Larry Weidel: Today we are speaking with Jenny Goldfarb, the founder and CEO of Unreal Deli. Find her at unrealdeli.com. Jenny made her big splash on Season 11 of Shark Tank.
She got a $250,000 deal for 20 percent of her company from Mark Cuban. She has grown her business to over 1,000 retailers and restaurants nationwide. Her business is nearing $50 million in sales as of November 2020.
Mark Cuban, a self-declared deli expert said, “I have officially placed my allegiance with Unreal.” The New York Times says that the “meat” delivers on flavor.
A Manhattan deli owner says, “We’re thrilled to see how much folks enjoy Unreal Deli, and the new customers we are seeing with this product in our lineup.”
She founded a non-profit organization, Count Your Colors.
Jenny, you’re a mother of three, you’re a wife, you’re an entrepreneur of a growing business. How are you able to get all this done, Jenny?
Jenny Goldfarb: I like to give a lot of credit to the fact that I started studying spirituality in my early 20s, and I spent a year living in Jerusalem, which gave me a lot of sensitivity to the world and helped me want to do my part to make the world a better place in a really sincere, soulful way.
When I started seeing what was happening to our animal friends on these farms, it completely broke my heart. Then, after I felt heartbroken, I felt almost hoodwinked to have been taken for a ride to think that this was normal, healthy, humane, and acceptable.
I’m looking around saying, “Who greenlit this? Who gave the okay on this? We’re not okay with this.” So I told my very meat-and-potatoes husband—much like your own diet there—I said, “We can’t do this anymore. You will not be okay with this.”
He wouldn’t watch the videos, but he knew how much he loved his own dog. There’s no way to equate any kind of animal farming of any kind. I tried going organic, going grass-fed, the happy farm—whatever way you cut it, there was neglect and abuse. It is so heart-wrenching.
I wound up having to go this vegan route just because I had a conscience and couldn’t unsee what I saw. I figured out painstakingly how to cook from the produce and grain section of the store to feed my family. And that’s how it all began.
LW: You have a business degree and like most undergraduate degrees, it wasn’t worth a whole lot, but there has been some kind of carryover.
Were you working when you were married and having three kids? Did you always have a job? How long was it from the time you graduated to when you had your third child?
JG: Maybe 15 years. During that time, I did have some different jobs that were in various industries–nothing totally pertinent to what I’m up to now. There were times, years, that I wasn’t working. I’m like an accidental entrepreneur.
LW: If you were to look back growing up, were seeds planted along the way with people you were around, experiences you had, things people said to you that you reacted positively or negatively to that formed the fertile field to how you moved forward to make things happen in your life?
JG: Sure. I’ve always had very fiery energy, and I was a good student. My father was a bit of an entrepreneur, having varying successes with businesses while I was growing up. He actually helps me now in my business.
He’s got a lot of entrepreneurial chutzpah. There were many endeavors throughout my life that I do feel like have been training for this.
LW: Were are you an athlete? Were you a musician? Did you have your own entrepreneurial things growing up? Were you competitive?
JG: I was competitive. I definitely was a bit of an athlete. I played many years of softball. I was in the debate club in school. I definitely enjoyed speaking, standing up for my cause. I suppose that all went into this.
LW: I was enough of an athlete to learn that I like winning better than losing. Talk about your drive. What’s the main thing about you growing up, the defining thing about Jenny?
JG: I was definitely a little bit of a teacher’s pet and always wanted to be great. In that sense, I was competitive in my middle school years, but I realized that it could work against you because that doesn’t make you look cool and popular.
So I had to come up with a new strategy. I was always trying to figure out how to fit in and be liked, but also do well, be a good student, and be a good person in a really deep way.
LW: The idea of moving up and making an impact when you started having this awareness about food—it wasn’t like you saw that movie and then went on to other things.
It was like, “No!” That was the touchstone inside of you that thought, “I have to do something about it.” Were you a big cook?
JG: I was never a cook growing up. My mother wasn’t much of a cook, but I mentioned to you that when I was in my early 20s, I started getting into spirituality. It happened through my local Hillel, a little Jewish group on my university campus.
Through that, I had some friends that were celebrating Shabbat. So the big social activity—this was how I used to party in college—was having Shabbat meals with like 20 and 30 people.
