‘Shark Tank’ judges in a frenzy over Jewish mom’s meatless Unreal Deli
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'I longed for my classic New York deli meat'

‘Shark Tank’ judges in a frenzy over Jewish mom’s meatless Unreal Deli

With generations of deli ownership in her family, now-vegan Jenny Goldfarb introduced her veggie corned beef on competitive investment show; Jewish billionaire Mark Cuban loved it

  • Unreal Deli founder Jenny Goldfarb. (Courtesy Jenny Goldfarb/ Kathleen Lantos Photography)
    Unreal Deli founder Jenny Goldfarb. (Courtesy Jenny Goldfarb/ Kathleen Lantos Photography)
  • An Unreal Deli vegan corned beef sandwich. (Courtesy Jenny Goldfarb/ Kathleen Lantos Photography)
    An Unreal Deli vegan corned beef sandwich. (Courtesy Jenny Goldfarb/ Kathleen Lantos Photography)
  • Native New Yorker Jenny Goldfarb, who now lives in Los Angeles, California, hugs Mark Cuban on 'Shark Tank,' Sunday, November 17, 2019. (ABC/Jessica Brooks)
    Native New Yorker Jenny Goldfarb, who now lives in Los Angeles, California, hugs Mark Cuban on 'Shark Tank,' Sunday, November 17, 2019. (ABC/Jessica Brooks)
  • Savory homemade corned beef hash in a pan. (Courtesy Jenny Goldfarb/ Kathleen Lantos Photography)
    Savory homemade corned beef hash in a pan. (Courtesy Jenny Goldfarb/ Kathleen Lantos Photography)

When LA home cook and entrepreneur Jenny Goldfarb pitched her Unreal Deli vegan corned beef on ABC’s reality show “Shark Tank” this fall, she scored a two-fer. Within hours of landing an investment from the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Goldfarb also became a media sensation.

Inc. magazine applauded Goldfarb’s quickly finessing a deal under pressure. ABC featured her views on the value a Shark can bring to an investment with her quip: “One Shark Tank dollar is worth five regular dollars.” And CNBC highlighted her confident prediction as she faced the Sharks that competition “doesn’t matter because I’m gonna start working with one of you.”

Cuban, who descends from Jewish Romanian immigrants, took a strong interest in Goldfarb’s anecdote that her paternal great-grandfather worked his way up from washing dishes to owning and operating several New York delis and cafeterias.

About five years ago, after watching several videos about animal cruelty, Goldfarb adopted a vegan diet. But she still craved the sandwiches of her childhood. When she first road-tested her concept, consumers were convinced it was real. And that convinced her to bring it to market.

The result, Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli, has shown unreal progress in real time. Within a year, Goldfarb has landed her corned beef on the menus of leading Los Angeles delis, the Netflix and Fox studio lots, the American Airlines Center which is home to the Dallas Mavericks, and Quiznos stores near the company’s Denver headquarters. The sandwich chain is currently combining Unreal Deli with Swiss cheese, pickles, sauerkraut and honey French dressing in a test run. Goldfarb’s company also ships direct to consumers and delis nationwide.

Goldfarb says her recipe is comprised of beets, chickpeas, tomatoes, a complex spice blend, and has no food coloring or preservatives. Each low-carb, low-fat serving provides 14 grams of protein. Goldfarb revealed more secrets to her corned beef success in the following conversation with The Times of Israel.

What motivated you to create Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli?

I ate meat my whole life up until about five years ago. For the last 10 years of my meat eating, I only ate kosher meat as I thought that was the more ethical choice. Turns out I was wrong. Many undercover investigations show the treatment of the animals is against Torah ethics.

After moving to California in 2011, I took on a more vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. To share how doable and delicious this lifestyle can be, I created a vegan food blog. There were many plant-based burgers on the market, and many ways to make veggies yummy but I longed for my classic New York deli meat and sought to recreate it.

How long did it take to perfect the recipe?

It took about three to four months to get all the ingredients just so.

What prompted you to quickly accept Mark Cuban’s offer of $250,000 for a 20 percent stake?

I learned about a week before the show that he was Jewish. Most importantly, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.

