When Holly Cooper first drove the Fried Green Tomatoes food truck to the Wilson County Fair eight years ago, her recipes proved a hit with attendees — but she never expected the investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank” to share that enthusiasm.
Cooper is a long-time fan of the series, and she was able live out her dream when appearing on a new episode Friday to pitch her business.
“Last year, they were in Nashville doing an open casting,” she recalled. “I heard about it on the news a few days earlier and I said, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve got to do this.’ I threw together a presentation, walked in there and waited in line with hundreds of people. I found out they have about 46,000 try out every season, and I still can’t believe they picked me.”
After going through two audition rounds, Cooper found out she was going to be taking a dive “in the tank” and boarded a flight to Culver City, California with her family in tow.
“It was actually filmed in June,” she said, noting that she had to hide the details for almost a year. “They had a producer that coached me for about a month prior to tweak my pitch with me, and it was top secret stuff. They put you up in a hotel, and once you’ve filmed they move you to another one. It was a really neat experience.”
Cooper and her family were able to see the set before filming, but there was no time to practice before her pitch. It was do or die, and nerves were running high.
“That door opened, and there were four or five cameras pointed right in front of me as I walked,” she said. “The next door opened, and I had this feeling come over me like I wasn’t really there. I had to get myself together — holy mackerel, there I was in the tank.”
She didn’t know it at the time, but Cooper’s husband and daughter were watching from backstage and feeling that same tension.
“I was actually in the tank for more than an hour, and they condensed it down to about 15 minutes for the airing,” she said. “They’re talking, asking questions about your business, and the whole time you’re thinking, ‘am I really here?’ I thought I was going to faint, but it’s really a feeling like nothing else.”
However nervous she may have been, Cooper’s presentation went over well and netted her a $200,000 investment from Barbara Corcoran, who has been on “Shark Tank” since its first season.
“Barbara is the shark I wanted all along, because she has experience working with a food truck,” Cooper said, citing Corcoran’s work in developing Cousins Maine Lobster into a multimillion dollar franchise. “It’s her highest producing investment to date … they took one truck and expanded to about 40 franchises, so that’s what I’m hoping for. But even a fraction of that would be incredible.”
Before COVID-19 hit, Cooper could often be seen serving fried green tomatoes and signature sandwiches at music festivals, barn sales and flea markets. But she had to keep her work with Corcoran secret until recently.
“We had planned to do a watch party, but due to the virus we weren’t able to,” she said. “But a friend had a Zoom party, and we had almost 100 people on the call with us. To see myself on the show for the first time, it was that same feeling all over again. I’ll never forget that day.”
Since the business appeared on “Shark Tank,” Fried Green Tomatoes has received thousands of orders from across the U.S. and Canada, along with an estimated 50 franchising opportunities.
“Especially for a small business like we are, it’s been a dream come true,” Cooper said. “It’s truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and one that’s probably going to change my family’s life forever.”