Tia Lupita After Shark Tank: We Caught Up With The Founder

There was a moment during his "Shark Tank" appearance when you might've thought Hector Saldivar wasn't going to make it. Most of the sharks had given him firm — if regretful — "not-gonna-happens," leaving Kevin O'Leary, aka Mr. Wonderful, as Saldivar's only lifeline. Given the investor's on-screen personality, it was a dubious position to find himself in. But despite how it looked on camera, the founder of Tia Lupita Foods never doubted himself for a moment. He never even felt nervous. "Honestly, as I was starting to get the no's, I was thinking, 'well, this is the first pass, you know,'" Saldivar told Tasting Table. "No — it's not in my vocabulary, as cheesy as that sounds."  

It's fair to say that self-belief has paid off. In 2022, the entrepreneur made Don Julio and Time's list of the "80 Mexicans Shaping Contemporary Culture" for founding Tia Lupita. It's a brand with a lot to boast about. Having started as a homage to his mother's jalapeño hot sauce, by the time Saldivar pitched himself to the sharks in April of 2023, Tia Lupita's four hot sauce varieties and portfolio of sustainable tortillas and chips (made with cactus) were available for sale in supermarkets across the country. Hot sauce continues to be a best-seller for Tia Lupita, but the company's grain-free, cactus-based chips were what really Mr. Wonderful's investing eyes. As a "Shark Tank" fan, you know that already. Tasting Table followed up with Saldivar to learn more about his experience with the show and find out what happened next. 

Hector Saldivar gained extra motivation right before going on Shark Tank

Hector Saldivar missed the one-month memorial of his father's death to pitch his product to the sharks. As a man who has, in his words, built a brand around "honoring my family, my culture, and my heritage," the decision might seem counterintuitive. Showing up to Sony Studios, however, was precisely what Saldivar needed to do.

The founder of Tia Lupita Foods told us he'd found out his father had died "around the same time" he got the call from "Shark Tank." Saldivar did go to his father's funeral in Mexico prior to filming, but his father's death gave him an extra push to give his all to Tia Lupita. Saldivar didn't tell the sharks this story until everyone but Kevin O'Leary had turned down the entrepreneur's offer (which wound up being $500,000 for a 5% stake in Tia Lupita). The decision to do so wasn't a last-ditch attempt to get a pity vote. Instead, Saldivar wanted potential investors to know just how much the company meant to him. "I really wanted the sharks kind of to know about [my father's death]. Not because I wanted them to have, you know, empathy or, pity," the founder affirmed to Tasting Table. "I wanted them to know that I was committed to what I was building ... if I was working really hard to make my mom and dad proud, my family proud, the extra motivation had just kicked in."

Hector Saldivar gives us an inside look into the 'tedious' Shark Tank application process

Aspiring "Shark Tank" companies go through an exhausting application process for the right to be further grilled by Mark Cuban, Robert Herjavec, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Daymond John, and Kevin O'Leary on air. "I like to say that the 'Shark Tank' producers know more about me than my wife," Saldivar joked. "It's a very detailed and long application process, right?"

It has to be. The show gets around 45,000 applications per year, according to CNBC. A tiny fraction of those applicants — less than 200, per Saldivar — gets invited to Sony Studios. Even fewer see their stories told on TV. The Tia Lupita founder tells us he went through "several rounds" of interviews and plenty of due diligence before getting selected. Producers don't only vet an applicant's personality and ensure that their product story is TV-friendly — they also do a deep dive into the company's paper trail and, according to Saldivar, comb through an applicant's profit and loss, financials, and projections to guarantee that sales and other numbers aren't being fudged.

The moment on Shark Tank that threw Hector Saldivar off

Hector Saldivar told Tasting Table he had his pitch "super dialed" going into "Shark Tank." This was not his first rodeo, after all. The entrepreneur had been performing the opening you witnessed on TV for some time. Needless to say, he'd never confronted a reaction like the one he got from the sharks. " [When] I said, 'Raise your hands if you like to eat tacos,' Daymond John [said], 'I don't like tacos,'" Saldivar remembered. "That completely threw me off, right? You could hear the record scratching. Like, who doesn't like tacos?"

We're prone to agree, but we digress. Saldivar told Tasting Table that the moment affected both the "cadence" of his pitch and his confidence during the rest of his presentation. Lucky for him, the Tia Lupita founder found validation later in the show when John praised the company's revenue and admitted he was into Tia Lupita's salsa macha.

What Hector Saldivar wishes the cameras had shown us about his episode

Mr. Wonderful and Daymond John weren't the only sharks who approved of Tia Lupita's product offerings. While the cameras didn't show it, Hector Saldivar tells us that all sharks "devoured" his chips, Mexican hot sauces, and tortillas during his presentation. "It was the quintessential [moment] where, you know, Barbara finished her stuff and she was standing [over] Daymond's food. Kevin O'Leary [was] doing the same thing," Saldivar said. "I just wish that they would have shown a little bit more of that because that's a tremendous validator."

