Mrs. Goldfarb's Unreal Deli After Shark Tank: We Caught Up With The Founder

When Jenny Goldfarb moved from New York City to Los Angeles and became a vegan, she found herself missing old-school New York delis. An intense hankering for a corned beef pastrami sandwich sent Goldfarb into the kitchen, armed with every vegan cookbook she could find and a desire to come up with a good plant-based substitute for her favorite deli meats. She ended up developing a faux pastrami made with beets, chickpeas, tomatoes, and wheat protein. The entrepreneur told us in an exclusive interview that her friends said, "Jenny, this isn't just a recipe, it's a business!"

So, in 2019, Goldfard started Mrs. Goldfarb's Unreal Deli by convincing some of Los Angeles' traditional delicatessens to carry her product. She found a copacker and started producing plant-based deli meat for food service use. Within months of incorporating, Goldfarb applied to appear on "Shark Tank" and was accepted, appearing on Season 11 in November 2019. In the episode, she received multiple offers, including a generous bid from investor Mark Cuban, who offered her $250,000 for 20% of her business — well over her ask of a $100,000 investment for 10 percent — which she accepted without hesitation. 

We checked in on the New York transplant to see how the business has grown since appearing on the show and what to expect next from the plant-based brand.

Jenny Goldfarb hadn't watched Shark Tank before

Goldfarb describes the application process to be as arduous as a part-time job. She filled out hundreds of pages worth of applications. "They asked all sorts of crazy questions, like, 'What's the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?'" she says. After several video interviews and countless written questionnaires, Goldfarb passed the audition period and was given a tape date for September 2019.

"I had never really watched the show before, so I watched every episode and learned what questions they would likely be asking," says Goldfarb. A friend who had been on the show gave her a suggestion to put herself in a chaotic situation, such as holding her crying baby while trying to make dinner and having her husband pepper her with financial questions. With that sort of practice under duress, Goldfarb tells us the friend said, "You'll be fine in the tank." 

It was a similar tactic to how the founders of Cousins' Maine Lobster prepared for their "Shark Tank" appearance, who went for jogs together and grilled each other with questions while sprinting. With multitasking training only a mom would understand, Goldfarb felt ready to take on the sharks.

What happened to Mrs. Goldfarb's Unreal Deli on Shark Tank?

Most entrepreneurs who appear on "Shark Tank" are surprised with how different it is on set and behind the scenes compared to what makes it on the air. During their "Shark Tank" appearance, the founders of Bertello backyard pizza ovens, for instance, were shocked at the frenetic energy and the shouting on set. Goldfarb, meanwhile, had assumed the show was filmed in New York and was surprised to learn it was filmed in Los Angeles. She also discovered that the shark-filled fish tank on the set was actually video screens and not real fish tanks.

In the episode, the Sharks were uncharacteristically nice to Goldfarb from the start. They reacted positively when sampling the deli sandwiches she served them, and nodded approvingly when she shared that the product was only 100 calories for a 2-ounce portion. Their favorable reaction after sampling the product shouldn't be surprising, considering that Unreal Deli products are one of the best food products seen on "Shark Tank".

The Sharks did have one hesitation, however: They questioned the $1 million valuation of the months-old company. Goldfarb responded that she had teams of plant-based investors already knocking on her door willing to give her $500,000 for 10% of her business. The Sharks wanted to know why she came to the show. Goldfarb responded, "Because one Shark dollar is worth five regular dollars."

Cuban bonded with Goldfarb from the start

The Sharks on set included Lori Greiner, Kevin O'Leary, Daymond John, and guest Shark Ana Wojcicki of 23andMe. But it was Cuban who seemed to connect with Goldfarb from the start. When Goldfarb shared that her great-grandfather emigrated from Romania as a teen, Cuban interjected, "So did mine." They bonded for a moment, reflecting on how their ancestors' accomplishments made it possible for them to be here. 

