Great granddaughter of over 100 years of New York Style deli history goes vegan and in her attempt to recapture that NY deli experience launches what would become a multi-million dollar plant-based meat company.
In the beginning, Jenny, aka Mrs. Goldfarb began pounding the pavement, showing up at every local LA deli she could find with her signature style sandwiches and a smile. Although this garnered some attention and a decent stream of revenue, Jenny’s inherent chutzpah, pronounced hout-spah, was not at all satisfied.
On November 18, 2019, Jenny pitched her plant-based dream on Shark Tank, the popular reality TV show where budding entrepreneurs can vie for their chance to get their big ideas funded.
With a passion warm enough to melt Mark Cuban’s heart, the hustle of a native New Yorker, and only $10K in revenue; a circumstance that typically gets you laughed off camera; Jenny Goldfarb landed an investment two and a half times her ask.
Followed by a grueling months-long vetting process, Goldfarb along with Mark Cuban’s support went on to launch Unreal Deli’s product line in thousands of US retail and food service locations, including Publix, Whole Foods, Ralphs, Wegmans and ShopRite.
I had the unique opportunity to chat with Jenny in celebration of her success, and to commemorate FARM’s 38-year-old legacy program, MeatOut, which has now grown into the world’s largest annual grassroots educational campaign dedicated to removing animal-based meat from our plates.
Thank you Jenny for taking the time to share your compelling story with us.
While most of the world was panicking due to a global pandemic, you managed to launch Unreal Deli. Can you take us through the process of how you broke from the pack and built such a dynamic company when many were cutting back and shutting down?
I think flexibility and perseverance are key here along with a dynamic support system and a willingness to learn by making mistakes. I technically launched Unreal Deli as a business in 2019, appearing on a Shark Tank episode in November of that year (it was shot earlier in the year). We were totally focused on food service at that point and when the pandemic hit, we knew we had to be flexible since food service completely shut down and we had no idea when it would pick back up.
Mark Cuban suggested pivoting to focus our efforts on retail and that was a total game changer. I also had the added stressor of my sweet dad getting hit with Covid so badly that he was put on a ventilator for 28 days and we were told to expect the worst. It’s a total miracle that he pulled through and is now back and better than ever and even helping me build this business! It’s that strength that inspires me every day and reminds me to be grateful for both the wins and the challenges along the way. Everything teaches you something.
I’m glad you mentioned Mark Cuban. What a gift to be working with someone that has the experience and connections that he does. What is the most profound thing you have learned working with him?
How to conduct myself with ‘polite persistence,’ keeping in touch with people in a positive way, maintaining cadence, and how to get what you ask for when you ask for things.
Also on the list would be Investor relations and how to effectively and efficiently communicate with him. We talk weekly and when we do…I listen.
Do you believe Unreal Deli would have succeeded if you hadn’t appeared on Shark Tank and collaborated with Mark?
Totally! As I said towards the end of my Shark Tank presentation, we were already going places beforehand, now it will just happen faster and more publicly.
How long did you spend perfecting what is now the Corn’d Beef, Roasted Turk’y and Steak slices Unreal Deli has become so famous for?
There was a lot of trial and error in my home kitchen for sure and then the process of scaling that recipe to be developed for a larger-scale commercial kitchen, all the measurements and cooking times had to change. A few degrees, tablespoons, or minutes at that scale can make all the difference! When I started and then to when I finally got it right to the point of realizing it could be a business took about 6 months. Then the journey began of driving it around to my local delis and starting cold calls to eventually landing on Shark Tank and the rest is history in the making!
Did you incorporate your family’s recipes and/or style of preparation? How?
The spice blends we use are definitely influenced by the flavors I grew up with and come from my family’s rich NY deli history. When I became vegan for the animals almost a decade ago, I was aghast I could betray our rich deli history… until I spun it upside down! It means everything to me to be contributing to the resurgence of deli relevance today and bringing my family and cultural history into the modern age with this plant-based twist!
Who were your taste testers? Did you conduct focus groups or any official R&D?
My friends and family were so generous to offer their input as I worked on it at home, originally just for my recipe vlog Count Your Colors which I was doing with my kids. Taking it from my home kitchen to scale in a commercial kitchen required the expertise of a pro chef I partnered with to oversee R&D in a more official capacity. It’s all about partnerships. We are not meant to create alone!