Despite how it may have looked on camera, Saldivar also affirmed that he never felt like his negotiations with Mr. Wonderful were tense. As the founder remembers it, the whole ordeal was more of a "team effort," in which other sharks "jumped in" to ensure that Tia Lupita succeeded. Not only that, but he never thought that Kevin O'Leary was trying to hardball him. "I felt that it was a conversation and [O'Leary] would give me his point of view and I would give him my point of view, but it didn't seem confrontational," the Tia Lupita founder assured us. Chalk any different impressions you may have had about it up to great editing, or as Saldivar put it, "that's, I guess, movie magic, right?"

Hector Saldivar would change negotiating tactics if he could do it again

If you've seen enough "Shark Tank" episodes, you know that asking for $500,000 for 5% of the Tia Lupita was, let's be honest, a long shot. As a "Shark Tank" fan for years himself, Salvidar was also aware it was risky. The sharks, as the founder reflected to Tasting Table, usually only risk lower sums of money for much higher stakes in the company.

Even the show's producers tried to talk Saldivar out of his ask pre-show. "They did mention to me, 'Hey, maybe you want to reconsider your offer," he dished. "And they didn't say it to me once, they said it to me multiple times." This story has a happy ending, of course. And while Saldivar eventually walked away with an offer he was happy with, were he to do it again, he would have listened to the producers. "I would have structured the deal in a way that ... would make it more approachable for the sharks," Saldivar reflected. "Maybe I would have gotten more offers, right? And maybe I would have gotten a bidding war."

What Mr. Wonderful is like off-cameras might surprise you

Hector Saldivar wasn't aiming to make a deal with anyone in particular when he pitched Tia Lupita on "Shark Tank." Given Mark Cuban's meat-free and health-focused diet, though, the founder assumed his company might appeal to the Dallas Mavericks' owner. As for Kevin O'Leary? "Me being a fan of 'Shark Tank' for 14 years, you know, there is this polarizing thing, [about] Kevin O'Leary," Saldivar told Tasting Table. "We were like, 'I don't know if I want him to be my partner.'"

Off-camera, however, Saldivar says that Mr. Wonderful turns into a completely different person. "I don't know if I'm going to get in trouble or not, but I think his character, it's a persona that he created," the mastermind behind Tia Lupita said. "Behind the curtains, he's super nice. He's one of the nicest [people] that you've ever met, and his team is wonderful, too." Since "Shark Tank," per Saldivar, he's been in touch with the CEO of O'Leary Ventures, along with his legal and finance team. "There was no head-butting or discord or anything like that," the founder explained. "They do want to support emerging brands and they do want to support entrepreneurs and businesses." After months of negotiations, things seem to be picking up speed. Per Saldivar, Tia Lupita recently inked the formal partnership contract with Mr. Wonderful roughly a month ago.

Hector Saldivar is very happy with the effect of Shark Tank on his company

You may have noticed Kevin O'Leary is still snacking on Tia Lupita — and posting about it too! He's one of many who've got a thing for the healthy, Mexican snack foods since "Shark Tank." Saldivar tells us that after negotiating with Mr. Wonderful, Tia Lupita was flooded not only with an influx of orders but also with messages of support. "People that I hadn't heard [from] in decades were reaching out like, 'I just saw you in Shark Tank, man,'" the founder recounted.

More importantly — at least business-wise — Tia Lupita has become an attractive investment opportunity since its "Shark Tank" success. Per Saldivar, the company has even gotten a couple of term sheets out of the experience. "Investors and VCs and funds all of a sudden were returning our calls. Once we felt ghosted now, all of a sudden it was like, 'Oh, remember us? We talked a month ago. We want to pick up the conversation,'" Saldivar told us. "We're very happy."

Since 'Shark Tank,' Tia Lupita has a new best-seller

Step by step, Hector Saldivar says he's working to make his company the "number one Mexican food brand in the United States." The company plans on starting small, with the same core product base that they already have — two varieties of tortillas, two salsa machas, four hot sauces, and five varieties of grain-free chips. The hot sauces — and particularly Tia Lupita's original red jalapeño hot sauce and salsa verde varieties — have always been best-sellers according to Salvidar. They continue to make up for around 56% to 57% of the company's revenue.

Since "Shark Tank," however, Tia Lupita has witnessed sales take off for another product: the grain-free cactus tortilla chips. "I think that was Mr. Wonderful's motivation to invest," Saldivar reflected. "He's like, 'This is the best tortilla chip or grain-free tortilla chip I've had ... and I live a grain-free diet.' So what better publicity than that?" As for the founder himself? Saldivar is still partial to his red jalapeño hot sauce and salsa verde and tells us he can't have breakfast without mixing them together. "I put it on eggs," he quipped. "It's quintessential."