When it came time for the Sharks to make an offer, O'Leary was first. "I will help you; as Chef Wonderful, I'm amazing," he said and offered her the $100,000 she was seeking but for a stake of 20%. Wojcicki seemed ready to make an offer of her own, having invested in other plant-based products, and was asking Goldfarb how she planned to protect herself from the competition, when Cuban blurted out, "I'll simplify everything. I love it. I went vegetarian." And he made one of his signature take-it-or-leave-it offers, $250,000 for a 20% stake, forcing Goldfarb to decide on the spot. Goldfarb didn't hesitate: "Mark Cuban, you've got yourself a deal."

Unreal Deli after Shark Tank

Unreal Deli's episode of "Shark Tank" aired on November 17, 2019. "Shark Tank" contestants often report dramatic upticks in online sales after their episode airs. For example, Nancy Kalish of Rule Breaker Snacks said her Shark Tank appearance spurred a month's worth of sales the night it aired, and she didn't even get a deal with a Shark.

Unreal Deli had just launched its e-commerce site before filming the show, and Goldfarb mentioned the online store in her appearance. The night the show aired, orders hit $70,000, significantly more than the company's total sales since it opened. Each night after saw tens of thousands of dollars in sales, and Goldfarb says that she'll likely see a spike any time the episode airs as a rerun. 

And Cuban made good on his offer. "I had heard that Mark is the most likely to let the deal go through with what he offers onstage," Goldfarb says, adding that he did exactly what he said he would. In fact, Cuban has even invested additional funds into the business during venture capital rounds. But beyond his financial support, Goldfarb says Cuban has been a good business partner for Unreal Deli. Goldfarb tells us that while he's "not much for getting on phone calls," Cuban always responded to her weekly emails, offering support, advice, and mentorship.

Cuban's advice helped Unreal Deli through the COVID-19 pandemic

Unreal Deli's "Shark Tank" episode was only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, Goldfarb focused her distribution mainly in food service channels, selling to delis and other restaurants. The brand is also a popular meatless offering at Publix, which holds its own as one of the most popular sandwich chains, as well as in Whole Foods' sandwich offerings. However, the pandemic shut down or dramatically decreased the business of many of her customers. "Old-school delis were barely staying alive, and my other restaurant partners were struggling," Goldfarb says. "We knew we had to pivot."

Goldfarb didn't have consumer packaging prepared but Cuban encouraged her to write to retail chains anyway and tell them she was ready to sell to them. That turned out to be a wise move, as by the time distribution was set up, she had a chance to finalize packaging and logistics. Beginning in 2021, she launched distribution in major supermarket chains, including Wegman's, Ralph's, Publix, Kroger, Albertson's, and more. Today, the product can be found in about 3,000 locations and retail is the bulk of the company's business.

The company also launched new varieties to go with its first product, including Unreal Corn'D Beef, Unreal Roasted Turk'y launched in mid-2020, and Unreal Steak Slices made with shiitake mushrooms, black rice, and lentils, which debuted in 2021 and are reportedly Mark Cuban's favorite Unreal Deli product.

What's next for Unreal Deli?

Vegans who miss BLTs can rejoice: The next product launch from Unreal Foods is a plant-based bacon, made using a fat marbelization process that will crisp up just like real bacon. "It's convincing looking, tastes delicious, and crisps nicely," says Goldfarb. "It's ready to eat and is crispy right out of the package." She says the product is made with butternut squash and fava beans, and the fat is made of oils and starches.

The bacon, which was two years in the making, will be live on the company's website come November 2023 and will be available at Whole Foods Market in February 2024 and Sprouts in April 2024. The company is also launching a pre-made sandwich program with food service company SODEXO. Sandwiches like vegan turkey clubs or steak wraps be available in hundreds of universities beginning in the spring semester of 2023.

Today, Unreal Foods is said to have made over $10 million in lifetime revenues. Goldfarb says the company will work to build both its food service and retail business. The company continues to successfully raise funds periodically, including $40,000 raised through Kevin O'Leary's community investment program, Start Engine.

Goldfarb says she believes that being on "Shark Tank" gave her an exciting story to add to her sales pitch. Had she not gotten the opportunity, she says, "I think we'd still be around, but I don't think we would have taken off in the same way ... it catapulted us and put us into the public light."