Scranton chef Christian Pilosi pitches vegan restaurant to ‘Shark Tank’
Christian Pilosi believes his story, and the story of his restaurant, can capture the hearts and bellies of America.
The Old Forge resident and owner of Eden: A Vegan Cafe in Scranton made two pitches at separate casting calls for ABC’s “Shark Tank” over the last two months. Although his first attempt did not prompt a return call from the hit TV show, he remains enthusiastic and optimistic that his business has wide spread appeal.
Pilosi took his first shot on April 12, in New York City, learning what the entrepreneur industry calls an “elevator pitch.”
“If you happened to find yourself on an elevator with Mark Cuban, you’d have the time until he got off on his floor to pitch him your business,” Pilosi said.
The restaurant owner pushed his vegan comfort food and shared some personal information in a pitch of which he was proud. He was told he’d hear from casting directors in two weeks if they wanted to know more about him.
“I didn’t hear back, but Philly was announced, so I thought, ‘I’m going to go take another swing,’” Pilosi said.
Based on advice given by the main casting director during his first pitch, Pilosi decided to forego the business details and share more of his unique story and personality the second time around, but there was a surprise waiting for him.
“I got the same casting director I had in New York,” Pilosi said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Encouraged by the coincidence, Pilosi took a different angle on his second presentation June 10.
“I said, ‘I believe that my story and Eden’s story is made for TV.’”
Eden opened in 2008, eight years after Pilosi lost his mother and grandmother in a twin engine plane crash in Bear Creek. The cafe was funded with money received in the aftermath of the tragedy.
“After my mom died, and I got some proceeds from lawsuits, I made some mistakes,” Pilosi said. “I built a house. I got married. I got divorced, but this business was the one thing that was still going.”
In 2014, after a harsh winter and an economic downturn, Pilosi was faced with closing Eden’s doors.
“Our customers wouldn’t let us,” Pilosi said. “They came out in droves and asked what they could do to help.”
Regional, national and international patrons gave to Pilosi’s crowdfunding campaign and $10,000 was raised in less than two weeks, allowing the cafe to stay open.
Beyond the far reaching support of the vegan community, Pilosi believes Eden stands out against similar chains because he says his cooking is more accessible than the veggie bowls, rice bowls and kale salads of competitive companies.
“What we do are Reubens and turkey clubs and meatball pizzas,” Pilosi said. “More than half of our business is people who are not vegan or vegetarian. I told (the casting director) we’re a positive gateway drug to better health.”
Pilosi waits for feedback as the casting director brings his pitch back to the “Shark Tank” team for consideration. He likes the idea of expanding through the show, but he’s open to other growth options as well.
He recently heard from a vegan group in Los Angeles who has an investor interested in his business model.
“I love being here in Scranton,” Pilosi said. “We’d never leave where we are, and I love the local feel we have here. I’d like to take that local feel and bring it to other communities.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts