British diners be warned - the "Soup Nazi" is coming to a street corner near you. Al Yeganeh, the irascible New York chef who routinely refuses to serve customers he dislikes, and was immortalised in an episode of the US hit comedy Seinfield, plans to open 50 Original SoupMan franchises in the UK.
Mr Yeganeh's tiny Manhattan takeaway restaurant, Soup Kitchen International, became a magnet for office workers and tourists willing to queue around the block for a cup of gourmet soup and a dose of verbal abuse. Open since 1984, it shunned politeness in favour of speed.
The proprietor's rules are simple and strictly enforced. They order patrons to "Have your money ready!" and "Move to the EXTREME left after ordering!" Smalltalk is banned and a sign headed "Returns Policy" screams: "NO RETURNS!!" Uncooperative customers are sent to the back of the line or refused service. A customer once recalled offending Mr Yeganeh by asking a question about the soup. The punishment was a year's exile from the shop. He waited five months, thinking the infuriated proprietor wouldn't remember him when he returned. But the chef looked up, saw him in the queue and just said: "Too soon."
Mr Yeganeh's soups - particularly the lobster bisque - attained inimitability before the television debut of the "Soup Nazi" in a 1995 episode of Seinfield. His screen parody was a moustachioed chef with a short fuse, cutting off the soup orders of Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer with a trademark yell of "No soup for YOU!"
Mr Yeganeh's business partner is John Bello, 60, the chairman and chief executive of Original SoupMan. He described his "temperamental" business partner as "an artist and very particular, kinda like a Van Gogh". He elaborated: "His work is clearly soup. His life is his soup."
Mr Yeganeh is secretive, refusing to answer questions about his personal life, even his age or place of birth. The company's logo features his unsmiling face.
Although the chef has profited from his small screen depiction, he detests Seinfield. He claims to have been offended by being labelled a takeaway fascist, and was delighted when the series ended in May 1998. "Seinfield uses people like me and destroys their feelings to get ratings," he said, "so of course I am happy he is going off the air."
The soup business plan envisages several London outlets opening early 2007 - in Trafalgar Square, Mayfair and the City. The chain might then expand to airports and cities such as Manchester and Birmingham.
Mr Yeganeh, owner of 20 per cent of Soup Kitchen International, is thought to be in advanced discussions to sell his recipes and trademark to Mr Bello, who already owns the licence to use the SoupMan identity in the US.
"I think the soup could do very well in the UK, which is a soup kind of a country," said Mr Bello.