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Local Chefs Win $500,000 Investment on ‘Shark Tank’

The chefs' fledgling business nearly lost it all during the pandemic. Now they're being backed by billionaire Mark Cuban.

After nearly losing their fledgling truffle business during the pandemic, two former French Laundry chefs recently charmed billionaire Mark Cuban into investing $501,000 in their revamped cooking class and meal kit concept — which, of course, includes plenty of truffles.

Tyler Vorce and Jason McKinney, who starred on a recent episode of ABC’s reality show “Shark Tank,” are the owners of Bay Area-based Truffle Shuffle, along with McKinney’s wife, Sarah, who also worked at the Michelin-starred Yountville restaurant. “Shark Tank” introduces budding entrepreneurs to multimillionaire and billionaire tycoons, “sharks,” who are willing to invest in the entrepreneurs’ businesses in exchange for equity — if they are sufficiently impressed by their pitches.

The two Truffle Shuffle business partners spent months rehearsing their pitch to the “Shark Tank” investors before participating on the show. Once they were on the show, they got several nibbles. But it was Cuban who ultimately offered the $501,000 loan in exchange for an 18% stake in the company.

Vorce and the McKinneys launched their business in 2018 as a way for chefs to ethically source truffles from Italy. Things were off to a good start until March 2020, when all of their restaurant accounts dried up and the team was left with 20 pounds of highly perishable truffles worth $1,000 per pound, according to Jason McKinney.

A serendipitous request from a private club for an online cooking class, featuring home-delivered ingredients for truffle risotto, turned things around. The online event sold out in a few hours and so did Truffle Shuffle’s entire inventory.

In a daring move, the company began pivoting to weekly online cooking master classes with meal prep kits sent in advance. At around $99 per class, they soon became popular; Sarah McKinney said they’ve cooked in front of more than 100,000 viewers since last year. (You can watch the classes for free on Instagram or on Truffle Shuffle’s YouTube channel.)

The pivot paid off. Shuffle Truffle now employs more than 40 people who work out of the company’s new Oakland headquarters. Their virtual cooking classes are hosted by special guests such as Snoop Dogg.

Truffle Shuffle has a number of upcoming classes planned, including one on how to make the Crepes Suzette shown on “Shark Tank,” Spiced Lamb Loin and Kurabota Pork Belly. On-demand classes ship out ingredients for Black Truffle Risotto, Lemon Ricotta Gnocchi and a Truffle Cheese Board with cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery and Cypress Grove along with their Truffle Honey.

Check out their offerings, including private events, at truffleshufflesf.com.

Editor’s Note: Travel, dining and wine tasting can be complicated right now. Use our inspirational ideas to plan ahead for your next outing, be it this week or next year. If you visit restaurants, wineries, and other businesses during the pandemic, remember to call ahead, make reservations, wear a mask and social distance.

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