What Happened To Project Pollo After Shark Tank?

In a world where meatless hamburgers have become the norm, it makes sense that "chickenless" chicken would follow. Despite having nothing in common with the barnyard bird you'll find in buckets at KFC, this product bears a shocking resemblance to the real thing. Meet Project Pollo. Founder Lucas Bradbury told VegNews in 2021, "We are on pace to save more than one million chickens this year from being slaughtered, and by doing so at scale, we can really challenge the system." When asked why he doesn't use the word "vegan" on his menus, he says that he's not trying to promote veganism but is trying to create a more sustainable quick-service restaurant concept that uses fewer valuable resources and has an overall smaller carbon footprint.

Project Pollo also set its sights on running Chick-fil-A right out of business before 2030 by challenging the current restaurant industry and showing the public that there is an alternative to killing millions of chickens. When Bradbury received an invitation from Mark Cuban to appear on "Shark Tank," the business hadn't even been open a year; The day their episode was filmed was their first anniversary. On the opportunity to pitch to the Sharks, he told QSR, " We weren't really needing any additional capital at that time, but we for sure wanted to go on and tell a story to an audience, and we wanted to get some feedback from some pretty relevant investors."

Bradbury's sky high valuation was a concern for the sharks

When Lucas Bradbury hit the "Shark Tank" stage, he asked the Sharks for $2.5 million for a 5% stake in his vegan fast food business. That meant he believed Project Pollo was worth a whopping $50 million. This valuation (one of the highest in the show's history, according to Bradbury) made Kevin O'Leary walk away from the table immediately. Mark Cuban also thought it was too high and added that replacing meat with plants doesn't necessarily make a food better for you. Guest Shark Kevin Hart thought the venture was too chancy. Barbara Corcoran and Lori Greiner felt that the company was moving much too quickly, sparking both to bow out.

However, it wasn't all bad news for the new plant-based food start-up. O'Leary contended that Project Pollo had the best fake chicken he had ever eaten and that Bradbury had a solid business idea. With Bradbury appearing on the show for public exposure and advice from the entrepreneurial sharks, he came away with exactly what he was seeking.

Project Pollo really took off after appearing on Shark Tank

Despite walking away from "Shark Tank" empty-handed, Project Pollo continued its quest to take down Chick-fil-A. VegNews featured the restaurant's "Spicy Project" Chikn Sandwich in an issue of their magazine, which was certainly a feather in the company's cap. By July 2022, the chain had 13 locations in operation in Texas. By September of that year, they had 21 locations, including locations in Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado. It seemed nothing could derail Project Pollo's bold plans to reach 100 locations nationwide before 2025.

What did Bradbury think of his time on Shark Tank? He told QSR that he wasn't going to lower his valuation and "sell his brand short." Instead, he said his goal was to have one of the moguls "come along for the ride" if they supported what he was seeking to accomplish. "I can't expect the Sharks to understand how to grow massive restaurant brands. Not a Shark on there has done that, and that's okay," he said. 

However, a Texas Highways profile of Bradbury noted, "There are no long lines of cars at the restaurant's drive-thru like at the other more established fast-food joints nearby, but perhaps with a little luck and a lot of hustle, the chickens will eventually come home to roost." In the restaurant business, a lack of queues always comes home to roost.

It could be the end of the road for Project Pollo

Bradbury's dreams of dominating the fake chicken fast food market combined a vegan ethos with Texan ambition, meaning big valuations and aggressive expansion — but no dead chickens. All that seems to have changed, though, as Project Pollo might have bitten off more than it could chew in a competitive market.

The chain expanded to 21 locations by the end of 2022, with plans for further growth. However, in April 2023, Project Pollo announced it would close almost all its stores after being acquired by Detroit-based burger chain Savvy Sliders, which expanded its operations into Texas from Michigan and Ohio. "Basically, they wanted everything we had built except for the vegan food," Bradbury told the San Antonio Express-News.

Fans of Bradbury's vegan vision were also disappointed when he announced a new fast food project called Side Chicks, which would serve real fried chicken. This brand outlived Project Pollo, as their crispy chicken sandwiches are available to order on DoorDash. However, they currently have no physical location. When asked what he'd change about his choices after closing Project Pollo, Bradbury told the San Antonio Express-News he'd be "more disciplined and accurate in some of our site selection and sure as hell spend a lot more time in the development of the team."

What's next for Project Pollo and Lucas Bradbury?

Lucas Bradbury began Project Pollo by selling his house to buy his first food trucks, with barely $3 to his name and a baby on the way. It grew like wildfire in the Texas heat and burnt out just as fast. However, throughout the takeover, there was a consistent message that at least one store would remain open. According to Project Pollo's Instagram, as recently as April 19th, the location on Rosewood Avenue, Austin, Texas, "will always be there. Never closing. Ever". Unfortunately, that location, too, seems to have shut its doors per the vegan site HappyCow, with the last reviews coming in late June 2023.

There are glimmers of hope, though. Project Pollo announced pop-up openings at the Rosewood location coming early August 2023, which may foreshadow a larger reopening after some kind of summer break.

Don't forget that Bradbury began Project Pollo as a food truck outside a friend's bar, allowing it to open during COVID-19 restrictions, as they were "serving food." Being bought out by a rival chain is quite a good ending for his story. Also, he is mentioned as co-owner of the Parisian-themed upscale cocktail bar, Pastiche, recently named one of the eight best bars in San Antonio.