Know your worth. From Chloe Coscarelli’s ‘By Chloe’ to Chef Tanya’s ‘Native Foods Café I’ve seen whole vegan businesses that these strong, hard working women created with their blood sweat and tears be chipped away from them and I am determined for that not to happen. I think the worse part would be seeing my business thrive and be wildly successful like these businesses and not only not be a part of it but seeing all the benefits from afar. That would hurt more than anything.
Asa part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Deborah Torres.
Entrepreneur Deborah Torres is single handedly changing the food landscape as founder and CEO of plant-based San Francisco Bay area hotspot Atlas Monroe, which was named BEST Fried Chicken by Time Magazine’s “Extra Crispy” at The National Fried Chicken Festival. Actress Tabitha Brown posted a video on social media about Atlas Monroe last fall, which led to Atlas Monroe appearing on Shark Tank and garnering national attention. If their impressive journey wasn’t enough, Deborah is on a mission to bring Atlas Monroe to Popeyes, Subway, Whole Foods and grocery stores nationwide.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?
When I think about how I grew up the first thing that comes to mind is that I grew up Black. I grew up in a predominately Caucasian suburb where I was instantly and consistently reminded that I was different from my peers whether through looks, treatment from teachers, or blatant racism from my peers and their parents and I had to work 3xs harder than they did to receive the same recognition. I was very ambitious because I had to be; because being successful way the only way that I could win. I skipped first grade, was a student in GATE (Gifted and Talented Education), graduated high school at 15, and got my first college degree at 17.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
There’s a big aha moment that the world already knows about when it comes to my father and my family going on a raw vegan diet in an effort to get him healed from diabetes so he wouldn’t have to go through the disease alone. He became completely healed after 90 days of my entire family going on this diet and walking with him for an hour every day. It was truly amazing and an experience that changed the course of each of our lives forever and a time when I excelled at making vegan food taste extraordinary. However, there’s another aha moment people don’t know about. It is that at the time of this raw vegan diet I worked for Verizon making both commission and hourly. I was always at the top of work in competition with my colleagues and worked incredibly hard to be the best. I had a lot of business clients who would always try to offer me another job but would especially emphasize that I should start my own business. I was set to make an unprecedented 6 figures for the job type and my age. But it was after seeing a friend experience a devastating companywide layoff for a high reputable company, that it dawned on me in a aha moment way that I could get fired at any time, lose my job and have to start over somewhere else after working so hard. I never wanted to feel that kind of dread and fear where my wellbeing was founded in a company that could dispose of me at any time especially as a black woman. I wanted to be in a position where my parents would never have to worry about anything ever again and I could gift a stranger their dreams when they really needed it. Where I could buy my parents a home and take care of them the way they did selflessly for us for years. I decided to put my best foot forward but for myself and my family this time and do what I do best- make vegan delicacies that only dreams are made of.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I decided I wanted to do some local catering but needed a website first. After completing the website, I still had a full-time job and did not actually start the business at all for several months. Someone from Canada emailed us about doing a major vegan festival at Chicago’s Grant Park after seeing our website and loving the presentation of our vegan fried chick’n. I thought the message was spam and could not understand how someone found our website when I’d just completed it and all the way from Toronto. I did not respond for 3 months. As the festival date neared, I responded and was surprised to know that it was a real email. For the second time (first time was the raw diet), I convinced my family to do something crazy- to drive our truck and trailer across America from California to Chicago and back and do our first ever business transaction let alone any type of event- at a major festival. Many things occurred on the journey including getting a flat tire on the trailer which set us back 6 hours in terms of finding a tire shop that had our tire size for the trailer. We ended up getting there in the middle of the night just after midnight on the day of the actual event. The event organizers came to us at 2am in the morning and asked if our chick’n tasted good- my Mom immediately answered and said- “Have you ever heard of Doomies?! We are a hundred times better than them. They smiled and said they couldn’t wait to try it. We planned to debut our apple wood-fired ribs there as well. It took us all night to set up and when the day arrived, we still weren’t ready because we make our food entirely from scratch! I saw the line that wrapped around the event and got very nervous. My Dad who had grilled ribs at the Gilroy Garlic festival helping out his friend and church for years was going to be grilling our vegan ribs. I was convinced that like Hawaiian BBQ we’d get customers because they’d see and smell our smoke and come taste our food- but our grill wasn’t producing smoke because of the wind! About 15 minutes into the start of the event my Dad says, “Look Deborah!” and I went to our booth window and saw that our line was as long as a football field. I could not believe it and could not comprehend how? Needless to say word about us spread through the event like wild fire because of how good it was even the DJ stopped doing just to come try it. The event organizers came back at the end and told us it was the best fried chck’n they’d ever had vegan our not. Who were they? Not only the founders of Vegandale, but also the owners of Doomies Toronto which of course we found out later- and the rest is history! That was the beginning of everything; many achievements, and many festivals invites across the country (and abroad), and many lessons!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We have so much exciting things in the works for our customers who have really stood by our side and have been incredibly supportive! We recently acquired our own warehouse manufacturing facility while still maintaining 100% ownership of our company. This has opened up the possibilities for us to really show what we are made of and finally be able to supply our demand. But most importantly, it is going to allow our costumers more readily available access to our extra crispy chick’n which is the most exciting part. We can’t say right no what those things are but will reveal when and where soon via our mailing list on our website and via social media!
Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted. What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?
As much as I wish I could we are not able to talk about the process of the show. Sorry! I will say that we auditioned in person and got in line at 3am. My mom waited alone for a couple hours so we could get ready and practice. We were in the first group of 100 out of what appeared to be a never-ending line of thousands. When I arrived at 7am it was freezing cold and, in that moment, I was forever grateful for her. Being the perfectionist that I am I spent every single moment in the corner practicing the lines of our one-minute pitch while everyone else treated the event like a meet and greet mingling with one another and asking each other what their company did. I tried my hardest not to make eye contact and avoid anyone else’s questions- I did not come to play. We were the only ones isolating and appearing odd with the exception of one guy that I later found out was already previously on the show- great minds think alike!
I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?
In all honesty- after the initial pitch I forgot the cameras were there and was determined to not let them take over the conversation as they often do in my viewing of the show at home. I was determined to speak my truth and be heard and I think that fight in a room full of millionaires takes priority over nerves.
So, what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?
The Sharks were so shocked that our Atlas Monroe Extra Crispy Vegan Chick’n wasn’t real chicken that Mark Cuban cussed on TV! It was pretty awesome! I loved seeing the chick’n on television being the chef that I am I wanted to make the chick’n for the set myself but didn’t have time. I am so grateful for my team- they really did an exceptional job and I couldn’t be prouder.
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Know your worth. From Chloe Coscarelli’s ‘By Chloe’ to Chef Tanya’s ‘Native Foods Café I’ve seen whole vegan businesses that these strong, hard working women created with their blood sweat and tears be chipped away from them and I am determined for that not to happen. I think the worse part would be seeing my business thrive and be wildly successful like these businesses and not only not be a part of it but seeing all the benefits from afar. That would hurt more than anything.
2. Not everything is as it seems. A lot of people think we did not understand the deal the Sharks corralled us with. That we didn’t know the difference between royalties and equity. Any research will tell you some of them already had their hands in a similar jar. What was missed was that they weren’t offering royalties of our own company but royalties to the build of the product itself and consent to its use in other companies. Of course, we’d then have to dissolve our own company because the secret would be out and there’d be nothing separating us from the competition. We’d have to reveal our secrets in totality which could be altered and easily manipulated and therefore stolen, and we’d be hoping to make contracts with other companies we did not want to risk any of that for a million dollars when with time we could make so much more and would no longer own the rights to what we created.
3. Move in silence. I learned that once you gain public exposure many people will watch to see you fall and, in a sense, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Instead of saying you are going to build a table to eat at only to hear the naysayers criticize you for being selfish, for wanting more, for being hungry, for the confidence to do so and in turn planting seeds of doubt and negativity Just build the table then let them watch you eat and enjoy your meal in peace.
4. You can’t play ball until you are in the major leagues. One thing I’ll never forget is Mark Cuban saying to me, “You came here too early”. I did not understand that statement at the time but a year later I understand more than ever. The reason we have not accepted any investments from anyone is because when you don’t have what you need there will be a bunch of ‘Jacobs’ aka Sharks that will expect you to trade your birthright for a bowl of stew because it will quench your thirst faster. Don’t do it! It is not worth your worth. Have patience and feast later.
5. Never forget why you started. There will be failures and those hurt the worst. There will be ups and there will be downs and many things that make you feel like you want to give up. Don’t. Remember the goal and what you originally put your mind to. The universe will take care of you.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
Switch tasks often to keep everyone on their toes and not bored to tears. This also helps with producing consistency. It is important to be the kind of boss that aids your employees in reaching dreams of their own even if it’s just buying school books or helping out where you can, it goes a long way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Thank you so much! I think the concept of paying it forward is something I’d love to see in real life. Especially in times like these. We all need to be reminded of love and kindness and humanity. I think that would be a beautiful thing to see right now across the rainbow of people in the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Imagination is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” — Albert Einstein
I’ve always been keen on prayer, vision boards, and writing things down until it becomes your reality. The most important thing you can have is imagination. It truly is everything and a God given gift. Don’t ever let anyone take that from you. Always believe in yourself and trust that the universe is always working things out greater than you can imagine. Got the chance to know Tabitha Brown on this journey and just seeing her dreams manifest so powerfully has been awe inspiring. It’s just a testament that God always has your back and people that you don’t even know are always praying for you, so don’t give up.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!
After our Shark Tank episode aired, we got slammed with tens of thousands of emails. It was not until January that my employee who answers our emails uncovered that Mark Cuban reached out to us that night and was super sweet. I never responded, because it was not the right time. I have no doubt in my mind that we will meet again. Now that I own a manufacturing facility worth a couple times the amount that he offered while still owning the company 100% (in the middle of a pandemic no less), our interaction would be a joy to revisit and pretty darn interesting. All in all, he was very kind and even if we never talk business again it’d make for an unforgettable conversation the second time around.