Why did you believe Unreal Deli would succeed at this stage of the plant-based product game?
I knew we were creating something totally new with our premium recipe using whole veggies and protein-rich grains backed by my 100+ years of NY deli history. It’s in my blood. That history (which gave me a fine-tuned palette) mixed with our clean ingredients deck was something I did not see in the market. We created a whole new lane. I made my original Corn’d Beef because nothing like this existed yet and I had a serious craving that needed to be satisfied. Now I get to share that dream with everyone!
What do you believe is the special ingredient, pun intended, to your success when so many other plant-based product companies struggle to get ahead?
Having a standout product with a small but stellar team is a powerful combo that makes success possible. When things get tough, we get flexible. We stay lean so we can pivot and adjust more easily in a market that can sometimes be volatile.
I agree about the product when it comes to sales. However, investor relations, marketing to corporations, and other B2B situations require something that draws people in to want to do business with you. What do you think that is?
I feel I am channeling a really beautiful thing that’s coming into the world. A company history with compassion and love. Let’s just eat a delicious sandwich that is made of something wholesome and wonderful, that reminds you of the finest sandwich you ever ate and it is. We come at it with real love and the desire to serve every day. This is attractive to all of us including me, and that’s what we are doing.
Do you suffer from burnout? How do you shift away from that? Does your work help you?
I fully came into this solely for the animals. I studied mystical Judaism in Jerusalem for a year in my 20s and when I came back from that a handful of years later, I started seeing videos online that some folks posted. I said to myself, how can this be? With that background, this doesn’t add up, if you believe in spirituality, God, science, karma, energy, any of it…this doesn’t work.
I felt like I was saving the world with this business when I got started.
Today when I look around, I see my two older daughters who are now nine and ten. When they were five years old they wanted to be vegan. They talked about not wanting to hurt the animals and now they want to eat what their friends are eating.
I have to question how hard am I pushing cause are they going to hate my guts, and turn against all of it?
I get it. The burnout is happening in my own home. I feel that. We are going to look back on this whole eating animals thing like we look back on slavery today. How did we ever…?
Paul McCartney says “If slaughterhouses had glass walls everyone would be vegan,” and of course, they don’t. But what does have glass walls is Facebook, Youtube, Tik Tok, Instagram reels, etc. All of this and who’s watching this? Me, I’m 41, and everyone younger than me.
The resolution is it comes down to where we place our energy. What is to come? That’s the message I’m trying to get out. Keep things inspired and make progress. The Next Gen.
How have you benefited from all the other plant-based product pioneers that have come before you?
We would not be where we are without all the pioneers who came before us. They laid the groundwork and staked a flag so that the world knew we were here. Now we get to play in the ever-expanding sandbox. They opened the door, we’re moving in the furniture!
Our Corn’d Beef, Roasted Turk’y, and Steak Slices being made on a mass scale was revolutionary, certainly within the US. One of the things we do that’s not done in the plant-based deli world, I think there’s one other plant meat company that’s doing this, but generally not done in plant meats at all is the inclusion of whole vegetables. We literally start the entire meat with a vegetable smoothie – started in my VitaMix blender back in the day. We break down full vegetables. Each meat has its own two to three whole vegetables like lentils, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, and beets. These superfoods are then paired with wheat protein along with a complex blend of proprietary spices.
Those spices have a little bit of IP in them. That’s the old country lower east side spice blends paired with whole vegetables. People really love it. We are not Frankenmeats. We are super clear about what’s in our product. 98% of our ingredients you can find in your local store.
The proof of concept is having some old-style delis succeed with our products, this really helped.
I understand that Whole Foods helped you break through the major retail market. How did they find out about you and get involved?
Lots and lots of cold emails finally led to a pitch meeting. I had been driving around to all my local iconic delis, getting placed on their permanent menus – menus that haven’t changed in 100 years! – and that showed them there was something worth looking at here. We started in their food service section with a grab-n-go sandwich and now we’re available for retail in 2 regions with more coming soon!
Recently a very popular and iconic vegan brand was purchased by Morinaga Nutritional Foods, how do you feel about vegan brands being absorbed by non-vegan conglomerates?
