Despite witnessing her great grandfather own and operate successful delis in Manhattan and Brooklyn, New York, Jenny Goldfarb didn’t have plans to get involved in the food business. Then everything changed.
“After I learned about some of the sad truths about factory farming, I said to my very meat-and-potatoes husband, ‘I have got to find another way,’” says Jenny Goldfarb, founder of Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli. Prompted by an animal rights video posted on Facebook by a friend, the wide-eyed and bubbly 39-year-old stay-at-home mom began to explore vegan cooking. Jenny, who had previously had a career in tech, had no prior professional culinary experience and at the time was not vegan.
“I slowly and painstakingly learned how to cook from the produce and grain section of Ralph’s grocery store at Winnetka and Ventura,” says Jenny, whose New York accent remains prominent despite having lived in the San Fernando Valley for a decade. She resides with her husband, Emmy-award-winning reality show editor Eric Goldfarb (The Amazing Race, Naked and Afraid), and their three children on a scenic lot in Woodland Hills. “After a lot of lousy meals, the food started getting good and better and I said to family and friends, ‘I want to make a vegan food blog.’”
Jenny went on to make a video food blog called Count Your Colors where she showcased her homemade vegan recipes. The vlog was not a great success, but still she views it as a worthwhile experience.
“I like to encourage people to do what you love! Get out there! Be scrappy! Get messy in it and then maybe it will lead to this hidden door.” For her, the hidden door was the realization that there were no good vegan deli meat options out there.
“I come from New York City originally. I wasn’t always from Ventura Boulevard, and I know a good deli sandwich. And I wanted it,” says Jenny, noting the abundance of great plant-based burgers on the market. She wanted to fool people in a blind taste test with deli meat similar to what the producers of meatless burgers were doing. She came up with a recipe for “corned beef” on her blog.
“It’s not a hard google search to learn the kinds of brines that are used in corned beef or pastrami. Then I married that into the structures that you’ll find in a lot of faux meat.” Jenny’s creations are made by combining protein-rich grains with the spices typically used in deli meats.
After rave reviews from family and friends, she began making her deli “meats” at a small commercial kitchen in Newbury Park each day after dropping off her kids at preschool.
“I like to encourage people to do what you love! Get out there! Be scrappy! Get messy in it and then maybe it will lead to this hidden door.”
“On the days I wasn’t doing that, I would drive the product around Los Angeles to try and sell it and I sold it in so many delis and little sandwich places that we got articles written about us. Whole Foods in the region became interested in us and I said, ‘Wow! I’m on to something.’”
As the business started getting traction, she did something a bit unusual: She submitted an application for the reality competition show Shark Tank in which entrepreneurs pitch business plans to a panel of celebrity investors. After a lengthy process that included background checks and months of vetting, Jenny got the call.
Even better, on the show she landed a deal with “shark” Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks: $250,000 for 20% of the business. “It was the most thrilling experience of my life,” she says. With Cuban’s backing, Unreal Deli broke out into food service including many hotels and restaurants like Mendocino Farms and Veggie Grill.
Unreal Deli was about to launch in the sandwich chain Quiznos in a large North American expansion when COVID hit.
“The business could have vanished in a moment because our restaurant partners were struggling and that’s the only place we were,” recalls Jenny. Her father, who she says is her closest mentor, also ended up intubated from severe COVID illness and miraculously survived.
“In the nick of time, we started quickly pivoting into retail. It doesn’t happen that quickly, but we were claiming it. I’d be reaching out to stores like, ‘We’re retail ready!’’ And we totally weren’t. There were many months of fake-it-till-we-make-it.”
As fast as it could, the company developed the packaging and lab work to confirm shelf stability and soon began selling in grocery stores. Then a stroke of luck: The largest food brokerage company in North America, Advantage, signed a national contract to bring them to even more outlets.
Currently, Unreal Deli—which now also sells Roasted Turk’y & Steak Slices—is in more than 1,000 grocery stores and hundreds of restaurants. Locally, Unreal Deli products can be purchased at Ralphs, Gelson’s and Lassens, and is coming soon to Whole Foods.
With the success of Unreal Deli, a lot has changed in Jenny’s life. As an innovator, business founder and leader, she has attracted a fair bit of notoriety. But she takes pride in keeping some things the same. “I’m a real Valley chick,” she says, noting the area’s beauty and affordability. “I send my kids to a school that is just four minutes away. We think it’s an amazing place to have a family.”