How Banza, a Chickpea Pasta Start-Up, Thrives on Attention

DETROIT — The first big blast of attention could have easily ended the Rudolph brothers’ business dreams.

This was their chance to impress the restaurateur Joe Bastianich and the chef Tim Love, stars of the CNBC reality show “Restaurant Startup.”

They thought they had the perfect concept: Banza, a chickpea-based pasta. But on national television, they absorbed insults over package design and the brand’s name. More damning, the hosts questioned whether the young entrepreneurs even had “a real love or understanding of how your product tastes for your consumers.”

That was just the first five minutes. In another made-for-TV flourish, Mr. Bastianich threw an open package of uncooked noodles in frustration at the chief executive, Brian Rudolph.

Yet the public humiliation would pay off handsomely for Mr. Rudolph and his brother, Scott, the chief financial officer.

Brian Rudolph, in particular, understood throughout the journey from obscurity to the shelves of nationwide retailers that drawing attention by any means necessary to himself and, by proxy, the product, was a modern marketplace imperative.

Any number of his efforts could have blown up in the brothers’ faces.

But even those inauspicious moments on “Restaurant Startup” gave way to on-camera praise from a Whole Foods executive. Banza also drew compliments from most diners who tried it at the pop-up restaurant the brothers had to build as part of the show. And it led to $75,000 in start-up capital from Mr. Bastianich.

“We recognize there are these opportunities to get the word out and potentially accelerate our growth pretty dramatically,” said Brian Rudolph, 26, who developed the initial chickpea pasta prototype.

The show, taped in January 2014, did not air until that summer. By then, using Mr. Bastianich’s investment, $17,581 from an online crowdfunding campaign and $45,000 in seed money from Venture for America, a nonprofit group, the brothers produced the pasta needed to meet an August 2014 deadline to fill their first major grocery order for Meijer, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based chain.

Read more at NY Times.

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