On a recent Sunday afternoon at Nightmoves, the nightclub owned by neighboring restaurant Four Horsemen, children run back and forth, and chant “Ring Around the Rosie,” as they pile on top of each other on the light-up dance floor. It’s not too dissimilar from late-night, drunken shenanigans adults regularly get into at the Williamsburg hot spot. But the daytime scene is here for Soup Doula, a pop-up and soup delivery service, operated by, yes, an actual doula.
Marisa Mendez Marthaller has set up with her several Crock-Pots, ladling up the warm soup to customers, while her husband, Duane Harriott, DJs. By day, Mendez Marthaller is what’s known as a postpartum doula: There’s a spectrum of doulas from birth-focused ones to death doulas, a profession, she says, is largely misunderstood. In her case, it means she focuses on the period after birth or adoption when parents are thrust into uncharted territory and may find it hard to make time to take care of themselves. Her daily work can incorporate emotional and physical support, as well as cooking for her clients in a time of overwhelming transition — particularly for those who often have found themselves in “caregiver roles and rarely prioritize their own needs,” she says.
Mendez Marthaller sees her work as a doula as connected to her experience working in hospitality, because “you’re being of service.” She grew up on an island off the Pacific Northwest, starting off as a dishwasher during the summertime tourist high season. Eventually, by 2005, she moved to New York and was working front-of-house for Anita Lo’s Annisa; she’s been a bartender at Gramercy Tavern, a wine buyer and manager at Marlow & Sons and Diner, and then the service director for the Wythe Hotel for five years before leaving to become a first-time mother.
“When I had my baby, I was really shocked by how hard the postpartum time is,” she says. “Coming from hospitality, I was very lucky that I had all these good cooks around me; I was really touched, but I was also like, ‘Wow, what do people do who don’t have this kind of support?’” she says, of friends who brought her food care packages for weeks. “In my manager hospitality brain, I was like, ‘I think I can help people do this.’”
She took a postpartum doula class and then started working as a doula a year after her son, now five, was born. During the pandemic, when it was harder to meet clients, she launched Soup Doula, a soup delivery service as a way to help. It’s something that she’s continued with even now that in-person visits have returned.
“Soup in particular is the best food for postpartum people: It is highly hydrating; you need a lot of water during this period because your body is trying to heal itself...soup is also highly-nutrient dense,” she says.
While she continues to serve new parents and friends of new parents giving Soup Doula as a gift, the customer base is really anyone — elderly parents, the COVID and/or flu-ridden, someone with the blues, or even a grad student — in need of nourishment.
Each Tuesday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan, Mendez Marthaller delivers handmade soups made with organic produce, and humanely-raised animals that are dairy- and gluten-free. The menu is seasonally changing, but currently lists 16- and 32-ounce containers of minestrone, kitchari, red borscht, squash and red lentil puree, turmeric-ginger sipping broth, and a chicken soup.
Food, though, is really just one part of her work: She supports new parents with lactation, and regular household chores, often times she’s helping people get some well-needed rest. “Generally speaking the United States does not prioritize postpartum care and this is specifically evidenced by our very poor ranking perinatal outcomes and specifically allowing for the worst perinatal and postpartum outcomes for Black birthing people compared to any other high-income country in the world,” she adds. “The restaurant industry is also a hard place to take care of yourself: There’s especially not a lot of equity for birthing people in the restaurant industry.”
With her recently-launched pop-ups at Nightmoves, it’s a slightly different clientele than new parents. She says she’s able to expand outside of her usual menu a bit and have some fun with foods that are a bit spicier, too. Mendez Marthaller’s family is from Mexico City; she is interested in incorporating soup recipes that draw upon her Mexican American heritage. On a recent visit, in addition to red pozole with chicken, there was also a Frito pie, mussels escabeche, jerk chicken tacos, and a chicken chickpea soup number.
Her pop-ups will run every Sunday from 3 to 7 p.m. at the nightclub until at least the end of March. Separately, orders for her weekly soup drops can be placed online for Tuesday delivery.