So I looked around to see how to cook for a crowd and learned some culinary skills like baking my own bread. I think that experience was even more valuable than any business education that I had because it made me comfortable in the kitchen.
It gave me the confidence to throw out all the animal products, and say, “How are we going to cook now?” But I was already comfortable with measurements and different ways of cooking and loving it.
LW: Were you in LA all of this time?
JG: I was born in New York City. It pulses through my veins to this day and that is why I love a good deli sandwich in the first place to even get me here.
I have a very New York family. We actually moved to South Florida when I was 10 years old, but I’m on videos with the thickest New York accent.
I was born in NYU Medical and lived right in the city just for a bit, but mostly based in South Florida. I lived in New York for seven years in my 20s. I’ve been in LA for just almost a decade now married with my three kids.
LW: You started locally. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones talk about how they wanted to get successful in their neighborhood and then their town, then their region, and then ripple out, like throwing a stone into a pond.
JG: When I became vegan, I had young kids and a husband. I think in families there’s always like a little bit of negotiating.
It’s interesting how when someone becomes vegan, other people oftentimes get very offended by it because it makes them feel like you’re judging them or that they’ll be culpable.
There are no other controversial diets as much as being vegan. My in-laws were such critics of mine that when I had made this “corned beef” for my own family’s enjoyment and for a little food blog.
Then they tasted it. They were visiting from Arizona at that time. And they said, “This is so amazing that you should make a business. It’s that good.” And I was like, wow, these guys were like big haters five minutes ago. So it pushed me to send a couple of emails.
LW: But you have to move forward. You’ve had a breakthrough, but now you ask, “How can I make this commercial?”
You did what people should do. You went looking for answers, and you found people who could show you the ropes. Talk about that experience.
JG: I realized that I wanted to get advice, information that could lead me to the next step. I reached out to one woman I knew in the vegan universe in LA. I asked her if she knew anyone who was in the food business. I told her I wanted to share a sandwich and pick their brain for a half-hour. She replied, “Sure. I know this lovely woman, like 20, 30 minutes from where I live. Go to her.”
I brought her a sandwich, we ate it together. She said, “It’s delicious. What do you want to do with it?” I told her that I’d love to try to sell it. I don’t know what comes next. She then offered her tiny commercial kitchen right there in her office for $25 an hour. From that moment, I’ve been in commerce.
That also required that I had to do all of the heavy work of picking up all the ingredients, bringing equipment, like my Vitamix, etc. Every time I would go, I would cook for a long day and wash the dishes.
On the days I wasn’t doing that, I’d drive around Los Angeles with little sample sandwiches for delis to try and move it while being a mom of two at the time and pregnant. Maybe that makes it even crazier.
LW: When you’re starting out with a great idea, there is no team, no revenue, no real monetary proof of concept. You start by letting people see it and try it, and when they like it, that’s proof of concept. People like it. The next big step is to see if people will pay for it. Usually, that happens in small steps in the beginning, but it doesn’t matter. It proves to you that you have a commercial idea, and this can be your profession.
My advice for people is to go ’round the clock during that phase so you can get it behind you as fast as possible.
JG: I do agree with that. I still love taking off that one day for Shabbat. I think there’s a definite need for one day to recalibrate yourself. But other than that, yes. If you’re not living, breathing, loving it, dreaming of it, then it’s probably not what you should be pursuing.
People ask how to figure out your passion. You have to keep doing it. It’s not like you’re going to find it under a rock somewhere. You’re going to find it because you keep working at it.
If you love that thing that you’re working at, it will pour out of you, and people will want to buy it before they even try it.
LW: That’s where most people go wrong is they never really get sure.You've got an incredible advantage when you can lock in on something you're passionate about from the beginning. Click To Tweet
What would you say to people who have a passion, and want to make something of value out of it and get it going?
JG: My biggest piece of advice is—it’s not rocket science—is to actually do it, make it, create it, and share it with the closest people to you, and then keep going.
In the beginning, we’re not looking to sell it on day one. We’re asking for feedback. Do people love it? What would they like better? Ask a series of questions and then keep getting back at it until you make that people are really loving far and wide.
Start close to home and start actually doing it.