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Chi’Lantro BBQ: Shark Tank Updates in 2023

by Kate Sparks
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  • Company: Chi’Lantro BBQ
  • Product: Korean Mexican Fusion Restaurant (based in Austin, Texas)
  • Asking Price: $600,000 for 15% equity
  • Final Deal: $600,000 for 20% equity
  • Shark Who Took the Bait: Barbara
  • Season/Episode: Season 8, Episode 8

From South Korea to South Congress

Jae Kim, founder of Chi’Lantro BBQ in Austin, Texas, was born in South Korea but moved to Austin when he was just 11 years old. A smart, successful entrepreneur by nature, Kim embodies a certain modern take on the American dream: the creation of a wildly successful restaurant in a fast-growing city where restaurants are the same as churches, and where restaurant owners are treated like the lawless Gods they are.

Korean food had been a life-long passion for Kim, but upon graduating from college he didn’t have the cash to start his own brick-and-mortar restaurant. Compromising with creativity, Kim took one look around Austin and decided he would start his own Korean-Mexican fusion food truck.

Fast forward a few years, and Chi’Lantro’s delicious, original menu – serving up kimchi fries, Korean fried chicken wings, tacos and Mexican style rice bowls infused with Asian flavors – has become an Austin staple. His original food truck was such a popular lunch spot that he was able to open up a chain of taco trucks and three brick-and-mortar locations in almost no time at all.

Having applied to Shark Tank twice before, this is Jae Kim’s first successful attempt at grabbing a coveted spot in front of the investors. Jae Kim knows this is Chi’Lantro’s once-in-a-lifetime shot at fame and fortune, and he takes center stage with his life’s work – and his legacy – on the line.

A Long-Awaited Entrance

“YES!” Kim Jae says, in lieu of a standard hello. “It’s so great to finally be here.” Sharing the stage with a colorful food truck display, and projecting an aura of absolute confidence and calm, it looks like Kim has been preparing for this moment for a minimum of four years. Which, as he later reveals, he has.

The founder and CEO of Chi’Lantro BBQ in Austin, Texas, Jae Kim has come to the sharks seeking $600,000 for 15% of the business. “It’s taken me a while to get here. Four years ago, I tried with one food truck. Any luck? Nope. Two years after, I tried again – this time with five food trucks. Any love? Nope, no love.” Today, Kim says, he stands before them with a full fleet of food trucks and three fast-casual restaurants – all of which, he says, are extremely successful. “I envision a Chi’Lantro empire,” he says. Such swagger never fails to capture the sharks’ attention.

In a refreshing twist on the standard presentation format, Kim invites guest-shark Chris up on stage to help him make a Korean BBQ bowl, up close and personal. As Kim walks Chris through the prepped ingredients on the makeshift kitchen counter he’s set up, the menu stands out as both original and delicious – boasting options like Korean BBQ beef, soy glazed chicken, and a dazzling array of Asian-inspired veggies. The showstopper, clearly, is the original Kimchi fries.

Jae Kim hands out delectable samples of the Korean BBQ bowl and the original kimchi fries, topped with korean bbq, caramelized kimchi, and a special sauce. While they eat, Kim discusses his backstory. The child of immigrants – and the child of a single mother working through a divorce – Kim had long been the breadwinner in the family. Although his current (and highly successful venture) is Chi’Lantro, he has a history of starting businesses and making his own way in life. He first started going into business for himself at 21, starting his own coffee shop while still working his way through college.

Mark applauds him for his work ethic. “You are proof that you don’t have to borrow. If you bust your ass, you can save money and you can really make it,” Mark says with a smile. “You’re living the American dream.”

Running The Numbers

Last year, Kim says, Chi’Lantro raked in an impressive $4.7 million in sales. “That’s badass,” says Kevin. “How much of that was from trucks?” The trucks alone raised between $300,000 and $400,000 in revenue. The restaurants make up the rest of the sales, bringing in $1 million to $1.5 million per unit. Kim’s problem, he says, is that he needs more money to really grow.

