. “We’re very finicky eaters.” Seafood, vegetables, and fruit have always been the staples of their kitchen.
Their brainstorming produced such concoctions as wild salmon chowder, carrot-ginger, and what turned out to be the star of the show: Dive gumbo, made with shrimp and lump crabmeat but no sausage, in keeping with the theme of fusing healthy and delicious and adhering to a low-sodium, low-fat standard.
That’s important to Matthews, and it was reinforced when she was in her former job as an insurance adjuster. Traveling throughout Michigan, she says, “I didn’t want to eat fast food, but there was one fast-food place after another. I thought there should be a healthy place where you can get something fast and delicious.”
Although six daily soups (including Dive gumbo, which is always available) are the focus at the 16-seat spot, SoupDive! also offers flatbreads topped with shrimp, grilled chicken, or spinach and mushrooms, as well as crab cake, salmon, and tuna-croquette sandwiches. A few salads round out the menu. And then there’s Dive sauce — a blend of cilantro, rosemary, dill, parsley, and garlic, among other fresh herbs, that may be used on just about anything, she says. “It makes everything jump off the plate.”
Baskin-Robbins may be gone, but its “31 flavors” have been replaced by a repertoire of 30 soups, and that number will expand.
“Everything was in divine order,” Matthews says of her little enterprise. “I was groomed for this all my life.”