When Jenny Goldfarb pitched her vegan corned beef on ABC’s reality show “Shark Tank”, her revenues topped only $10,000. This great-granddaughter of New York delicatessen owners nevertheless scored a deal with Mark Cuban, the entrepreneurial owner of the Dallas Mavericks. The billionaire invested $250,000 for a 20 percent stake in Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli.
That was back in November 2019. Within six months, Goldfarb’s pushed sales to $300,000 at almost 200 locations, including Veggie Grill, Mendocino Farms and Whole Foods Markets. But in March 2020, with the onslaught of Covid-19, Goldfarb’s momentum hit the skids. Her father, part of her management team, contracted the virus, surviving 28 days on a ventilator. Miraculously, two months after a plasma donation, he finally left the hospital to recover at home.
Meanwhile, Goldfarb created a parallel recovery plan, following Cuban’s advice to focus on retail. As Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger have been gaining traction, Unreal, too, has expanded. Goldfarb’s roster now counts 300 grocery stores with another 300 retail locations in the works, including Ralphs, H-E-B, Giant Food Stores, New York’s Wegmans and Canada’s Loblaw chain.
“Unreal has a chance to be the leading provider of plant-based deli counter meats in the country,” Goldfarb’s Shark investor, Mark Cuban, told the Journal. “Every great company starts with a great entrepreneur, but needs great products to really grow into a powerhouse. Unreal has both.”
A married mother of three girls ages 18 months to eight years, Goldfarb’s transition from home cook to entrepreneur dates to 2015 when she started limiting her meat intake. Still, she craved corned beef. The classic fare was not only a mainstay of her diet. It was a way of life. “I was born in New York and knew my way around the Jewish deli: pastrami, corned beef, fresh rye, spicy mustard, Dr. Brown’s, sour pickles. That’s home to me,” Goldfarb says. “When I became vegan, I missed classic Jewish deli, so I sought to recreate it.”
“When I became vegan, I missed classic Jewish deli, so I sought to recreate it.”
— Jenny Goldfarb
After landing accounts at Canter’s Deli and elsewhere, Goldfarb marketed her moxie on primetime. In the year since her winning “Shark Tank” segment aired, her certified kosher faux meats have achieved unreal corona-era success. In addition to a nationwide entry into another 1,000 grocery stores this winter, Goldfarb plans for “ghost kitchens” serving vegan “Unreal Subs” at five Quiznos LA locations and other deals are ahead. To learn more about Goldfarb’s recipe for success, and what Cuban estimates as $50 million potential in an “exploding marketplace,” the Jewish Journal invited Goldfarb for a shmooze.
Jewish Journal: How has your life changed since “Shark Tank”?
Jenny Goldfarb: I’m literally living my dreams running this business. I love the products we make, our small but mighty team and introducing Jewish deli to my vegan compadres and vegan food to my Jewish people.
JJ: What is your secret sauce to making UnReal a real success?
JG: Literally “mazal,” symbolized by the acrostic Makom, Zman and La’asot [Hebrew for place, time and effort]… doing the work, loving the work, wanting to help the world, having the chutzpah to call up the CEOs of the biggest establishments, being good for animals, earth and health and being mouthwateringly delicious…
Shabbat is also part of the equation. Hustling hard for six days and then taking a step away creates a beautiful harmony.
JJ: How did you, your children and your husband transition to a plant-based diet and how has it impacted you?
JG: I ate meat my whole life, and for the last 10 years, only kosher meat. I started learning what happens to animals on “happy” farms, kosher farms, grass fed farms… It was totally heartbreaking and completely unacceptable. I became vegan “for the animals” about six years ago.
I later learned how beneficial this diet would also be for my children, our immunity, vitality, etcetera… Before going vegan, they might get sick like once every five to seven weeks. Now, it could be eight months in between a cold and less severe—no longer requiring trips to the doctor and antibiotics. I am also much more equipped to fight inflammation, common colds, even serious viruses with a diet devoid of fatty animal products and heavy in vitamins, fiber and healthy fats!
My husband was very “meat and potatoes” when I met him. He thought I was taking the family on a hippie crusade when I started introducing vegan fare. But when he tried my corned beef, I knew I could convert him.
JJ: What motivated you to launch commercially?
JG: Enough friends and family telling me how delicious my corned beef finally prompted me to email some friends asking if they knew anyone in the food world.
JJ: How is your father managing?
JG: Dad is doing so well now. We came so close to losing him… Many times, doctors told our family he wouldn’t make it. It is a total miracle we have him back. He is involved in the daily operations… our COO/CFO and sounding board.
JJ: How did the pandemic impact your business?
JG: We were [prospering] in food service in the first quarter of 2020, selling to delis, restaurants, stadiums, movie studios, getting loads of press when Covid hit. Sales started flat-lining in April and May… We kept busy in R&D to come up with Unreal Roasted Turk’y. We’ve got our third meat coming soon, Unreal Roast Beef. Like very fine lean steak slices with a char-broiled exterior. Extremely meaty!
JJ: What kind of in-roads have you made?
JG: We’re at many individual delis across America. One notable is Sarge’s Deli on 3rd Avenue in New York City. Other venues include Quiznos in Seattle and Denver. Several universities will be serving Unreal when they reopen. So will the arenas for the Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and New York City Tennis League.
You can watch her Shark Tank episode here:
Lisa Klug is a freelance journalist and the author of “Cool Jew” and “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe.”