Within a year of perfecting her vegan corned beef, Los Angeles resident Jenny Goldfarb has leveraged a widespread hankering for plant-based alternatives into a burgeoning business.
The home cook turned entrepreneur has not only landed her Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli on prominent L.A. menus, earlier this month, she also scored a deal with ABC’s “Shark Tank” investor Mark Cuban.
“It was the most exhilarating experience of my life,” Goldfarb told the Journal. “As the great-granddaughter of New York delicatessen owners, I’m thrilled.”
The initial public offering (IPO) of Beyond Meat in May this year, as well as the introduction of plant-based products at Burger King and other national chains, reflect the growing appetite for meat alternatives. Cuban’s televised confession on Nov. 17 on the reality show that he now follows a vegetarian diet led him to make Goldfarb an irresistible offer.
“Beyond and Impossible [non-meat products] have paved the way, showing how plant-based is desired, demanded and mainstream,” Goldfarb said. “But you can’t have a [vegan] burger every night of the week. Sometimes, you need a corned beef sandwich.”
Goldfarb’s TV appearance has garnered media interest. When told the “Shark’s” other investors floated $500,000 for a 10% stake, they asked why she turned them down. “Because one Shark dollar is worth five regular dollars,” she said. The next day, Inc. magazine, CNBC, ABC-TV and other outlets featured her quick thinking as an example of how to hook a deal “in the Tank.”
Vegan for five years, Goldfarb grew up loving deli food. Her great-grandfather immigrated from Romania to the U.S. as a teen without parents or English skills. He worked his way up from a dishwasher in New York City to owner of several delis and cafeterias.
“This business is a cash cow. We’re making cash and we’re saving the cows.” — Jenny Goldfarb
Goldfarb’s roots struck a chord with Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, co-owner of 2929 Entertainment and chairman of AXS TV, who shared on camera that he also is a descendant of Romanian immigrants.
“For us to be sitting here on this stage today, it’s what our parents and grandparents did for us to get here,” Goldfarb told Cuban on air.
In a “do or die” round requiring immediate responses, Cuban more than doubled the $100,000 investment Goldfarb was seeking for a 10% stake in her company. Other sharks were interested but Cuban surged ahead. “Jennifer, I’ll simplify everything: I love it,” he said. “I went vegetarian. I’ll make you an offer — $250,000 for 20 percent. I’ll be the poster child for it. We’ll go. We’ll hustle.”
After Goldfarb agreed, the two hugged and in a perceptible undertone, Cuban wished her “Mazel tov.”
Goldfarb said at her segment’s close, “This business is a cash cow. We’re making cash and we’re saving the cows.”
Goldfarb’s product is made from kosher ingredients, including beets, chickpeas and tomatoes. She said kosher certification at her co-packer, which currently makes the product, is expected “soon.”
Asked what it was like to work with Cuban, Goldfarb said, “He responds quickly to email and brings valuable insights. He comes with a team to help in legal, accounting, sales [and] marketing, but he generally lets the entrepreneur run their company with some autonomy.”
Since the taping, Denver-based Quiznos has launched a test of vegan corned beef sandwiches near its headquarters. “Given consumers’ growing desire for meatless options and the rise of plant-based foods, we wanted to test this modern twist on a deli classic here in Denver, where sustainable green lifestyles are thriving,” Sheila Zimmerman, vice president of marketing, REGO Restaurant Group, and owner of Quiznos told the Journal. “Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli is a delicious alternative to traditional deli meat.”
According to Goldfarb, Unreal Deli is low carb, low fat and packs 14 grams of protein per serving. Next, Goldfarb plans to create a smoked pastrami maple- glazed deli meat and a low-sodium line.
Goldfarb spent a year crafting the recipe. “We were able to fool many into thinking they were eating real meat,” she said. “That’s when we knew it was more than just a recipe, but a business. I learned everything on the job, as my great-grandpa needed to as an immigrant. For me, that meant co-packing, production, marketplace [and] distribution.
Goldfarb runs Unreal Deli with her father, COO Steve Gross, and her husband, Eric (with whom she has three children), whom she calls CSO: Chief Sweetheart Officer. “I decided to shop it around to the owners of the Jewish delis of L.A., thinking if the kings of corned beef — the Marc Canters of the world — would find it delicious and take it on, everyone would.”
She quickly secured accounts at Canter’s, Factor’s, Izzy’s, Art’s, Mickey Fine’s Pharmacy & Grill, Hotel Petit Ermitage, and the Fox and Netflix studio lots. Cuban has since introduced the product to the American Airlines Center in Dallas, where the Mavericks play. Upcoming accounts include Mendocino Farms and Whole Foods, which will carry a premade sandwich at 58 Southwest stores, starting early December. UnrealDeli.com also ships wholesale and consumer orders nationwide.
“We’ve been blown away by some of our local delis, like Canter’s, and their reorder rates,” Goldfarb said. “But even small delis selling wholesale, like one in a small town in Michigan I’d never heard of, sold out of 50 pounds of product over the course of a weekend.”
The fast pace of her product’s success has given Goldfarb something extra to appreciate this Thanksgiving.
“I love the explosion occurring over plant-based foods and being a player in my own cultural renditions,” she said. “It is a gift from the universe for being on the right side of history and being willing to try something new, and bring something to market in a gritty, guerrilla way.”
Lisa Klug is a freelance journalist and the author of “Cool Jew” and “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe.”