Fried Green Tomatoes After Shark Tank: We Caught Up With The Founder

Whether or not you've sampled Fried Green Tomatoes, chances are you're familiar with the Southern delicacy that landed on "Shark Tank" during its 11th season. By all accounts, Nashville native Holly Cooper's recipe is the cream of the crop when it comes to the real thing.

The food truck founder of Fried Green Tomatoes knows a thing or two about Southern cuisine and has quite the following to show for it — including supporters like Fannie Flagg, the author of the 1987 "Fried Green Tomatoes" novel, and Mark Cuban, who called the company's crispy fried pickles "the best he'd ever had," recalls Cooper. And even if you can't travel to Tennessee, you can still get a taste of authentic Southern flavor at home. In addition to its food truck fare, Fried Green Tomatoes produces a mouthwatering batter and sauce mix available on store shelves nationwide.

In her "Shark Tank" appearance, Cooper asked the tank for $200,000 at 15% equity in hopes of one day franchising Fried Green Tomatoes.  Despite reserved responses from some sharks, both Barbara Corcoran and Daymond John expressed interest in the Southern-fried startup company. Cooper's "Shark Tank" episode debuted in the spring of 2020, a trying time for the restaurant industry — but things went a little differently than expected for her newly-backed food truck business. We caught up with Fried Green Tomatoes founder, Holly Cooper, to see what the Nashville native has had on her plate since her "Shark Tank" segment aired.

How Fried Green Tomatoes got its start

In 2011, Holly Cooper lost her job in sales. It was a tumultuous time, she recalls. "I was like, 'What am I going to do? I couldn't get an interview anywhere." However, she couldn't help but notice the growing food truck scene in Nashville, Tennessee — and her home-cooked recipes were attracting heaps of praise from family and friends. "I thought, 'Maybe I'll try to start a food truck,'" Cooper explained.

Looking to expand, Cooper set her sights on the Wilson County State Fair, a Tennessee tradition that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each season. But what Cooper didn't anticipate was a lengthy application process for hopeful vendors. Cooper recalls a phone conversation with a Fair representative who simply laughed at her request. "She said, 'Oh, honey, we've got people that have been on a list for over five years waiting to get in."

Fortunately, Cooper had one bargaining chip that set her apart from the pack. In 1982, she was a finalist in the Ms. Wilson County Fair Pageant. Suddenly, the representative softened to Cooper's inquiry. "She said, 'Well, what have you got?' I said 'fried green tomatoes,' and she said, 'I'll find you a spot,'" says Cooper. With that, Fried Green Tomatoes made its debut at the 2012 Wilson State Fair. "We paid for our investment in three days at the Fair, so it became a pretty big success right away," Cooper says. "I started the business after the fact."

Shark Tank was an opportunity Fried Green Tomatoes couldn't turn down

With Fried Green Tomatoes flourishing in the 2010s, Cooper caught wind of an exciting business opportunity. "Shark Tank," she learned, was looking for new contestants. "2016 was when we actually launched our product line — which is our batter and our secret sauce. So when 'Shark Tank' came to Nashville, I said, 'I've got to go give it a shot,' even if just for kicks," Cooper explains.

Although she made it to the final audition rounds, Cooper recounts, there was another exciting trip that had to take the backseat for Shark Tank. "I was actually booked to go to the Fancy Food Show, and I got my call that I was going to Los Angeles to film Shark Tank. So I had to cancel my show!" said Cooper.

Going into "Shark Tank," Cooper had her eye on one shark in particular: Barbara. In the Fried Green Tomatoes segment, the Nashville entrepreneur gives a remarkably poised pitch to the sharks after handing out baskets of her signature recipe. Yet Cooper explains it was "quite nerve-wracking" behind the scenes. Still, even after a rocky start, the Fried Green Tomatoes founder managed to capture the interest of not one but two sharks: Daymond and — to Cooper's delight — Barbara.

Ways Shark Tank continues to boost business for Fried Green Tomatoes

Barbara offered Fried Green Tomatoes $200,000 at 30%, whereas Daymond proposed the same amount and an attractive 25% stake. "Stay here," cautioned Mark Cuban, pointing knowingly toward Barbara. Barbara was not amused by Daymond's competitive offer for Fried Green Tomatoes, either. "He doesn't know a damn thing about the franchise business," she quipped. Choosing between Daymond and Barbara was a difficult call, but Cooper went with her first choice in the end — "even though I had to give up a little extra."

Barbara's stunning success story with Cousins Maine Lobster Truck, says Cooper, sealed the deal. In fact, Barbara even connected Fried Green Tomatoes to Cousins via conference calls. "One thing Cousins emphasized was that you really only want to have one or two trucks your first year because you've got to work the kinks out and make sure everything runs smoothly," Cooper notes.

Many "Shark Tank" contestants fail to hook a single shark, but Cooper thinks she knows why Fried Green Tomatoes made such an impression. "We have something very unique and different. There's not really a food truck out there like ours," she muses. And though the Fried Green Tomatoes "Shark Tank" episode first aired nearly three years ago, Cooper can always tell when her segment airs again by a large influx of orders — sometimes twice in a single week. "It's great, we're constantly getting exposure."

Fried Green Tomatoes surprised its shark during the pandemic

Cooper's Fried Green Tomatoes pitch on "Shark Tank" was filmed in 2019, and the episode debuted in the spring of 2020. When asked how the pandemic affected business, Cooper had a surprising response. "We had our biggest year, the year of COVID. We reworked how we were going to do business; we started going into neighborhoods." Southern delicacies like the Bacon Lettuce Fried Green Tomato were a change of pace for customers with limited dining options.

