Mee-Ma's Gumbo: Here's What Happened After Shark Tank

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Gumbo remains one of the most important culinary inventions that came from the Southern United States. Originally made by Black slaves in Louisiana, this popular dish combines elements of West African, Native American, French, and Spanish cooking into a filling, delectable stew. With such a rich history surrounding gumbo, it would only take time before someone would try to pitch a product version of it on "Shark Tank," the long-standing reality TV show where budding entrepreneurs try to impress the judges and land million-dollar deals. That's exactly what Carole Foster, a Los Angeles-based truck driver turned business owner, did by opening up Mee-Ma's Gumbo, a food company specializing in frozen gumbo packets, and presenting her company to the Sharks on Season 4, Episode 23.

Foster came up with the idea sometime before 2007, when she started selling samples of her recipe near a local Pentecostal church in Los Angeles. Frustrated by the lack of quality readymade gumbo that did not come as a boxed product at grocery stores, she came up with the idea of selling the roux base as a frozen product instead. Like other food entrepreneurs who appeared on "Shark Tank," she had already found moderate success before appearing on the show, selling her product at local stores such as Costco. Still, she needed more money to expand her product further and to other stores, which explains why she decided to appear on the show.

What happened to Mee-Ma's Gumbo on Shark Tank?

For her debut on "Shark Tank," Carole Foster sought $200,000 for a 20% stake in her business. After briefly introducing herself and her company, the entrepreneur began to offer the judges her seafood and chicken versions of her product. The Sharks were not only wowed by the flavors of Mee-Ma's Gumbo but impressed by Foster's initial Costco sales, which yielded her approximately $500,000 in just two years.

Sadly, those inspiring numbers did not do enough to sway the judges. Mark Cuban, the longtime judge who's planning to retire from the show, was the first to back out in the episode. While he confessed that he loved Foster's product, he also felt that she wanted to scale up too soon. Daymond John did not offer a deal for similar reasons, admitting that he feared that he'd lose money if he invested in her business. Robert Herjavec agreed with both judges and advised Foster to find a partner to make the business sustainable before expanding.

That left Foster with just Kevin O'Leary and Lori Greiner, who both expressed concern over the lack of infrastructure Mee-Ma's Gumbo had. During this moment, Foster opened up about her experience with homelessness and her resilience to make her company work out. In a rare move, O'Leary and Greiner teamed up and offered $200,000 for 50% of the company. Foster happily accepted, and walked out with a deal in her hands.

Mee-Ma's Gumbo after Shark Tank

Like many previous companies who appeared on the show, Mee-Ma's Gumbo experienced the lucrative "Shark Tank effect," which essentially describes the spike in sales a business experiences after its episode airs on television. This actually proved rather troublesome for Carole Foster and her company, as her initial website could not handle the influx of orders. In a public Facebook apology, the businesswoman admitted that the "Shark Tank" showrunners only let her know that her episode would air just days before it went live.

Initially, Foster publicly expressed gratitude that she landed an agreement with Kevin O'Leary and Lori Greiner on the show. Sadly, it appears that the Sharks' deal ultimately never materialized. A few years after the episode aired, Foster went on to write a book titled "Shark Pranked: How I Got Jerked Around By That Stupid 'Investor' Show." People had a mixed reaction to this publication, with one user on Amazon saying they felt "shocked and saddened," while another called the book "disrespectful and revisionist." But even without the Sharks' investment money, Mee-Ma's Gumbo continued to make impressive strides in its sales, expanding to nationwide online shipping by 2020.

Is Mee-Ma's Gumbo still in business?

Despite all the setbacks that Carole Foster continued to experience after her appearance on "Shark Tank," Mee-Ma's Gumbo remains in business. Its products are still available for purchase online and through various local retailers in Los Angeles. However, it does appear that Mee-Ma's Gumbo footprint on the retail market has waned over the recent years. The company appears to no longer stock at Costco or Amazon, and the gumbo bricks also seem to be currently unavailable to order at both Albertsons and Vons, which was not the case in the past two years.

Since appearing on "Shark Tank," Foster has also released several new foods under the Mee-Ma's brand. Today, the company not only sells its famous gumbo brick, but a variety of sweet and savory items such as monkey bread dough, pie filling, and microwaveable jambalaya. Much like the company Obvious Wines, Mee-Maw's Gumbo appears to be one of the lucky "Shark Tank" food businesses that continue to exist after a deal did not manifest.

Online, reviewers have continued to rave about Foster's food. On Amazon alone, the gumbo brick — even though it is out of stock — continues to hold favorable reviews, with one happy customer posting that the product was "worth the wait." In fact, the company had almost 7,000 Facebook followers at the time of publication, meaning that its items continue to resonate with people to this day.

What's next for Mee-Ma's Gumbo?

At a first glance, things appear quiet for the future of Mee-Ma's Gumbo. The company's Instagram and Twitter accounts have remained inactive for over a year, and its Facebook account remains relatively silent as well. Lack of social media presence has usually spelt trouble for many "Shark Tank" businesses, such as the now-defunct Bang Shack. Thankfully, the opposite rings true for Mee-Ma's Gumbo, as Carole Foster continues to make live updates on where her company's products are stocked on her personal Facebook profile. She has not announced any future endeavors, and appears to remain committed and enthusiastic to the business that got her on the show years ago.

If you're based in the Greater Los Angeles area, you can still find Mee-Ma's Gumbo and other products from Foster at select in-store locations. Otherwise, the company appears to continue holding online orders nationwide — although customers outside of the select states might have to pay more for shipping and handling.