This Vegan Meat Was Poised to Be the Next Big Thing. Then the Pandemic Struck

After scoring $250k on ’Shark Tank’ and making deals with restaurants, Jenny Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli made a big pivot to grocery stores

In February 2020, 39-year-old entrepreneur Jenny Goldfarb was rocketing toward vegan stardom: Unreal Deli, the brand of sliceable “corned beef” she invented in her tiny home kitchen in Woodland Hills, had been on Shark Tank a few months prior, and “shark” and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban had invested a quarter of a million dollars in the company. Goldfarb was doing a brisk business, selling the product to a number of restaurants—including Mendocino Farms, Veggie Grill, and Factor’s Famous Deli—for meatless Reuben sandwiches. Plus, she’d just landed a huge deal with Quiznos to supply the fast-food chain with 27,000 pounds of product. “All my dreams were coming true,” says Goldfarb, who previously worked in tech and then was a stay-at-home mom.

But, when COVID hit, everything fell apart. Quiznos canceled its order, and Goldfarb’s father contracted the virus. He spent 28 days on a ventilator in a Florida hospital, and doctors told Goldfarb and her mother to prepare for hospice. “It was beyond devastating,” she recalls. She and her father were close; he served as her business mentor—his grandfather had owned a deli in New York—and encouraged her to merge her passion for veganism with the family biz.

Goldfarb’s great-grandfather Morris Gross (center) at his New York deli.

Courtesy Unreal Deli

Never one to give up, Goldfarb called Cuban for advice last April. He urged her to dramatically change her business model and pivot from selling to restaurants to supplying supermarkets for retail sales. “Hearing it from him gave me the chutzpah to reach out to grocery stores,’ ” she says.

Unreal is now stocked in 152 Southern California Ralphs and selling quite well. This past January, Goldfarb launched a sliceable “turkey loaf” made from wheat, white beans, whole celery, onions, and nutritional yeast. “It tastes like succulent, mouthwatering turkey, sliced right off the bird,” she enthuses, “minus the bird.”

The shift to retail isn’t the only successful turnaround in Goldfarb’s life. After receiving plasma therapy, her father survived and recently started walking without assistance. Meanwhile, she’s back in business with Quiznos, which is offering a limited-time-only meatless menu, featuring a new vegan egg salad sandwich she created. She’s also working on an ersatz roast beef.

Goldfarb says, “I want to show the world that all the finest deli products can be made of plants.”

RELATED: Beyond Meat vs. Impossible Foods: Which Plant-Based Protein Comes Out Ahead?

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