"And right before the pandemic shut the country down in 2020, we had a tornado," Cooper continued. After Tennessee deemed food truck vendors frontline workers, the Fried Green Tomato team was eager to support Nashville's first responders and other members of the community by delivering free meals throughout the region.

Then, in 2020, the Tennessee State Fair — which helped launch Fried Green Tomatoes' business — was canceled for the first time in 150 years. But Cooper and her team rose to the challenge, finding other ways to keep business booming. "Barbara was surprised that we had our top sales that year. The Wilson County Fair is typically a $45,000 dollar show. We have many shows that are $15 to $20,000 shows. So when you don't have those, you've got to really figure out how you're going to make up for it. For us to be able to still come out with the numbers we did, it was pretty amazing."

The family business has come full circle

Cooper has held numerous titles, from beauty pageant queen to sales superstar, but one of her longest-running roles was in the family restaurant business. Before there was Fried Green Tomatoes, there was Hermitage House Smorgasbord. Established in 1975, both Cooper and her children helped out at the popular Nashville institution. "My mom was waiting tables in the 1970s," says Kala Davis, Cooper's daughter. "Growing up in that business gave my sister and me a lot of insight. Mom actually went on to open another concept of meat and three called the Blue Goose. And so, our whole life has been spent watching our parents work in the food business and learning it inside and out."

The restaurant was known for its home-cooked delights, from fried chicken and apple fritters to peach cobbler. Sadly, the Hermitage House Smorgasbord closed its doors in 2023, but the clan is still connected through the restaurant industry — and doesn't rule out the idea of revisiting some old family recipes down the road. "That's kind of a dream that we all have, to carry that legacy on," Davis states.

It was Cooper's wish to put franchising on the map for Fried Green Tomatoes back in 2019. And in 2023, that wish has become a reality, with Davis partnering up to market Fried Green Tomatoes franchises. According to Davis and Cooper, none of this would have been possible without the support of their "Shark Tank" mentor, Barbara.

Fried Green Tomatoes remains passionate about helping others

An area where Barbara helped Fried Green Tomatoes considerably? "Organization," Cooper responds. "I can make things happen, but being organized is not always my strong suit. Barbara said, 'Are either of your daughters organized? And I said, 'Yes, yes, they are,'" she laughs. "Mom is the face," says Davis. "But I'm good with logistics. My sister was always good at finances and bookkeeping. We knew what fit roles our personalities and that's how we formed."

"Also," continues Davis, "just being a mother-daughter team and women-owned is important to us. We want people to know they're capable of doing anything." Davis, who triumphed over addiction in the past, felt it was time to give back to the community with the help of Fried Green Tomatoes. Thus, a partnership between Rest Stop Ministries, a Tennesee-based organization that works to restore the lives of survivors of sex trafficking, was established.

"One big thing that Fried Green Tomatoes has been able to do in giving back to the local community is partnering with Rest Stop Ministries to package our retail line," says Davis. "We're always thinking of new products to develop that are survivor-made by the ladies in our residential program." Eventually, Davis hopes the company can grow to provide women with more long-term opportunities for economic advancement.

New offerings could be on the horizon for Fried Green Tomatoes

While Fried Green Tomatoes' batter is available on store shelves, one key ingredient can be hard to find outside of warmer climates: the green tomatoes themselves. As a result, Cooper has contemplated offering canned produce, from green beans to tomatoes, to accompany the company's dry mixes. "There are so many areas that don't even know what a fried green tomato is," says Cooper. But once the uninitiated get a taste of Cooper's cooking, they can't get enough. "When we went to Atlanta Market, we had people that were crowding the aisles in every direction. People were saying, 'I was in building seven, and I heard about these fried green tomatoes, so we came all the way over here 'cause we wanted to try them.'"

Fried Green Tomatoes' menu has proven successful, yet both Cooper and Davis are keen to discuss the possibility of new additions to the lineup. "I think that we'll work towards expanding our retail product line and adding more homestyle, family-recipe stuff — things that you'd see in the South growing up, like fried chicken," says Davis. "Mom does a really good barbecued shrimp recipe. I think our heart's desire would be to expand our retail product line into options that people can take home." Given the success of its Fried Green Tomato Batter Mix and Secret Sauce, one can only imagine the deliciousness contained within a Fried Green Tomatoes shrimp marinade or chicken fry.

The future of Fried Green Tomatoes

Since appearing on "Shark Tank," Fried Green Tomatoes has cultivated a more substantial fan base. "After the show, I would see people whispering to each other, 'That's her!' It's funny how people feel you're such a star," says Cooper. Customers adore the BLFGT sandwich that Cooper proudly showcased in the shark tank, but Cooper and Davis are in agreement on their favorite menu item. "I love the shrimp po'boy," Cooper says. "A little mayonnaise, a little hot sauce, a side of remoulade, and we're good to go," adds Davis. Prior to Fried Green Tomatoes' inclusion of grouper and shrimp po'boy sandwiches, says Cooper, it was near-impossible to find such fare in Nashville.

Considering its growth and positive outlook in the face of uncertain times, the future certainly seems promising for Fried Green Tomatoes. At the time of writing, the company is hoping to connect with potential franchisees in the Southeast region. "We've had many people say they'd love to buy a franchise from us — of course, at that time, we weren't selling franchises. We had a good bit of interest. But we just now completed that process, and we're at the point that we can sell," says Cooper. Other plans for Fried Green Tomatoes include attending more food industry events. Although COVID-19 prevented the company from making an appearance in the years since her "Shark Tank" taping, Cooper says she's still hoping to bring Fried Green Tomatoes to a future Summer Fancy Food Show.