I think anything that helps expand awareness and increase accessibility to plant-based options is a win for everyone. Non-vegan legacy brands are seeing that they need to step up their vegan offerings in order to compete and last in the changing market, that’s huge! The more shelf space we can take from animal agriculture – which requires big dollars for placement and promotion – the fewer animals will be in this system. I wasn’t born vegan and now here I am. Growth and change are a process and that process requires everyone involved to move forward and scale.
Would you ever consider selling Unreal Deli to a larger non-vegan company?
If they had the same commitment to growing the brand and its environmental impact while maintaining a clean, vegan label and practicing ethical business standards, I would be open to the conversation.
Recently you announced a collaboration with Quiznos. Can you tell us about this? When and where will vegans have access to these amazing plant-based deli subs?
Here’s the story. We started selling them our Corn’d beef right back in the Shark Tank days. The sales went bonkers in 16 of their Denver locations. They asked for an exclusive, to which Mark Cuban replied, “We can’t do exclusives, we are too far along.” Quiznos then announced a nationwide launch of the product in April of 2020, which was then put on ice due to the pandemic. Until 2 weeks ago (mid-February of 2023) when Quizno’s head chef called and asked to resuscitate the collaboration by asking for samples again. To be continued…!
Do you believe that plant-based food companies will be the answer to a predominantly vegan world in the future?
I think a complete renovation of our food system and some larger-scale business practices will be required for any longevity or any future for that matter. My hope is for a more conscious and compassionate world and food system and plant-based is one of the steps I believe are necessary.
How do you balance work and all it entails, with family and friends?
I keep certain practices sacred, like Shabbat. Every week starting Friday night through Saturday night, I shut down the computer, my phone, etc. and I focus all my energy and attention on reflection, studying Torah, and spending concentrated, quality time with my family. This helps keep me steady and focused when the day-to-day during the week can fluctuate.
If you had never launched Unreal Deli, what would you be doing today?
I would still be a stay-at-home momma, a mom without the -preneur at the end. I might be leading some Torah study groups and women’s spiritual retreats.
How are you handling all the attention?
My family keeps me grounded and focused on what matters in life – no matter how fancy things can feel sometimes, cleaning up baby vomit will put you right back in your place! And my amazing team keeps me focused on what matters in the business.
Do you believe being a woman helped or hindered your success?
I see being a woman as an incredible blessing. We have the capacity to hold so much, we are the ultimate creators. Being part of what’s considered a minority, especially in business circles, gives you a built-in community of support. There are so many women who have and continue to support me along the way and I look for every opportunity I can to give that support back to those who need it on their own journey. Joining organizations like WBENC – the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, which recently certified Unreal Deli as a “women-led business” – only creates further opportunities for mutual support and growth.
Are you working on any new products, collaborations, initiatives, projects, etc.?
Is there an opportunity here to make any newsworthy announcements?
Yes yes and YES! We are always creating and ideating over here.
This Jewish girl is going to bring out some of the finest plant-based pork products. We are even talking about outside the deli case with some ‘Best in Class Meats’ on the horizon. Stay tuned!
Where do you see Unreal Deli in 5 years?
I see us in 500,000 national grocery chains and restaurant locations in the US and double that for our international reach! I’m looking at you Canada, Mexico, and the UK…
Do you have any advice for those who have a dream but are suffering from procrastination?
Do ONE THING today that gets you closer to your goal. It can be anything. Anything that you haven’t done before today. It can be as small as getting up one hour earlier so you can organize your To Do List for the day leaving yourself enough time to ideate with some free time, or it can be as big as picking up the phone to make that cold call to a potential mentor you admire or investing in that new piece of equipment. And then do another new thing the next day until that is a habit. Fear is okay. It doesn’t go away. It’s not about not being afraid, it’s about feeling the fear and doing it anyway!
How can we keep up with all these incredible things to come and stay connected?
To commemorate MeatOut and in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, Mrs. Goldfarb is offering one lucky winner two retail packs of each of their delicious plant-based meats.
Can you say Corn’d Beef and Cabbage!!!
Enter to win by leaving a comment below and tell us about your favorite Unreal Deli experience.
*United States Residents Only