Which sounds better: a sandwich packed with french fries, chicken fingers, and mozzarella sticks or a cup of chocolate chip cookie dough, complete with chocolate syrup and sprinkles?
On the past two episodes of Shark Tank, two companies pitched businesses that specialize in each of those decadent dishes. One got a deal with Mark Cuban while the other left empty-handed, save for a lecture from Cuban, who debated the ethics of investing in an "unhealthy" food company as the country struggles with obesity.
"What you've done is amazing and everything about it says it's a good investment," Cuban told Kelsey Witherow, the founder of Doughp (pronounced like "dope"), a business that sells scoops of cookie dough. "The conflict I have is the whole obesity thing and getting behind a product that's saying, 'Eat more.'"
By contrast, this past Sunday night on Shark Tank's season finale, the Fat Shack, a Fort Collins, Colorado-based startup that sells triple-stacked cheeseburgers, wings, and sandwiches stuffed with Philly cheesesteak, onion rings, and jalapeno poppers, walked away with $250,000 from Cuban. When co-founders Tom Armenti and Kevin Gabauer agreed to handover 15 percent of the business, they all shook on it. Cuban even remarked: "Let's go get fat."
To be sure, both the founders of the Fat Shack and Doughp had compelling backstories and substantial sales to show proof of concept. Armenti tested the idea for Fat Shack while attending the College of New Jersey. He asked a local bagel shop owner who closed doors at 3 p.m. if he could rent the storefront and cooking equipment from 4 p.m. to 6 a.m. Armenti and Gabauer launched the business in February 2010 and have since opened 11 franchise locations throughout the U.S. The business booked $5.7 million in 2017 sales and $22 million to date, the co-founders told the Sharks.
In the previous episode, Witherow told the Sharks she got the idea for Doughp after working 10 years at Intel, where she started as a 16-year-old high school intern. She put a lot of pressure on herself during that time and developed an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, she said. Witherow quit her job at Intel, launched Doughp in April 2017, and is celebrating more than three years of sobriety. Witherow told the Sharks she's booked more than $850,000 in sales in the year and a half she's been in business. Doughp has a store in San Francisco, and it recently opened a shop in Las Vegas to offer customers "a booze-free bar on the Strip." She also sells online and closed 2018 with $1 million in revenue, Witherow told Inc. She was seeking $450,000 for 10 percent equity of her San Francisco-based company, but left without a deal.
So what happened? Why did Cuban change his mind for Fat Shack? Inc. reached out to Cuban and Fat Shack for comment, but neither responded to a request before publishing. Shark Tank fans also noticed Cuban's change of heart and took to Twitter to voice their frustration.
While Cuban did say that Witherow's product was "unhealthy," she stands by her company's offerings and doesn't plan on changing her recipes, noting that she's selling an indulgence. "As a whole, the stance of the company is treat yourself," Witherow told Inc. "Give yourself a little sweetness."
Even so, she is still digesting the criticism. She currently sells a vegan and gluten-free option and hopes that a new round of funding will allow her to develop other versions of her product that adhere to different dietary restrictions. Additionally, she's aiming to release a grab-and-go container that would allow customers to practice self-control with her sweets.
While her cookie dough scoops might not be the best for your waistline, Witherow's company is built on helping others with mental illness and sobriety: 100 percent of the proceeds from her in-store Doughp4Hope flavor goes to local nonprofits focused on mental health and addiction.
As for Witherow, she says there are no hard feelings toward the Sharks and she's grateful she had the opportunity to pitch them. The experience even gave her an idea for a new Shark Tank-themed flavor of cookie dough: Called "Bite Me," it features snickerdoodle dough and white chocolate shark teeth.