For restaurateurs growing a foodie empire, pitching on ABC’s Shark Tank presents an opportunity for a financial investment, as well as exposure to millions of potential customers across the U.S. Not everyone who enters the tank leaves with a deal; however, the experience can still provide valuable lessons, if not an infusion of cash.
Restaurant Insider talked to three restaurant owners about how their Shark Tank appearance impacted their business.
Jae Kim, founder of Austin, Texas-based Chi’Lantro
Before Jae Kim appeared on Shark Tank in November 2016 to pitch Chi’Lantro, his Korean barbecue restaurant, he had already applied twice before. The first time, Chi’Lantro had a single food truck, and by his third try, the business had several more food trucks as well as brick-and-mortar locations. “The combination of the story and how we were wanting to grow in the future was a compelling story enough to have the Shark Tank look at us again,” Kim says.
Preparing for his appearance was nerve-wracking, particularly memorizing his pitch. “I was so nervous about being there,” recalls Kim, who immigrated to the U.S. from Korea when he was 11. “It brought out all the insecurities in me.” Despite this, he loved getting on the show and anticipating his TV appearance after the taping. “Whether you get to deal or not, it’s really truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he says. “I say enjoy every moment of it.” Plus, after the show aired, Shark Tank fans in Austin flocked to Chi’Lantro because they now felt a stronger connection to the brand.
Kim accepted an investment offer from real estate mogul Barbara Corcoran of $600,000 for 20 percent equity (up from the 15 percent offered in his pitch). Still, looking back on the experience, he does think he could have explained himself better. “I remember all the questions and one of the questions that Chris Sacca asked me was ‘what was my vision,’” Kim says. “He told me, ‘Your vision is not big enough.’ That stuck with me, so ever since then I came up with a better vision, a mission statement and core values to run my company by.”
What is that vision? Without missing a beat, Kim says, “Our vision is to become the world-leading Korean BBQ brand.”
Allison DeVane, founder of Arizona-based Teaspressa
When Allison DeVane filmed her Shark Tank pitch around October 2015 (her episode aired the following year), her tea brand didn’t have its own brick-and-mortar locations, but she planned to open cafés in the future. “I told them part of my plan was to have multiple revenues of income, such as online, wholesale, brick-and-mortar,” she says. “I remember one of the comments was, ‘That just sounds like too much stuff.’”
Now, several years later, Teaspressa has café locations in Arizona and Michigan, ships its products internationally, and has relationships with brands including Anthropologie. “It’s kind of neat to be doing what they said would be doing too much to do,” DeVane says.
Teapressa didn’t land an investment from the Sharks, and DeVane admits that she didn’t spend much time preparing her pitch (“I’ve never really studied for a test,” she says). In hindsight, she would have had friends ask tough questions and talk over each other to simulate the pitch experience. “I think one of the most difficult parts for me was when everyone’s talking to you at once,” she says.
Even with more preparation, DeVane isn’t sure that she would have wowed the Sharks. “There were so many hard lessons I needed to learn as an entrepreneur,” DeVane says. “They could see that I had this glitter in my eye and I hadn’t gone through stuff yet, which I totally get now.” One of those hard lessons was opening up a joint store with a bakery and realizing she should have maintained more control over her brand instead of playing it safe with a joint venture.
Although the brand didn’t get a deal, DeVane says the appearance gave her business credibility. “If I were to talk to investors or potential partners or a landlord and say ‘I was on Shark Tank,’ they know the credibility of being on Shark Tank,” she says.
“[Shark Tank] really is the zeitgeist of the American Dream’s idea of people lifting themselves up.” -Sam Polk
Sam Polk, CEO/cofounder of Los Angeles-based Everytable
Everytable is currently available in Los Angeles and has a social mission of selling fresh, healthy food in food deserts at prices comparable to fast food. In preparing for their Shark Tank pitch (which aired in January 2018), Sam Polk and his cofounder David Foster focused on honing their pitch and knowing their numbers. “I’ve seen Shark Tank enough to know that that was the area that people get tripped up on,” Polk says. “Even if you’ve got an incredible business, if you don’t know the numbers, you can look like you don’t know what you’re doing.”
That approach seemed to work; the pair landed an investment of $1 million for 10 percent equity (up from the 5 percent offered in their pitch) from Rohan Oza, their first-choice Shark. “Rohan has been incredibly generous with his time and his thoughtfulness,” says Polk. “I would say that for most of the Sharks, honestly, I walked away impressed. … I thought they asked sharp questions and Rohan specifically had a really impressive understanding of the brand and the market in general.”
Polk says the local community responded more to the Shark Tank pitch than any other TV appearances. “We had people all across Los Angeles watching and supporting us,” he says, adding that “[Shark Tank] really is the zeitgeist of the American Dream’s idea of people lifting themselves up, Horatio Alger-style.”
Everytable’s current reach means not all TV viewers could buy its food. Still, Polk says, “It was really gratifying to see how people who saw the show responded to our brand and what we’re about. It’s a good proof point for us that this is a nationally scalable brand.”