How Miami’s Marvelous Mrs. Goldfarb turned Publix and Mark Cuban onto vegan deli

·9 min read

If Amazon Prime’s hit series “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” about a housewife turned stand-up comic, needs a sequel set in the vegan food world, let us introduce you to The Marvelous Mrs. Goldfarb.

The plucky Jenny Goldfarb parlayed her “Shark Tank” victory in 2019 to now doubling her retail footprint by expanding her Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli vegan plant-based corned beef, turkey and steak line of products to nearly every Publix supermarket in the southeastern U.S. in January, according to the Lakeland-based grocer.

Deli meats in her ‘bloodline’ to vegan

The great-granddaughter to New York delicatessen owners, Goldfarb, who spent her “formative years” in Miami, hit on the idea of vegan deli meats about four years ago in Los Angeles when she decided to go vegan after becoming disenchanted with the animal agricultural world, she said.

“I approached my very meat-and-potatoes husband and said, ‘We’re going vegan.’ He said to me, ‘What are you talking about? You’re not that great of a regular cook. What’s going to happen now?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. But I’m going to figure it out,’ ” Goldfarb, 39, said in a telephone interview with the Miami Herald.

She was speaking from the Los Angeles home she shares with her three children and husband — Emmy award-winning reality show editor Eric Goldfarb, whose shows include “The Amazing Race” and “Naked and Afraid XL.”

Goldfarb’s great-grandfather arrived through Ellis Island from Romania more than 100 years ago and within 20 years operated New York delis and cafeterias, she said.

“So even though my great-grandpa and the fathers have had more mainstream business routes, the love of corned beef, pastrami and all these meats is just totally in the bloodline,” Goldfarb said. She calls her evolution from pharmaceutical sales rep to stay-at-home wife and mother to plant-based deli meats entrepreneur, “a modern twist on the family business.”

The Publix connection

A stacked Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli sandwich.
A stacked Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli sandwich.

“Our goal for 2021 was to get into 1,200 grocery stores and so I’m very pleased to say we’re going out to over 2,200 doors today, including Publix,” Goldfarb said. “And, of course, Publix is definitely the most meaningful account to me.”

As Goldfarb will tell you, in a spirited New York cadence uncannily like that of “Mrs. Maisel” star Rachel Brosnahan — the same bright, quick-with-a-quip tone that apparently charmed “Shark Tank” star and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to invest $250,000 in her company when she was only asking for $100,000 — she really got her start in sales as a Girl Scout selling cookies outside a Kendall Publix. So landing her products at the chain, now that she’s an adult, is a big deal.

“Because it’s iconic. Because it’s huge. Because it’s ‘where shopping is a pleasure.’ Because literally my brother and I still joke about it that taking a trip with Mom solo to Publix was like the most coveted thing,” Goldfarb said.

“We would bribe each other to be the ones to get to go. I don’t know if it was the cookie at the bakery or just to be there with Mom to get what was being bought direct, but it was a very coveted spot to get that [distribution] and so that’s very meaningful to me. And my folks still live down there in South Florida. They’re in Delray Beach.”

Goldfarb, born Jennifer Gross in New York City, was 6 months old when her family moved to Kendall in 1982. She attended Calusa Elementary, Arvida Middle School and did one semester at Miami Killian Senior High until her family moved to Boca Raton, where she completed high school.

“Most of my formative years were down there in Miami,” she said. “I did so many different activities, which I think led to me becoming a bit of an entrepreneur. I did Girl Scouts selling outside Publix stores. I did many years of softball. I even did modeling and acting on Miami Beach for many years at Irene Marie Models and talent agency as a young kid.”

Mrs. Goldfarb’s background

Goldfarb earned a degree in business from George Washington University in D.C., but she jokes about the experience.

“It was very light on the business really,” she said. “I was getting more of my Jewish education to be honest. I graduated from college, had a big job offer at the first pharmaceutical firm, and I said, ‘I’m not taking that. I’m going to Jerusalem for a year. My parents were aghast. Like, ‘I paid for four years of college and you’re running off to sit in yeshiva?’ ”

Goldfarb did eventually take a job with another pharmaceutical company, moved back to New York, but found the work unsatisfying.

“It was an easy job ... but I quickly saw how kind of soulless it was and how, really, Band-Aid medicine is going on here in this country,” she said. “No one wants to talk about diet or exercise or changing lifestyle. They just want to give you drugs to make you all better. So that was kind of like one eye-opening part of my journey to seeing how food could be thy medicine, basically.”

But after her husband’s crack at her cooking prowess, Goldfarb had to learn how to, well, put up or shut up.

“So, little by little, I painstakingly learned how to cook from the produce and grain sections of the grocery store,” she said. “And at some point, after a couple years into my journey, I realized that there wasn’t any quality plant-based deli meat.