Native New Yorker Jenny Goldfarb, who now lives in Los Angeles, California, introduces her healthier alternative to a traditional style deli meat on ‘Shark Tank,’ Sunday, November 17, 2019. (ABC/Jessica Brooks)

What do you like about working with a Shark?

It’s like a super smart celebrity. There’s the fame that the name brings and then there’s concrete “smarts.”

What’s it like to work specifically with Mark Cuban?

He’s an email machine. He typically responds immediately or within an hour of sending a message. Entrepreneurs send weekly recaps of activities. He likes to be involved in sales, and gives guidance in all else. He lets me copy him on emails. He might respond with a quick one liner, or even one word. But to have his ear and eyes even for a second is huge. He’ll be a big brand ambassador. Mark’s team has also been helpful. We are just scratching the surface of all he can add to the brand.

You’ve talked about the satisfaction of marketing your product in a “gritty, guerrilla way.” What does that mean to you?

Most companies get funded, build a team and work on a prototype over the course of a year or more. This was all from the ground up, starting in my tiny kitchen, running across town with a single sample to a single deli owner to prove the concept. Like the corned beef, the business was organically grown, without any investment until this point.

An Unreal Deli vegan corned beef sandwich. (Courtesy Jenny Goldfarb/ Kathleen Lantos Photography)

How has the success of Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger helped you?

They’ve very literally paved the way for us — making this plant-meat thing “normal.” When I call up folks that run delis, sub franchises, grocery stores, they all know about the push to eat more veg.

What do you love about your corned beef?

I love the flavor, texture, spice. I love not missing a beat from eating a melty Reuben. I love that it’s made with wholesome ingredients, proudly all pronounceable, from the best stuff on earth — plants. And I love the explosion occurring over plant-based foods and being a player in my own cultural renditions.

How does your product compare with other protein substitutes?

Our ingredient deck is much cleaner, not processed and made of all natural ingredients.

Savory homemade corned beef hash in a pan. (Courtesy Jenny Goldfarb/ Kathleen Lantos Photography)

What are some of Unreal Deli’s other selling points?

Our ingredients are 100 percent plant-based and kosher. And we will soon have kashrut certification in place to prove it.

Are you still making it yourself?

I made it in the early days, renting a tiny commercial kitchen for $25 an hour but as we grew, we moved into a co-packing plant, a food manufacturer, in a 3,000-square-foot commercial bakery. Soon we’re moving to a 50,000 square-foot facility!

How does your New York hustle, as Mr. Wonderful called it on “Shark Tank,” empower you?

It’s more than just New York. It’s what’s empowered our people for millennia. We raise the bar. Did you know Tel Aviv is the vegan capital of the world?

What’s next for your brand?

We’re introducing a corned beefy crumble for hashes, tacos, scrambles and expanding our line of deli meats in new categories. Very likely a pastrami will naturally come next. I’m toying with possible turkey renditions and others. We are debuting in the [New York] Tri-State area, Alaska, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Virginia and more delis and restaurants all the time. New York is a shoo-in. Before long, I hope to be in the Holy Land, too.

Unreal Deli founder Jenny Goldfarb’s great-grandfather Morris Gross (right), emigrated from Romania, started his work as a dishwasher, ultimately coming to own and operate several delis in New York City. (Courtesy Goldfarb)

How has your background helped shape your business?

My family history of authentic New York deli paired with some business background have helped shape the scope and momentum of the business. I like the Talmudic quote that says babies bring mazal [luck] because I was literally pregnant one week with my third daughter when I cooked this recipe for the first time. Two days after she was born, I got a call from Whole Foods that they’d like to introduce it to 58 stores.

The men in your life — your father, and your husband, Eric, a TV editor and film producer — are also part of the company. What’s that like?

I love how this business is the most exciting thing to them. My dad helps me as COO. It’s his grandpa (my great-grandfather) who was the original deli owner. Eric helps sometimes with deliveries, but now we’re slowly staffing up.

What’s your advice for anyone looking to land a deal in the Shark Tank?

Stand up strong, know your business inside and out, have a few one-liners ready, love your business and grow it every day — except on Shabbat. I like to describe my feelings for the business with the Hebrew word de’aga, “care and worry.” If you feel that for your business, then step into that Tank and give it your all. The Sharks want a good show, great presentation and to know you’re willing to hustle.

So, hustle.

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