Mensch on a Bench owes its existence to another popular holiday product: the Elf on a Shelf. Neal Hoffman, a Jewish man whose wife is Catholic, was shopping with his son who reached for the staple of many Christmas-celebrating households. In a moment of inspiration, Hoffman blurted out that they don’t have Elves on Shelves — they have Mensches on Benches.
A new product was born, and an appearance on Shark Tank soon followed. Hoffman left the tank with an investment from Lori Greiner and Robert Herjavec, although Greiner expressed some reluctance about the original look of the character. During an update segment on Shark Tank last November, Hoffman revealed he’d sold almost $1 million worth of mensches. There’s a full line of products including chocolate, a singing menorah, and a soft dreidel.
The products’ intent is to teach children about Jewish culture and traditions, particularly Hanukkah, as well as to promote the idea of the “mensch” — a good person. While the company started with Moshe the Mensch, it also added another Hanukkah hero, Hannah, at Greiner’s suggestion of putting a female character into the story. Tonight on Beyond the Tank, the company is set to reveal another figure, judging from the tease on its Twitter feed.
— Moshe (@menschonabench) May 6, 2016
But like all Beyond the Tank updates, all might not be rosy in the land of Mensch on a Bench. The episode synopsis says that Herjavec and Greiner have concerns about the dilution of the brand given the company’s rapid expansion.
Part of that major expansion has been a potential movie and television deal. Back in September 2015, Variety reported that Craig Piligian and his Pilgrim Studios had got the film and television rights to Mensch on a Bench. Piligian was enthusiastic about the deal, telling Variety the product was a good fit for the production company.
“We’re always looking for great storytelling and for stories that aren’t commonly told. We found both in ‘Mensch on a Bench,’ and we’re excited to launch what we believe will become an enduring holiday tradition.”
In a report published at the time of the November 2015 Shark Tank update, Hoffman described the deal as selling the rights of Mensch for an animated television special. In a September 2015 interview with the Cincinnati Business Courier, Hoffman said the deal came out of the blue. Piligian saw a Mensch in the office of a colleague and reached out to Hoffman.
— Moshe (@menschonabench) March 23, 2016
But the Shark Tank entrepreneur balked at making a deal right away. He insisted the studio retain the core element of the character: that he is a good person.
“They called me up, and on the first call they made me an offer. I said, ‘Look, I feel like you’re proposing and we haven’t even gone on a first date.’ So I wanted to sit down with their business development team because this is my baby.”
After the deal was made, they came up with three different stories with Moshe as the central figure. The next step was to pitch it to a network or other platform. In the meantime, Hoffman sent Piligian a life-size Mensch with which he’s gladly been photographed.
Hoffman told the Courier that despite the Mensch’s rapid growth, its message is what’s most important.
“The brand is more than about making money, it’s about making a difference. We’re in this for the next 20 years. This is not a cash grab.”
Beyond the Tank airs Friday at 8 p.m. before a new episode of Shark Tank at 9 p.m. on ABC.
[Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images]