MILWAUKEE -- Forget the "off" season. Brewers right-hander Jeff Suppan has been working double shifts all winter. Suppan and his wife, Dana, hosted a private launch party Thursday night at Soup's Grill, their family friendly sports grill in Woodland Hills, Calif., that has been three years in the making. After his usual break following the baseball season -- Suppan's first in Milwaukee -- he has been training for 2008 in the mornings before tracking progress at the restaurant in the afternoons. And evenings. And late nights.
"There have been some long days," Suppan said this week between bites of potential new menu items. "But I want to take part in it as much as I can before I have to leave [for Spring Training]. My goal from the beginning has been to be a part of the day-to-day operations of the restaurant. It might take me a few years to get it right, but it's been incredible." The Suppans built the new Soup's Grill from the ground up, but they are not new to the business. Suppan's father, Larry, a former air traffic controller who later attended culinary school, owned and operated the Old Factory Grill from 1999-2003 along with his wife and Jeff's brother, Dan. Jeff, who was with the Royals for most of that time and established himself as one of the game's more durable starters, and Dana were silent partners in the original business. Dana worked part time in the front of the house while Jeff toiled in back as a busboy or dishwasher. Years earlier, he held similar jobs while his dad worked at two French restaurants. "It started this idea in my head. I really enjoyed it," Suppan said. "As a Major Leaguer you get to travel around to all of the ballparks and you eat in all of the different cities. I paid attention." So when the rest of the Suppans decided to move on, Jeff and Dana presented them with a plan to take over the Old Factory Grill and turn it into the first incarnation of Soup's Grill. A deal was struck. Then, about three years ago, a decision was made to relocate. Jeff and Dana spent about a year searching for the new location, then a year on permits, development and design, before a year-long construction. Finally, in November 2007, Soup's Grill opened for business. It features more than two dozen tables, a rooftop deck, 11 high-definition televisions and a growing collection of sports memorabilia. "Is there an offseason for us? No, not really," Dana Suppan said. "But it's been fun because we love interacting with people." The focus is on good food and a family friendly atmosphere. Suppan designed a replica big league dugout in the restaurant, with an assist from Brewers clubhouse manager Tony Migliaccio, who helped order the same green paint used in the dugouts at Miller Park. With a hand from Brewers groundskeeper Gary Vanden Berg, Suppan ordered the same phone used in the bullpen, and kids who visit the restaurant can listen to a message from Suppan. In time, he hopes to have other Major Leaguers record similar messages for kids. "The personal side of it is important to us," Suppan said. "I want people to feel like they can come in here and talk to us, especially the kids. "For me, growing up in the San Fernando Valley, I always wondered, 'Where can you talk to a Major League Baseball player?' Then I would go to Dodger Stadium and wonder, 'What would it be like to be in the dugout?' Those are some of the concepts we had in mind for the restaurant." Thursday's party offered another chance for Suppan to meet some of his neighbors. In addition to some of his friends in baseball -- Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio and Major Leaguers Ryan Braun, Jim Edmonds, Glendon Rusch and Brent Mayne and former Royals pitchers Bret Saberhagen and Mark Gubicza were among those scheduled to attend -- Suppan invited members of the local chamber of commerce. Plans call for adding entrees to the menu, which already features fresh soup and salads, signature cheesesteaks and Larry's chili. There's a "Fielder's Salad," though it was so-named before Suppan played with Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Other dishes are still in development. Dana's sister, Leslie Ozark, is the vice president of operations for Soup's Grill and will run the show while the Suppans are in Phoenix for Spring Training and later in Milwaukee for the regular season. "I find it very challenging, but I enjoy it," Jeff Suppan said. "I enjoy interacting with people, and I want to keep learning the business. Now, my No. 1 focus is as a Major League Baseball player, and once the season starts, I am focused on that." That day is coming soon. Brewers pitchers and catchers must report to Maryvale Baseball Park by Feb. 16. Does Suppan see the Grill as his full-time gig after retiring from baseball? "I don't know that yet," he said. "Just like in baseball, I don't like to forecast. [The restaurant] is something I definitely enjoy. It's definitely a business. We're in this to be profitable, and I think this is something I could see myself doing when I am done playing." Soup's Grill is located at 21028 Ventura Blvd. in Woodland Hills.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.