“Of course, there were great burgers coming out, or a lot of other ways to make vegetables yummy on their own,” she said. “But I originally come from New York and I also like to say that I really got my family education on Publix subs, because I did — Pub subs — and so I couldn’t get the corned beef, pastrami, turkeys, roast beef that I knew and loved.

“I thought to myself, well, we should be able to get that, too,” Goldfarb said. “I didn’t think it was going to be a business. I just thought it was going to be for my own family to enjoy. But I made this kind of corned beef pastrami hybrid, and friends and family and my in-laws — who were otherwise big haters of what I was up to — were telling me this is the most delicious thing ever.”

Instead of meat, the ingredients in Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli products generally mix beets, chickpeas, tomatoes, a spice blend and a little soy sauce. The products are not gluten-free.

Goldfarb started preparing the vegan deli creations in a rented tiny commercial kitchen and started selling her Unreal Corn’d Beef at Los Angeles delis, where she has lived for the past 10 years.

Enter ‘Shark Tank’

Investor Mark Cuban and Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli founder Jenny Goldfarb embrace after making a deal on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in November 2019.
Investor Mark Cuban and Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli founder Jenny Goldfarb embrace after making a deal on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in November 2019.

Then came “Shark Tank” and her deal with investor Mark Cuban, whose maternal grandparents were also from Romania, in November 2019.

She went on “Shark Tank,” an ABC reality show in which entrepreneurs make business presentations to a panel of celebrity investors, and asked for $100,000 while willing to give one of the investors 10%. Cuban offered her $250,000 for 20%.

“It tastes great and it’s vegan and Jenny is an amazing entrepreneur. It was an easy decision to make,” Cuban told the Miami Herald through an Unreal Deli spokeswoman.

“I actually have a really beautiful relationship with Mark,” Goldfarb said. “I email him every single week and he always writes me something back so we have like a great regular rapport. And he also has an amazing team under him I have access to so it’s a real blessing getting on that show and making that deal.”

How you can turn Unreal Corn’d Beef into a Pub Sub

How to dress up your Unreal Corn’d Beef, Unreal Roasted Turk’y or Unreal Steak Slices vegan-based sandwiches.
How to dress up your Unreal Corn’d Beef, Unreal Roasted Turk’y or Unreal Steak Slices vegan-based sandwiches.

Publix spokeswoman Maria Brous confirmed that the majority of its stores have started to carry Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Corn’d Beef, Unreal Steak Slices and Unreal Roasted Turk’y in the produce section with other vegan deli products.

Sometime in 2022, the three Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal products are expected to move to the Publix deli department. But at this time, customers can buy one of the three varieties from the produce section and then bring it over to the deli department and a staffer will make a sandwich to order.

“We always strive to provide the best customer service and experience for our customers in-store and online,” Brous said.

Brous added that the Publix Deli department currently offers three alternatives to meat-based subs, including a tofu sub, a Greek salad sub and a veggie sub.

In addition to Publix stores and the Unreal Deli website, Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli products are also sold at Whole Foods, Quiznos, ShopRite, Ralphs, Fresh Thyme and other retailers across the U.S.

Plant-based sandwiches a growing trend

Goldfarb and Cuban at “Shark Tank” may be on to something.

Unreal Deli is part of a growing list of companies that market plant-based deli meats including Tofurky, 365 by Whole Foods Market, Lightlife, Field Roast and Yves.

In its What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast, the National Restaurant Association listed plant-based sandwiches as a “#1 trend for the year.”

Rappers Cardi B and her husband, Offset, celebrated his 30th birthday with a party catered by Mrs. Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli in Culver City, California, in December, according to VegNews.

According to the International Food Information Council’s Consumption Trends report from November 2021, 65% of Americans consumed plant-based meat alternatives in 2021, with two in five of them eating these products daily or weekly.

VegNews also reported that Grubhub saw a 463% increase in plant-based meat orders in 2020 and a further 55% increase in vegetarian food orders in 2021 in Grubhub’s State of the Plate report.

Finally, the global market for meat substitutes is forecast to hit $23.81 billion by 2023, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The last laugh

A promo picture featuring Jenny Goldfarb, CEO of her Unreal Deli company that markets vegan plant-based deli meats nationwide, including at Publix.
A promo picture featuring Jenny Goldfarb, CEO of her Unreal Deli company that markets vegan plant-based deli meats nationwide, including at Publix.

The Marvelous Mrs. Goldfarb has to chuckle when she recalls her husband Eric’s “you’re not that great of a cook” jest from four years ago.

“Not only is there a one-upmanship,” she teases, “but we have three daughters and my husband works a regular job which, fortunately, is now home-based since COVID. But he’s now the one who picks up the kids from school and drops them off and gives me any precious minutes I possibly can have to be able to maximize this role in this job, in this company.

“So my daughters and certainly my husband, everyone’s very aware that Mommy has some very important work to do.”