Jenny Goldfarb grew up in South Florida, born into a family of delicatessen owners, she ate her weight in kosher-style corned beef. Munching on subs with friends before the beach, it never crossed her mind that she would become the founder of a company leading a food revolution and transforming food chains such as Quiznos.
Maybe it’s no surprise, given her heritage, Goldfarb answered a ‘calling’ and became the first Gen X business maverick feeding meatless subs to kids, teens, and adults of all ages and backgrounds.
Goldfarb’s personal conversion from omnivore to vegetarian—to vegan—began in 2011 when she moved to Los Angeles. “That was the time in my life that I became open to seeing what’s broken in the world. It took real bravery to watch videos of what’s happening on animal farms,” says Goldfarb.
“I wasn’t raised in a religious home. Seinfeld and bagel Jews,” says Goldfarb. “Then, in college I started learning about Judaism at Hillel. After college, I turned down a big job offer in New York to go to Israel and learn Torah.”
Upon returning from Israel, Goldfarb moved to New York and became Orthodox. “Then I became less observant. I’ve always made it up as I went. I married a Jewish man and we do Shabbat dinners. I’m always into learning. I listen to Torah classes as I go to sleep. What I’m into today is growing my spiritual wingspan, my compassion, that’s what got me into eating this way in the first place.”
Her Jewish journey is only part of the ‘why’ behind Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli, a plant-based corned-beef deli product she personally created to delight animal-rights activists, vegans, and anyone craving the tangy flavor of a kosher-style corned-beef Reuben. Trekking into the Wild West of animal and nitrate-free corned beef, the mother of three and celebrated vegan blogger, surprised herself and others when she came up with a convincing recipe and proven cash cow.
Goldfarb’s niche-to-mainstream food business instincts surfaced when she appeared on Shark Tank and fed investor sharks Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli, and a side of shark-bait with a twist. She didn’t have real revenue to back up her $100K ask, nor was her product anchored in stores. Goldfarb got shark attention with her ‘proof-of-the-pudding-is-in-the-tasting’ product, and a quick comeback to a leading question. Her one-liner, “one shark tank dollar is equal to five regular dollars” was music to Mark Cuban’s ears. She accepted his offer for $250 thousand for 20% interest in her business and closed the deal with a hug as he said to her on air “Mazel Tov.”
It didn’t hurt that Goldfarb and Cuban shared more than their love of corned beef. Her great grandfather Morris Gross immigrated from Romania to New York, where he worked his way up from dishwasher to entrepreneur, owning and operating several delicatessens and cafeterias throughout NYC. Cuban shared on camera that he is also a descendant of Romanian immigrants.
Jewish News: If you had a celebrity wall a la Carnegie Deli, who would be on it?
Jenny Goldfarb: Bill Murray, Jerry Seinfeld, Jane Goodall, Bob Marley, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joaquin Phoenix, Sacha Baron Cohen, Bob Dylan, King David, Moses (not in that order).
JN: What is the endorsement that means the most to you?
JG: The endorsement that means the most is my in-laws’. They thought I was taking my family on a wild hippie crusade. Constantly badgering me with questions, worried my children would be emaciated. Vegan is controversial. It makes people feel complicit in harming animals. When it’s someone in your family, pushback is tougher to shrug off. I finally came up with this creation and they were blown away. Then, Marc Canter of Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles, an old school, iconic deli, took 50 lbs. I remember when that was a huge order. Now we deliver 3,000 pounds to Sysco Foods.
JN: Who is your Jewish customer? What do they care about?
JG: They’re anywhere from Reform Jewish folks to very Orthodox since getting our new CRC Kosher certification. Jews are looking for a number of things: to eat more sustainably, to eat more ethically, to eat more healthfully, to lose weight, etc. Frankly some just want to have their ice cream after eating ‘meat.’ We deliver that.
JN: The animal-free market is exploding. How do you ensure product purity?
JG: We are dedicated to using local and organic ingredients whenever possible. Our beets, our most raw item is sourced from a very close farm, all organically grown. Our label is made proudly with all pronounceable ingredients, that doesn’t take a chemistry degree to decode. Unreal Corned Beef is very high in protein, very ‘meat-like’ made with all natural ingredients.
JN: How do you deal with fear and failure?
JG: I’m into spirituality. I have a bigger partner than Mark Cuban, who is rather tall by the way. Call it God, universe, source. Failure is part of the game. You have to keep getting up to bat. Knowing you have God on your side. That’s the definition of a righteous man, btw. I’m willing to be gritty, I don’t have to be right all the time.
JN: Quiznos is not a brand one associates with veganism or kosher. What is it about Quiznos that got your attention?
JG: I loved eating tuna melts at Quiznos as a kid. I appreciate that we span finer $20ish iterations in nice delis/cafes, and a quick $7 sandwich at Quiznos for instance, so that anyone can access it. I wanted to spectrum from delis to hotels to cafes. I wanted to appeal to fast food and fast casual and reached out to sub chains. Quiznos was ready to move fast. 70% of Americans trying to cut down. At a typical chain, you have a family of four—one is vegetarian and there is nothing for them to eat there.
JN: What is your distribution plan so that cities like Virginia Beach and Norfolk have easy access? Delis. Cafes. Wegmans? Whole Foods?
JG: All of the above. I can literally ship a wholesale box today to Virginia Beach/Norfolk if there are delis or sandwich shops that want to carry our meat. Otherwise, yes we will be coming to Wegman’s and Whole Foods before long and likely going national with Quiznos. But for most immediate consumption, folks can order retail boxes on our website: unrealdeli.com. We sell wholesale to delis all across the country. We already have sandwiches in California and Arizona Whole Foods and we’ll be expanding in nationwide grocery distribution later this year.