CUNY-graduated spice entrepreneur appears on ‘Shark Tank’


Christopher Willard | ABC

CUNY alumnus Ethan Frisch appeared on the April 7 episode of the business reality show “Shark Tank” to pitch his imported spice company, Burlap & Barrel.

Frisch, who graduated from the Macaulay Honors College at City College in 2008, joined fellow co-founder and co-CEO Ori Zohar to present the business to a panel of venture capitalists. The two hoped that one of the “sharks” would invest in the company in exchange for a share, but while they walked away with no offer, they did showcase their company before viewers nationwide.

“Our hope is that even without a shark as an investment, this opportunity puts us in front of a lot of new people and helps us scale up the business through customer acquisition rather than through investment,” Frisch told The Ticker.

The single-origin spice company works with farmers worldwide to deliver high-quality seasonings to the United States. The founders operate their business with the goal to “end inequality and exploitation in food systems” by cultivating supportive relationships with these farmers.

Frisch had worked jobs in restaurants and nonprofit organizations. He also operated an activist ice cream cart business with Zohar in 2010.

While employed as an aid worker in Afghanistan, Frisch would bring a spice called wild cumin from the mountains back to New York. Upon receiving fantastic feedback from friends in the restaurant industry, he co-founded Burlap & Barrel with Zohar.

According to its website, Burlap & Barrel visits and works directly with spice farmers, “bypassing brokers and middlemen that drive prices up and quality down.”

After the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the global supply chain, the company found stability in 2021, when it “finally received some big shipments that had gotten stuck” the previous year, according to its 2021 social impact report. It was also able to hire customers and friends, expanding the company’s workforce.

While they were visiting a cardamom farm in Guatemala in March 2022, the co-founders filmed their pitch video for “Shark Tank” after receiving interest from the show. They kept drafting different pitch concepts based on feedback until they came up with the one they presented during the episode’s filming in September 2022.

“We wanted to both represent the business accurately, but we also knew that we had to put on a show,” Frisch told The Ticker. “We had to be entertaining, so we came up with tearing our clothes off, sprinkling cinnamon on each other [and] trying to have some fun.”

While visiting Baruch College as a guest speaker for management professor Jerald Saltzman’s course on global supply chain on March 7, Frisch revealed that he would be on the show in a month’s time.

According to Juliana Miranda, a Baruch junior who is enrolled in the class, a student remarked that Frisch’s explanation of his company made them feel as if they were on an episode of “Shark Tank.” Asked by producers to keep the filming a secret, Frisch told The Ticker that at the time of the visit, he had been told the episode’s air date. 

The sharks reacted favorably to the spice samples. Actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow, who appeared as a guest shark, described the spices as “a cacophony of fireworks in your mouth.”

Burlap & Barrel sought $500,000 for 5% equity, but the sharks sought more knowledge and confidence within the market, due to it being overcrowded. Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner and Paltrow dropped interest in the brand. 

Kevin O’Leary offered the money for 10% equity and a guarantee of $1 million in return.

To counter, Zohar offered a royalty deal where the shark would get a 20% royalty on a “Mr. Wonderful” spice blend and a 10% royalty on affiliate sales, but O’Leary refused it. 

Frisch said he and Zohar had fun being on the set of “Shark Tank.” Despite not receiving an offer, they felt good about how their pitch went.

After the episode aired, Burlap & Barrel dealt with an influx of orders, as it had anticipated and prepared for in advance.

Frisch said the company had “record-breaking days” on the Friday the episode aired and the Saturday following it, with 1,500 packages shipped on the latter. When the co-founder spoke with The Ticker on April 13, the company was still fulfilling shipments made over the weekend.

As for Burlap & Barrel’s next steps, Frisch added that the company is looking to expand its offerings with single-origin sugars from India, Colombia and Indonesia, as well as a line of traceable heirloom Mexican chilies.

“The sharks are going to regret it,” Zohar said in the episode. “They put us under fire, and we are just going to go even harder to get even bigger, even faster.”