Like my colleague Paige Gross, I’ve found myself watching a lot more television during the pandemic. It was only a matter of time before I watched a show that centered on one of the key things I report on: local entrepreneurs and their growth.
“Wolf PAC” (that’s Presidents Advisory Council) is a new Amazon Prime show that follows four investors — we’ll call them the wolf pack — offering investments and mentorship to area entrepreneurs. Its first season, which premiered Jan. 12, is based in Philadelphia. Accordingly, the show’s intro features some of the most famous sights: the Liberty Bell, footage from the Philadelphia Eagles‘ rousing 2017 Super Bowl victory and of course, the Rocky Statue.
The first episode starts with the pack meeting in show runner Kent Griswold’s luxury suite at Lincoln Financial Field. Griswold and his colleagues waste no time in discussing Michael Peacock, the chef and founder of Flying Pie Guy, a food truck specializing in Australian meat pies. (I ate lunch while watching this and his meat pies certainly looked more scrumptious than what I pulled out of the freezer.)
Courtney Lawless is the “venture wolf” and point person for this episode who had all of the facts on Peacock and his work. Rounding out the pack is marketing strategist Judy Chang Cody, or the “branding wolf”; Wharton School professor emeritus Leonard Lodish is the “professor wolf”; and longtime Philadelphia Phillies reporter Leslie Gudel is the “media wolf.”
Peacock has developed a relationship with Tony Luke Jr. of the locally famed Tony Luke’s cheesesteak franchise. As someone hoping to go far in the Philly food scene, he’s already learning from a guy with great taste. (Sorry, had to do it.)
Griswold, Lawless and Lodish all meet with Peacock at a local eatery. After an explanation from Peacock in which he says his pie’s crust has a secret recipe, they sample the Australian cuisine. Things escalate quickly. Considering the meat pie’s viability as a product, Lodish asks if someone could simply reproduce the pie in a laboratory. In an effort to affirm his meat pie recipe’s authenticity, Peacock mentions a “30% rule” regarding trademarks that is frequently shared but untrue. Peacock might be nervous, but he’s doing his best.
As three of our wolves munch on the meat pies, Peacock says his name comes from the name of William Francis King, Australia’s “flying pieman” who received notoriety for walking fast to deliver meat pies. Griswold asks about where Peacock saw the business in two years. The founder mentions online growth, quadrupling the amount of pies sold online and even franchising his food truck. Peacock estimates that when his truck operated seven days a week, it averaged about $200,000 in sales. Not bad for some meat pies, right?
At Love City Brewery, Peacock’s pies got the real test when a group of people sampled the pies and gave their feedback. (Yes, seeing people mill about in a brewery made me miss a time without a pandemic.) Several people liked the highly touted crust, while others weren’t a fan of the mashed potatoes and gravy that topped the meat pies. Market research and focus groups often give businesspeople a direct response to their products and this was no different.
It’s worth noting here that what jumped out to me about this show is that it seems to be more about helping people than flaunting itself as a platform. While “Shark Tank” has seen countless success stories, it can be easy to get overwhelmed by the personas of its panel and the manufactured intensity that comes with a popular reality television show.
As the wolves discuss whether or not Peacock’s pies were worth investing, differing opinions surface. Lawless feels optimistic about working with the chef, while Lodish is on the fence. Griswold wonders what kind of money the business could use and what kind of help it really needs. I was as nervous watching them as a food truck operator making meat pies with a long line of people during a Philly lunch rush.
Cody has spent three decades doing marketing for major brands such as PepsiCo and Johnson & Johnson and isn’t shy in sharing her insights on Peacock’s marketing efforts: “A big issue for startups is thinking product is for everybody and it’s not,” she said. “Marketing is about making tough decisions about who you market to.”
Then, Cody says something during the group’s discussion that made Peacock’s mission a bit more clear. As the Australian chef with an amazing recipe (and a debonair accent), he essentially is the brand he is hoping to sell. Much is made of Peacock’s lack of marketing acumen, but if he had a COO to help him, things could be that much easier as he expands his business.
Gudel gives us a break from the business experience when she mentions the importance of community in Philadelphia, which is the poorest major city in America. The nonprofit Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission, which helps feed local people dealing with housing insecurity, gets a shoutout, and I was glad it appeared in a television show where I also saw a luxury Eagles suite and talk of venture capital. Every little bit of awareness counts.
When it comes time for Peacock to face the wolves, the tension is palpable. Dressed up in a suit, he pitches his business, and mentions he already invested $400,000 of his own money. I was sweating. He also added that while he started his business three years ago and ran on adrenaline, he needed partners and wanted to be on a team. It’s too often that founders feel the need to do everything alone, when in reality, having people to shoulder the load or a team to delegate tasks could greatly help.
Lawless says he needs a CEO and Lodish says he needs help getting his product to customers. When asked why his sales hadn’t grown over three years, Peacock tells Lodish that he has a lack of capacity. One food truck can only do so much. Gudel is impressed that Peacock asked for help, something she considers a start for any entrepreneur or professional trying to succeed.
The wolves meet Peacock on the grass at Lincoln Financial Field with an offer: $100,000 for their guidance — and a 25% stake in his company. It all comes down to this. Tony Luke Jr. takes Peacock to the side for some last-minute deliberations and implores him to take the offer.
Peacock accepts. I let out a sigh of relief on this cloudy Monday and felt like I was right there next to him. Afterwards, the pack joins Peacock for a celebratory meal at South Philly’s Moshulu restaurant.
But of course, six months after this episode was filmed in 2019, we entered a pandemic. When Griswold catches up with Peacock, now the owner of a rebranded company named G’Day Gourmet, they share smiles from a distance. Griswold has built momentum after meeting with the pack and is shocked by the pandemic. He’s been able to adjust, and now has plans to expand nationally and internationally.
Who knew watching a wolf pack at work could make you feel so good?
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.