In spring 2016, Valerie Zweig, suffering from her second bout of laryngitis in six weeks, dragged herself down to her local bar and scratched a note on a piece of paper: “Can I just get some soup broth, please?” The bartender squinted at her.
“Uh, we don’t really do that,” the bartender said. Zweig returned to her apartment, broth-less.
Soon after Zweig’s unsuccessful foray down to the bar, she developed the idea for Prescription Chicken, a chicken soup-delivery business. At a Passover Seder, Zweig told her cousin, Taryn Pellicone, “I have this crazy idea.” Her cousin, unhappy at her current job, was immediately interested.
“I think that’s an amazing idea,” Pellicone told Zweig. “Let’s do it.”
“I have always loved to make chicken soup,” Zweig said in an interview with The Hoya. “It’s what I’ve always done. And you know, when you’re not feeling well, the last thing you want to do is leave the house, round up a bunch of ingredients and cook it yourself.”
Originally a journalism major at the University of Southern California, Zweig had planned to become a sports writer focused on baseball. As her interests veered toward food, she decided to attend culinary school and earned a degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York.
After a few years of bouncing around the restaurant world, Zweig landed at Vucurevich Simons Advisory Group, a business focused on restaurant and hospitality consulting, where she still serves as the vice president for concept development.
“If I looked back and sort of connected all the pieces,” she said, “it would have forecasted exactly what I’m doing now.”
In September 2016, just months after the birth of their idea, Zweig and Pellicone — both with hospitality and business experience — began breathing life into their idea by asking everyone they knew to help. Zweig does not regret their haste.
“It’s the only way to start a business,” she said. “If you really take the time to understand what it’s all going to come with, no one would do it.”
The cousins spent summer 2016 developing recipes, testing logos and debating names until they landed on Prescription Chicken.
“Once we landed on the name, everything else sort of fell into place,” Zweig said. “You want a strong brand that tells you exactly what it is: Prescription Chicken. Chicken soup is what makes you feel better, so it is the prescription.”
Zweig and Pellicone originally planned to operate strictly through delivery on a local basis, but soon found that business model came with challenges. Facing unpredictable changes in their delivery radius from the companies they partnered with, they asked themselves if this business, as a delivery service, was sustainable.
While visiting Baltimore to explore expansion into Maryland, the duo found the answer to their worries. A friend took them to have coffee at R. House, a Baltimore food hall. Zweig and Pellicone fell in love with the space, which was teeming with diverse food vendors, and decided they had to use R. House as a pop-up space for Prescription Chicken.
“When I started the business, it didn’t occur to me,” Zweig said. “I thought we would always do delivery. But, thinking back, both Taryn and I have the hospitality background. We did this month [at R. House], and it was so exhausting and energizing, but we loved being able to talk to people. We were like, ‘We have to do this. This has to be our thing.’”
With a new goal on the horizon, the cousins began contacting people, reaching out to prospective pop-up locations in Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. The real prize for the two was landing Union Market here in the District, where they are currently based.
As Zweig and Pellicone continue to explore pop-up locations, the two are focused on protecting the brand’s focus on providing delicious, comforting chicken soup. The menu currently features a wide array of chicken-based options, ranging from the traditional “Grandma Style” to the Vietnamese-inspired “Faux Pho.” Still, Zweig does not yet want to explore uncharted territory.
“It would be easy to go into other soups, but it’s not what the brand is,” Zweig said. “I like being the expert in the one thing that we do. Things could change, but our goal right now is to stick with chicken soup.”
Zweig and Pellicone have been working hard for 18 months to drive this endeavor forward, and they show no signs of slowing down.
“Prescription Chicken is the best and the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life,” Zweig said. “Simultaneously, the hardest and the best. We want to be here forever, and we want to have a footprint in local markets.”