Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac are jumping from the lobster tank into the “Shark Tank.”

The two young entrepreneurs from Maine will be wading into dangerous waters Friday when they make an appearance on the popular ABC show to try to get funding and a billionaire business partner for their Los Angeles-based food truck venture, Cousins Maine Lobster.

The show, which airs at 8 p.m., throws everyday people with interesting ideas into a room with five rich investors who quiz them on their businesses and then decide whether to invest in them.

Whether the sharks bite or not, Tselikis and Lomac are using the airing of their episode as a platform to launch the next phase of their food truck business: a Maine-based online company that will sell lobster and gourmet lobster dishes, such as lobster mac and cheese and lobster pot pie, nationwide.

The food for the company is being made in Maine, and will be shipped out of a distribution facility in Biddeford that will initially employ about 40 people, depending on the season.

The appearance on “Shark Tank,” Tselikis said, is “not just branding Cousins Maine Lobster, it’s branding Maine lobster and the Maine lobster industry.”

Tselikis, 28, and Lomac, 31, are cousins who grew up in Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, respectively. They opened their food truck, serving a variety of dishes using Maine lobster and other Maine foods, in Los Angeles in late April. But before they had even served their first lobster roll, the sharks came swimming around, asking them in an email if they’d like to be on the show.

“Generally speaking, there’s about 20,000 to 25,000 applicants (for the show) in a season, and they go to open castings and try to get on,” Tselikis said. “But (‘Shark Tank’ producers) reach out to about 60 companies, and we were one of them.”

Producers had seen a piece on Urban Daddy, an email magazine, about the L.A. food truck. Tselikis and Lomac have since opened a brick-and-mortar extension of the business in Pasadena, Calif., as well.

Tselikis was already a fan of “Shark Tank,” so he knew a little of what to expect.

“We weren’t in it for the money, we were in it to give up as little of our company as possible in terms of equity,” he said. “What we really wanted was to have a partner who would help us hit the national market.”

“Shark Tank” had almost 6 million viewers last season, and this season it’s the No. 1 Friday-night show among adult viewers ages 18 to 49.

The show features five wealthy investors who listen to pitches from entrepreneurs and then quiz them, sometimes brutally. Some of the business owners get chewed up and spit out; others become the subject of a feeding frenzy as the sharks, smelling money, fight one another for a piece of the business.

The “sharks” on the show are billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of HDNet and the Dallas Mavericks basketball team; Barbara Corcoran, a real estate mogul; Robert Herjavec, a technology innovator; Daymond John, a fashion and branding expert; and Kevin O’Leary, a venture capitalist who calls himself “Mr. Wonderful.”

Once Tselikis and Lomac knew they were going to be on the show, they did everything they could to prepare.

“We watched pretty much every show,” Lomac said. “We sat down and we looked at every rebuttal that each shark came up with, and we put it on a flash card. And then on the other side, we’d answer it however we wanted to answer it, in light of our business or our numbers. And then we just practiced.”

The Cousins Maine Lobster episode was filmed in mid-July. A few weeks ago, the show came to Portland to film the entrepreneurs around local lighthouses and lobster shacks.

In a clip of Friday’s show, the sharks seem unimpressed when Tselikis and Lomac tell them they’ve just got one lobster truck, and it’s only been open about two months. But they grow visibly more interested when told that profits to that point had already reached $150,000.

So, did they reel in the big fish?

Tselikis said they aren’t allowed to reveal the specifics of what they asked the sharks for, or the results of the show. “I can say that we had a wonderful experience,” he said.

Insert long, meaningful pause here.

Another hint: One of the photos released to promote the episode has the two men giddily making a Barbara Corcoran “sandwich.” Those kinds of big hugs usually come on the show only when shark and bait have struck some kind of tasty deal.

In preparation for the airing of the episode, Tselikis and Lomac have revamped their website, cousinsmainelobster.com, and established a distribution center in Biddeford for online sales. They plan to add more lobster trucks in California, Tselikis said, “but our big goal and push is the online distribution.”

A Maine chef (Tselikis won’t say who) “perfected” their recipes for the online venture, and they had Mainers critique them.

Tselikis and Lomac buy all their lobster meat in Maine. They won’t reveal their supplier, because the deal they have with the supplier allows them to sell their lobster rolls in L.A. for just $12.50, lower than prices at a lot of East Coast restaurants. Tselikis would only say it is a single source in “southern Maine, south of Portland.”

The two entrepreneurs will be watching “Shark Tank” on Friday at The Portland Regency, along with 150 family, friends, politicians and people who work in the lobster industry (Tselikis’ sister is a member of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association). Lomac said he’s proud the show will bring more attention to his home state and its lobster industry.

“The best lobster comes from Maine,” he said. “If this (show) brings more attention to it, then it just ups the demand for everyone, whether they’re buying it from us or anyone else.”

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: MeredithGoad


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