Atlas Monroe: Here's What Happened After Shark Tank

Deborah Torres is known as the entrepreneur who received and then rejected a million dollar offer on "Shark Tank," though she's equally as known for her brand of vegan fried chicken called Atlas Monroe. The plant-based chicken is made from organic wheat gluten and a secret blend of seasonings. It's a recipe so tasty and realistic that, in 2018, Atlas Monroe became the first ever vegan entry in the National Fried Chicken Festival. It was chosen as the best dish by judge and journalist Ryan Grim of Extra Crispy.

The faux-meat product was born out of necessity when Torres' father was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2015. In an interview on the Business For Good podcast, the founder spoke about seeing the documentary "Simply Raw: Reversing Diabetes in 30 Days," and then convincing her meat-loving family to try a raw, vegan diet for three months. To keep them motivated, Torres experimented with vegan versions of their favorites, namely Thanksgiving turkey, barbecue ribs, and fried chicken. Not only did they love the food, but after 90 days when her father was tested again, remarkably, he was no longer diabetic.

The food proved so popular that Torres started a catering company to spread her vegan food. She then accepted an invitation for a booth at the 2017 Vegandale Fest in Chicago, which went very well, and word began to spread on social media — Atlas Monroe was suddenly in demand. With the potential to sell much more, she turned to "Shark Tank" to fund what she believed would be exponential growth.

What happened to Atlas Monroe on 'Shark Tank'?

Atlas Monroe appeared on Season 11, Episode 2 of "Shark Tank" in 2019. During the episode, Deborah and Jonathan Torres pitched the "Shark Tank" judges about their company, asking for $500,000 for a 10% stake in the company. The couple then served the panel their food, and all the sharks agreed it was delicious. But, it was only after everyone on the panel had a bite that it was revealed it wasn't chicken at all, but an organic, vegan meat. 

When it came to discussing numbers, the couple revealed that, in 2019, the company had $60,000 in sales, with a net of $73,000 and gross amount of $76,000. Shark Kevin O'Leary questioned the math, but it was explained that the discrepancy was due to the total including shipping income. Furthermore, the price for a six-piece chicken order was $23, and carried a cost of only $2.67. Despite a 60% profit margin, O'Leary thought the valuation was way too high and declined to make an offer. For similar reasons, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, and guest shark Rohan Oza also were out.

With Mark Cuban remaining the only potential investor, it seemed promising since he talked about being vegetarian himself. Cuban eventually made an offer of $500,000 for a 30% claim of the company, but after discussing with Oza, the two sharks teamed up to offer a total buyout of the business for a stunning offer of $1 million, including 10% of profits for the Torres family. However, the couple declined, unwilling to give up ownership of their own company.

Atlas Monroe after 'Shark Tank'

After the company's "Shark Tank" episode aired, Atlas Monroe had a massive influx of orders. Within two hours, they had $350,000 in online sales and sold out of stock. An Instagram post shared four days later thanked buyers for the support and offered pre-orders. They also promised bigger production capabilities. By 2020, sales had topped $1 million, which doubled by 2021, with earnings in the ballpark of $2 million.

Founder Deborah Torres expressed to various media outlets that, while she was grateful for the attention that resulted from "Shark Tank," she was not happy with how she was portrayed on the show. Speaking with VegNews, she said the episode had been heavily edited "to make it appear that I wasn't intelligent enough for obvious dramatic effects of the shocking ending." Torres elaborated that she didn't accept the $1 million deal because she knew that her company would eventually make much more than what was offered. She also expressed that the judges knew the true value of the business, considering she was told that it wasn't even worth half (her asking amount of $500,000) but then was offered double.

Walking away without a "Shark Tank" deal was anything but a setback, however. In 2021, Torres purchased a multi-million-dollar manufacturing plant in San Diego, California. The huge facility is capable of producing over 20,000 units weekly, now making Atlas Monroe the largest manufacturer of vegan fried chicken in the world. Plans have been set in motion to acquire yet another facility to further expand and meet demand.

Is Atlas Monroe still in business?

Atlas Monroe continues to grow, with ownership still in the hands of its founder, Deborah Torres. The company's products are now available in retail packaging at a growing number of stores and can also be purchased on the company's website, with shipping offered nationwide. Many new products have been added to the menu as well, including different chicken preparations, like spicy chicken breasts, garlic Parmesan popcorn chicken, and fajitas. There are also apple wood-fired ribs, Korean BBQ pork, cured bacon, Jamaican jerk tenderloins, Philly cheesesteak slices, deep-fried stuffed turkey, and a variety of signature sauces ... all vegan, of course.

In a major partnership with the vegan fast casual chain Copper Branch, the restaurant now has Atlas Monroe products on its menu in over 40 locations throughout Canada, Australia, and in its US outpost in Nashville, Tennessee. In Nashville, the vegan fried chicken sandwich was first offered as a limited-edition run, but it did so well that it has been added to the permanent menu.

The company now also serves to-go meals at its San Diego facility, including weekend brunch service. Local delivery is also available through delivery apps Uber Eats, Doordash, and GrubHub. The brand has expanded its offerings into vegan specialty shops as well, including the local San Diego Vegan Market and GTFO It's Vegan for mail order. Continuing its rise to the top of the vegan food chain, Atlas Monroe secured the title of Best Vegan Chicken Sandwich in December 22, for the fourth year in a row.

What's next for Atlas Monroe?

Regularly speaking at events like the Vegan Women's Summit, Deborah Torres shows no signs of slowing down. With plans for adding another manufacturing plant, she continues to lead the company and succeed where the "Shark Tank" judges had little faith in her ability to do so.

More locations are set to soon carry Atlas Monroe fried chicken and its other products. Negotiations are in the works with two supermarket chains to stock the brand, and its items are already available to purchase in Bristol Farms, a natural, gourmet grocery chain in California. VegNews also reports that a flagship restaurant may also be opening soon.

And even more restaurants have embraced the all-natural vegan meats offered by Atlas Monroe. Their foods can now be found in many spots around California, including Pure Soul Plant-Based Eats and Magpie's in Sacramento; Cafe Organix in San Bernardino; Kensho Social in San Jose; and Loving Hut in San Diego. To the east, Atlas Monroe is also available at Herban Vegans in Cincinnati, Ohio; Naked Vegan in Greenville, South Carolina; JMT Sweets & More in Chesapeake, Virginia; and in Florida, it can be enjoyed at Rootz Soul Cafe in North Lauderdale and The Krazy Vegan in North Miami Beach. 

Hosting its first event in 2023, a Fourth of July bonanza filled with food, music, and fun in San Diego, the company remains on track to both nourish its roots in the local community while sowing the seeds for continued growth nationwide and globally.