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.
Two years later, Banza is available in more than 3,300 stores across the United States. As of October, 250,000 boxes — five shapes of pasta and four versions of macaroni and cheese — were sold a month, according to Scott Rudolph, 34. In November, it began appearing in Target stores nationwide.
The brothers, who are from Pleasantville, N.Y., have five employees in New York and six in Detroit. They would not disclose financial results.
Such rapid growth is a testament to their tenacity, but brand promotion has remained central to their strategy. Throughout 2015, they even allowed Cynthia Wade, an Oscar-winning documentarian, to follow them for a recently released feature-length film called “Generation Startup.”
The origins of the Banza product line, however, were decidedly low-key, low-tech and personal. When Brian Rudolph was developing the pasta for his own consumption in the kitchen of his Detroit apartment, he was casting about for a start-up idea of his own, focusing on technology. He had been sent to Detroit to be the first employee of a brand-promotion app called Quikly by Venture for America, a fellowship program that puts aspiring entrepreneurs fresh out of college to work for start-ups.
His tech ideas fell flat with his Venture for America mentors and colleagues. But when he casually mentioned the chickpea foods he was making for himself to meet his need for high-protein, gluten-free food, something clicked.