Mama O's After Shark Tank: We Caught Up With The Founder

Mama O's is a New York City-born artisanal kimchi brand. Unsatisfied with the quality of store-bought kimchi, company founder Kheedim Oh began making his mother's kimchi recipe and eventually started a company named after her. He considers Mama O's to be America's first premium kimchi brand and says that the company invented kimchi paste, a jarred blend of seasonings that you can use at home to turn napa cabbage into kimchi.

Mama O's appeared on "Shark Tank" in October 2022. Although Kheedim founded the company by himself, he memorably brought his mother (a.k.a Mama O) along for the pitch, and her sales skills charmed the judges and viewers alike. She was able to banter with Daymond John and teach him how to make kimchi, and guest Shark Kendra Scott loved her maternal energy. Despite this, Mama O's emerged from the Tank without a deal. Happily, the company is still doing well and growing. We talked to Kheedim Oh in an exclusive interview about his appearance on the show and how Mama O's has fared after "Shark Tank."

Mama O's journey to Shark Tank took over half a year

The 10-minute pitch you see on "Shark Tank" is the product of a months-long odyssey and tons of work from both the business owner and the show's producers. Oh told us, "From start to finish, the process took around 7 months ... longer actually." Mama O's had already been in business for 14 years by the time Oh was presented with an opportunity to go on "Shark Tank."

Once a company is selected for "Shark Tank," it is then assigned a producer from the show who works with the founders to prepare a pitch. Mama O's pitch included a segment where Kheedim and his mother enlisted Daymond John to help them make kimchi. Although this was a surprise to Daymond, the Mama O's team had been rehearsing this part of the pitch for months. Per Oh, "My mom did practice that, and the producers went over the language in the pitch ... we'd basically have Zoom meetings where she'd practice her kimchi-making tutorial."

The Mama O's team also ran mock "Shark Tank" pitches in order to try to prepare for anything the sharks threw at them. However, as we'll see, these dry runs didn't guarantee that the pitch would go off without a hitch.

The mistake that threw off Mama O's pitch

Although the run-up to facing the sharks lasts hundreds of days, once you're on set, things can get kind of hectic. As Oh told us, "It felt very fast." The need to set the props up quickly resulted in a critical mistake during Mama O's "Shark Tank" episode.

The company's pitch involved a product display on a table, a little kimchi-making station for Daymond, and tasting platters for each judge with samples of several types of kimchi. Oh said, "You're setting everything up and it's very chaotic, there's so much going on. We were not supposed to have the super-spicy kimchi on the set, and in all the chaos and confusion, I put it on the set for the Sharks to try ... my goal was to say, 'Hey, don't eat this' before they had the chance to try, but they just started eating it."

You can see some of the judges' adverse reactions to the super-spicy kimchi in the televised version of Mama Oh's pitch — Lori Greiner looked shocked and Daymond John let out a little cough while his eyes bugged out. This one simple mix-up may have soured the judges slightly on Mama O's product, as the pain of the super-spicy kimchi drowned out the pleasant flavors in the company's more mild versions.

What the cameras don't show you on Shark Tank

The televised cut of each pitch on "Shark Tank" is dramatically shortened compared to how long the contestants actually talk to the Sharks. Oh recalled that he was probably on set for about 20 minutes, but on TV, Mama O's segment is only 10 minutes long.

We asked Oh if there were any fun moments from filming that ended up on the cutting room floor, and he had a surprising answer. "I would say it was actually the opposite. There was an un-fun moment, just an off-color joke that was edited out of the show that kind of struck me wrong. It wasn't like a terrible, offensive thing, but I was surprised because this is a family show." Whatever one of the sharks said that was in poor taste, we'll never know, because the segment was edited to preserve "Shark Tank's" family-friendly presentation.

In addition to making the Sharks look good, the editing can also eliminate some of the contestant's explanations about their business. Mark Cuban criticized Oh for having not hired any outside employees. It wasn't included in the final edit, but Oh actually had a compelling reason for why he couldn't add people to the payroll during Mama O's earlier years. "I'm not afraid to hire employees — I was creating the category of premium kimchi from the ground up. I've done all this work and infrastructure creating this category and now it's finally ready to grow."

Oh is happy about his Shark Tank episode even though he didn't get a deal

Ultimately, none of the sharks offered Mama O's a deal. Cuban passed due to his concerns about how Kheedim ran the business. Several of the other sharks demurred because they weren't into kimchi. Daymond was on the fence because he found Kheedim's mom compelling, but said no too.

Despite the fact that he walked home empty-handed, Oh is still happy he appeared on the show. For one, he (and even more so, his mother) received a ton of love on social media after the show aired. "My mom is 82 and not plugged into social media at all, so I had to explain to her who Bella Hadid was ... it was awesome. My mom killed it." However, more than the social media accolades, Kheedim cherishes the fact that he got to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience with his mom.

While part of Oh still wishes he got a deal, in many ways, he's happy to still be running Mama O's with his family instead of with one of the sharks. "I started this company by myself, I have zero investors, I don't have to answer to anyone. I don't have any regrets because I didn't start this company to make money, I started it to make really good kimchi ... I've been a boss for a while, and I wasn't really chomping at the bit to have to answer to someone."

Kheedim Oh's advice for future Shark Tank contestants

Oh may have no regrets, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't do anything differently if he were on the show again, or that he doesn't have any useful lessons for people who want to appear on "Shark Tank."

One of Oh's main takeaways from his experience is that you should assume the judges don't know anything about your product. Oh went in thinking that the judges would be aware of kimchi and the current trend for healthy fermented foods but was surprised to find that many of them were not. "In hindsight, I would have done a little more explanation so they would have understood what kimchi was."

He recommends that everyone who appears on the show should do mock "Shark Tank" practices, and he wishes he didn't go into his practice sessions thinking that the sharks would be fighting with each other over getting a piece of his business. "I should've been trying to woo investors rather than beat them back."

Shark Tank didn't affect Mama O's sales as much as you would expect

You might expect that appearing on "Shark Tank," with all the extra publicity that entails, would result in a dramatic sales increase for any company. However, for Mama O's, the reality was more complicated.

"You get a bump in sales after the show airs, but we're not really a direct-to-consumer company — my focus isn't on online sales." Since Mama O's primarily sells its product to grocery stores like Whole Foods, it didn't see as much of a sales increase post-"Shark Tank" as it would have if online sales were a core part of its business. In fact, in slightly unfortunate timing, Oh had to discontinue direct-to-consumer sales entirely right around when his episode aired. "I was in the middle of having a baby and moving my company, so I halted online kimchi sales at that time."

Mama O's still did get a bit of a sales increase from appearing on the show, and Oh said he'd ultimately rather not have to worry about online sales anyway. "To be honest, shipping kimchi by mail is super difficult."

What's next for Mama O's

Rather than trying to make online sales work, Oh is focused on trying to get Mama O's stocked in more grocery stores across the country. At the time he appeared on "Shark Tank," Mama O's products could be found in Whole Foods and Willliams Sonoma. Now he's added Albertson's and Safeway to his list of grocery partnerships, and he's pleased to report that Mama O's is growing. The company has even started distributing products to stores in Mexico.

Oh is also excited about Mama O's kimchi paste, which allows customers to make their own kimchi at home using the same blend of seasonings as Mama O's prepared kimchis. "It's a great way to exercise your food sovereignty while also bee a little thrifty too." He wishes that he had been given time on "Shark Tank" to talk about the kimchi festival he holds every year, Kimchipalooza. The event features a super-spicy kimchi eating contest, so you're guaranteed to see some fiery tears if you attend.