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Whatever Happened To Project Pollo After Shark Tank?

Awareness around plant-based dieting has grown in recent years, but it is still not a lifestyle that many can see themselves adapting to. Lucas Bradbury aims to change this notion with his vegan fast food restaurant, Project Pollo. The line of Texas-based eateries serves an array of sandwiches, nuggets, milkshakes, burgers, and other fast food items all made from plant-based ingredients. By advertising the company as Project Pollo, Bradbury hopes to draw customers in who might presume that the restaurant is a traditional chicken joint before informing them of their true nature, with the offer to even pay for the first meals of their more skeptical clientele. 

As Bradbury explains on "Shark Tank," the Project Pollo founder got his start in the food industry while working as a delivery driver for Pizza Hut in college, where he quickly leveled up in the company. Later on, Bradbury, who had switched to a vegetarian lifestyle, got the opportunity to open a vegan chicken food truck in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic as a way of drumming up business at a friend's bar. The concept quickly gained traction and Bradbury saw the opportunity to scale. Within two years of operating the food truck, Project Pollo had 12 brick and mortar throughout Texas.

The company's rapid growth caught the attention of "Shark Tank" producers, who offered Bradbury the opportunity to pitch on the show. Despite being in a good place financially, the entrepreneur realized the opportunity that the additional exposure and feedback could provide. 

Project Pollo's fast growth was a hard for the sharks to swallow

Lucas Bradbury showcased exceptional growth with Project Pollo prior to appearing on the "Shark Tank" Season 13 finale that aired on May 2022. But even then, his request for a $2.5 million investment for 5% equity stake — which equates to a $50 million valuation — is asking for a mighty big bite from the money-hungry investors. 

Even if the sharks aren't fans of Bradbury's valuation, they thoroughly enjoy his food. The highly opinionated Kevin O' Leary even calls it the best fake chicken he's ever had. Bradbury explains Project Pollo's backstory and his aim to prioritize scaling the business above all else. The company has brought in $10 million in lifetime sales, with plans to hit $6 or $7 million by year's end. They began seeing notable growth when their first official brick and mortar location opened up in Austin, Texas, where they started at $10,000 in sales a week before growing to $23,000 a week within three months. Bradbury owes their scalability to the great deals he received on locations during the pandemic. Additionally, he envisions opening 18 new locations in the following year. 

Ultimately, the sharks don't feel comfortable with investing. While most comment on the astronomical valuation, the company's rapid expansion raises some red flags, with Barbara Corcoran comparing Project Pollo to Season 4's Tom and Chee, who went bankrupt going down a similar path. Bradbury makes a few attempts to see if the investors are willing to make a counteroffer, but they don't go for it and he leaves without a deal. 

Project Pollo after Shark Tank

Lucas Bradbury came into "Shark Tank" with good intentions, but the sharks were ultimately not on board with his company's risky growth rate. Risks can always pay off, but in the case of Project Pollo, the sharks may have been right in their assumptions.

Following his time on the show, Bradbury dedicated time to ensuring his cards were in place before proceeding with the company's aggressive expansion efforts. This included adding various vice president positions and even bringing former McDonald's and Chipotle executives to their team. During this time, the business was experiencing the "Shark Tank" effect with upwards of 300 daily inquiries coming its way regarding franchising. Not only did this result in several new locations, but Bradbury even opened a new chain in February called Side Chicks, which served both plant-based and real chicken items. The reception to this was mixed, with many seeing the move as contradictory to Project Pollo's initial mission of providing sustainably-sourced fast food. 

It wouldn't take long for the growth to start having some adverse effects. Several of Project Pollo's planned locations either had their openings delayed or taken off the slate entirely to focus on improving their current locations. This later extended to some existing restaurants even getting shut down. In April, the company was acquired by an unnamed national franchise group and a vast majority of their locations were to be shut down soon after. Many were left confused by the announcement, unsure if it meant Project Pollo was being closed down or if it was under new management.

Is Project Pollo still in business?

Technically, Project Pollo is still in business, but the recent acquisition has left the company in a standstill. It seems that a majority of their locations have been closed down, including Pollo's sister chain Side Chicks. However, the team claims that their Round Rock, Texas location will remain open no matter what. A current Google search lists the Round Rock location as "Temporarily Closed." One customer left a Google review in April, stating that the restaurant has a "Coming Soon" sign on its door, indicating that it will open again at an undetermined date. 

There has been no recent news regarding the company's state. As of this writing, Project Pollo's website  has been shut down, while their Facebook and Instagram accounts have not been updated since April, the same month as the acquisition. However, founder Lucas Bradbury is still listed as Project Pollo's founder and CEO according to his LinkedIn account, meaning that he at least has some hand in running the business. 

From the looks of it, it's possible that Project Pollo is going silent as its new owners are revamping the brand. What that will look like for the company's original vision has yet to be seen, but chances are Bradbury will put up a good fight to keep their missing intact if he is still on board. 

What's next for Project Pollo?

Lucas Bradbury's plan to dominate the market with Project Pollo might have seemed admirably ambitious at first, but it's ultimately left the company in a rough place. Such rapid scalability is a rare and potentially valuable trait to bring to "Shark Tank." But the lack of a solid foundation resulted in a never-ending game of catch up, which left the team with little to show for their hard work.  

Prior to the acquisition, Project Pollo sought to explore new avenues in its efforts to expand. In February, the team asked their followers on Instagram how much they'd be willing to pay for frozen popcorn chicken, indicating that the company was looking to break into retail. A few days later, pre-orders opened up for original, spicy, and gluten-free varieties of chicken nuggets that came in 3 packs containing upwards of 18 nuggets in total. It was stated that orders would roll out on April 15, but since the company was purchased, no news on the status of these orders has been revealed. 

Bradbury had visions of the restaurant moving beyond Texas. He aimed to see the chain hit cities such as Atlanta, Miami, Nashville, and Tampa, with hopes to have 100 locations by 2025. Their planned openings for Phoenix and Las Vegas were halted when the team chose to slow down operations in late 2022. Time will tell what becomes of Project Pollo under its new management, but hopefully Bradbury and company will take more time with their ambitions in the future.