Students at TCNJ bought into the Fat Shack concept long before billionaire investor Mark Cuban, making a local success of an alumnus-run business selling sandwiches that are a mashup of everybody’s favorite hangover foods.
But now, with a $250,000 investment from Cuban, Tom Armenti and Kevin Gabauer (both ’09), are poised to watch their business grow far beyond the 13 franchises now operating in Colorado, Texas and Washington state.
Cuban bought a 15 percent stake in Fat Shack after the pair made a successful pitch in an episode of ABC’s popular “Shark Tank” that aired May 12. By the next day, it was clear things had changed.
“Already in the last 12 hours we’ve had hundreds of email requests,” said Armenti, from Colorado. “The exposure has really opened us up to growth.”
Armenti started Fat Shack in 2010 from a bagel shop in Ewing, delivering 2000-calorie sandwiches to the dorms at TCNJ and Rider in the late night and early morning hours. Later, he moved to Colorado, exporting the Jersey-born cuisine to Fort Collins.
Gabauer joined him a few years later, leaving behind a corporate insurance job. He said the company — with a tagline of “Late night done right” — did $5.7 million in sales last year with menu items like the trademarked “Fat Jersey.” The sub features cheesesteak, chicken fingers, mozzarella sticks, French fries and honey mustard. Desserts like funnel cake, Oreos, and Twinkies are all deep fried and covered in powdered sugar.
The pair, both business majors, opened their pitch on Shark Tank by throwing a plate of kale in the garbage and instead offering the sharks — the business panel that weighs in on proposals — calorie-laden fat sandwiches.
After a few bites most were sold. Cuban was hesitant at first: “What I can’t get past is the whole health thing. Every other food product I have is geared towards healthy living,” he said.
But he didn’t resist long. After a nosh and a short negotiation Cuban declared: “Done. Let’s go get fat!”
Armenti and Gabauer said working together on group projects in TCNJ’s School of Business and at their fraternity Phi Kappa Psi laid the groundwork for success in business.
The Jersey Fat Shack closed, but the pair envisions a return. “Obviously Fat Shack is Jersey and TCNJ is where it all started,” said Armenti. “We’ve got Jersey in our veins.”
“We’ll definitely be back,” said Gabauer.
— Patricia Alex