  • Total revenue: $4.7 million
  • Revenue from trucks: $300-400,000
  • Revenue from restaurants: $1-$1.5 million
  • Goal: 15 restaurants, averaging $15 million total in annual revenue
  • Profit margin: 15%

Chris interrupts the numbers breakdown to make a bold announcement. “That’s some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life,” he says. “Absolutely delicious, and I can see why you’ve had success.” Kim beams, clearly thrilled.

Kevin wants to know if they’re going to hit $5 million sometime soon. Kim replies that they project to do a whopping $6 million over the next year.

“You are the embodiment of the American dream, in all of its essence,” says Kevin.

“Amen,” says Mark, in between bites of kim-chi fries.

Chris is the most experienced shark when it comes to restaurant investing, and unfortunately he doesn’t see anything particularly unique – or unique enough for his standards – about the business. He’s the first shark out.

Kevin, next up on the chopping block, has a cautionary tale for Kim. He’s weary of the capital tied up in Kim’s multiple brick-and-mortar locations, and warns against the quick-fix temptation of moving locations when a restaurant isn’t working. It’s too much risk for Kevin, and he’s the second shark to drop out.

Mark Cuban has some inspiring words of encouragement for Kim, calling him “a shining light example for every entrepreneur watching. Brains are a whole lot more valuable than cash.” Unfortunately, Mark is not a restaurant guy. He doesn’t feel comfortable investing in a field he knows so little about. With restaurants, he says, “in order to be anything order than dumb capital, you have to be there working side-by-side.” And since Mark can’t commit to that level of involvement, Mark is out.

Next up is Lori, who says that while Kim’s particular brand of Korean BBQ is the best she’s ever had, she’s frightened off by Kim’s aggressive plans for growth. His ambitions are over-reaching, she feels, and for that reason, she too is out. “I’m out, but I love it,” says Lori.

Barbara (or, as this reporter affectionately calls her, Barb Shark) then gives a surprising monologue on the spiritual condition of restaurateurs. “I’ve learned that people in the food business, if they’re any good and worth their salt, are very good people in their soul. You’re serving food to people, and that takes a certain kind of entrepreneur.” Barbara has invested in restaurants before, knows how to franchise, and is Kim’s ideal partner. She knows exactly the structural problems Kim faces, and as the only shark to make an offer so far, is an extraordinarily strong negotiating position.

Barb Shark offers $600,000 – but for a staggering 30% of the business. In exchange for a third of the company, Barbara says, she will be more than just a financial partner. She’s savvy in the restaurant space and will be an invaluable strategic partner. “Whatever your dreams are, I could get you there fast.”

Kim counter-offers, mentioning chi-lantro’s excellent profit margins. He asks if Barbara will come down to 20%. After a tension-filled moment to consider, Barb Shark accepts.

In a tearful-but-happy confession at the segment’s end, Kim declares, “I do what I do for my mom and my sister. So that they know that I’m there for them.”

Final Deal: $600,000 for 20% stake in Chi’Lantro BBQ.

Where Are They Now?

Chi’Lantro is a Shark Tank success story, cut and dry.

As of June 2020, Chi’Lantro BBQ is one of the most resourceful, creative and hard-working restaurants in town, boasting an impressive fleet of food trucks and multiple brick-and-mortar locations serving many of Austin’s vibrant, notoriously food-obsessed neighborhoods.

Their Facebook page is lively and well-maintained, with several engaging recent posts and legions of hungry fans.

For Jae Kim and his Chi’Lantro BBQ business, the American Dream is as real as you want it to be, and as tangible as the work you put into it. Thanks to a little help from Shark Tank, Jae Kim and his delicious spicy eats will serve as flavorful inspiration for entrepreneurs, restaurateurs, and foodies of all types – not only in the grub hub of Austin, but across the country.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is strictly informational; SEO Insights is not affiliated with Chi’Lantro BBQ, SharkTank, or any of its subsidiaries.

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