In the culinary world where fusion cuisine is increasingly gaining popularity, one name that stands out is Chi’Lantro, a unique blend of Korean BBQ and Tex-Mex flavors. Founded by Jae Kim, this innovative food concept started as a humble food truck in Austin, Texas, and has since expanded into a chain of brick-and-mortar restaurants.
However, the journey to success was not a straightforward path. A significant milestone in Chi’Lantro’s growth story was their appearance on the hit ABC show “Shark Tank”.
This article delves into what unfolded after Chi’Lantro’s Shark Tank episode, discussing how the company utilized the investment secured from the show, navigated challenges, and implemented strategies for expansion.
We will explore how the exposure and financial boost from Shark Tank catalyzed Chi’Lantro’s transformation from a locally adored food truck to a nationally recognized brand. Whether you’re a fan of the show, an entrepreneur seeking inspiration, or a foodie intrigued by the behind-the-scenes business operations of your favorite eateries, this post will provide an engaging deep-dive into Chi’Lantro’s post-Shark Tank journey.
What Is Chi’Lantro?
- Innovative Fusion Cuisine: Chi’Lantro’s unique blend of Korean and Mexican cuisine sets it apart from its competitors. The signature dish, Kimchi fries, is a testament to this fusion, combining the tangy flavors of Korean kimchi with the hearty, comforting appeal of Mexican-style fries;
- Consistent Quality Across Locations: Despite expanding to multiple locations, Chi’Lantro has managed to maintain consistent quality across its outlets, which is a commendable feat. This consistency ensures that customers can expect the same delicious experience regardless of the location they choose to dine in;
- Versatile Business Model: Chi’Lantro isn’t just a dine-in or takeaway joint. It has diversified its services to include catering, which has been well-reviewed and well-reputed. This flexibility in service offerings allows the company to reach a wider customer base and provides more avenues for revenue generation;
- Strong Sales Performance: The company reportedly makes around $ 14 million in sales each year, indicating a robust business model and a strong demand for its offerings;
- Spicy Food Not For Everyone: While many enjoy the spicy kick that comes with Korean cuisine, it might not be for everyone. Customers who are not accustomed to or prefer less spicy food might find some of Chi’Lantro’s dishes overwhelming;
- Limited Appeal for Traditionalists: The fusion of Korean and Mexican cuisines, while innovative and unique, might not appeal to traditionalists who prefer authentic, unblended flavors ;
Who Should Try Chi’Lantro?
Chi’Lantro, with its unique blend of Korean BBQ and Tex-Mex flavors, is a culinary experience that appeals to a wide range of food enthusiasts.
Here’s who should give Chi’Lantro a try:
- Adventurous Eaters: If you’re someone who enjoys experimenting with different cuisines and flavors, Chi’Lantro is definitely worth a try. The fusion of Korean and Mexican flavors offers a unique taste experience that’s hard to find elsewhere;
- Spicy Food Lovers: Many of the dishes at Chi’Lantro, including their signature Kimchi Fries, come with a spicy kick. If you’re someone who loves spicy food, this place is a must-visit;
- Lovers of Comfort Food: Despite the innovative fusion of cuisines, Chi’Lantro’s menu is filled with comforting, hearty dishes like fries topped with spicy pork and a fried egg, making it a great choice for those who love comfort food;
- Health-Conscious Diners: Chi’Lantro prides itself on using fresh ingredients and house-made sauces, making it a good option for those who are mindful about what they eat;
- Fans of Korean BBQ: If you’re a fan of Korean BBQ, Chi’Lantro offers a new twist on this beloved cuisine. The restaurant serves up Korean BBQ-inspired bowls and ssäms that are sure to satisfy your cravings;
- Food Truck Enthusiasts: Chi’Lantro started as a food truck and continues to operate several trucks in addition to their brick-and-mortar locations. If you enjoy the food truck experience, you’ll definitely want to seek out Chi’Lantro ;
About Founders Of Chi’Lantro
With more than a decade of triumphant operation at a smaller scale, Kim envisioned an ambitious expansion for Chi’Lantro, necessitating a quest for financial backing, which ultimately led him to dive into the “Shark Tank” waters.
At the tender age of 11, Kim, along with his sister, embarked on a life-changing journey from South Korea to the United States under the care of their mother. Kim grappled with the challenges of adapting to a new country, but as he matured, he shouldered the responsibility of providing for his family. His deep-seated love for Korean gastronomy steered him into the realm of the culinary industry.
At the age of 21, while grappling with the burdens of college tuition and the financial support of his mother and sister, Kim lacked the means to establish a traditional restaurant. Instead, he tapped into his savings and leaned on credit cards to launch a food truck venture. His unique rendition of Korean BBQ quickly captured the public’s palate, enabling him to acquire additional food trucks and eventually lay down permanent roots. Five years after his mobile culinary venture hit the streets, the inaugural Chi’Lantro restaurant emerged in 2015.
Prior to securing a coveted spot on “Shark Tank”, Kim faced two previous fruitless auditions. It wasn’t until he had cultivated a fleet of thriving food trucks and established two profitable eateries that he made his third and decisive attempt. His opportunity finally arrived, and Chi’Lantro made its indelible mark in Season 8, Episode 8, which graced television screens on November 11, 2016.
The Pitch Of Chi’Lantro At Shark Tank
Jae Kim, the culinary genius behind Chi’Lantro, made a triumphant entrance into the Shark Tank after three previous attempts in 2013 . He sought a $ 600,000 investment for a 15% equity stake in his business, and his fusion food concept instantly won the hearts of the sharks. It was an engaging pitch that not only showcased his delicious offerings but also educated the sharks about his unique cuisine.
Chi’Lantro had been eagerly vying for a spot on the Shark Tank stage for four long years, and Jae Kim’s enthusiastic declaration of, “Yes, I am finally here”, took the sharks by surprise. The highlight of the pitch was when Kim invited guest shark Chris Sacca to join him in crafting a mouthwatering Korean BBQ bowl.
As they went through the ingredients, prepared the delectable dish, and presented it, Kim shared the challenges he faced during his childhood, particularly with his mother’s divorce, and the numerous hurdles he overcame when launching his business.
Kim expressed his pride in where he had reached and boldly declared, “I envision a Chi’Lantro empire”. The sharks’ reactions were intriguing, setting the stage for the next phase of the pitch.
The “sharks” began to inquire about the business, with Kevin expressing reservations about the concept of a mobile restaurant and questioning the precise nature of his investment. Mark, while deeply inspired by Kim’s work ethic, regretfully bowed out, explaining that he wasn’t a restaurant aficionado.
Lori chimed in, suggesting that Kim might be overly ambitious. Finally, the showdown began among the sharks.
Barbara emerged as the key player in helping Kim realize his dream. She offered $ 600,000 for a 30% stake, to which Kim countered with 20%, ultimately striking a deal with Barbara to propel Chi’Lantro forward.
Chi’Lantro After The Shark Tank
Kim opted to adhere to his expansion plans but at a more measured pace, eventually venturing into franchising. The menu saw the introduction of new dishes, and sales continued to thrive. Construction was underway for a new establishment on Austin’s Parmer Lane when an unforeseen twist occurred – the global pandemic was declared in March 2020.
Like countless other eateries, Chi’Lantro grappled with the challenges posed by the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. At times, bankruptcy loomed as a possibility, prompting Kim to exhaust every avenue to keep the business afloat. Some locations had to temporarily shutter their doors, while others managed to maintain operations through online orders, pick-up, and delivery, with some even offering outdoor dining.
Prioritizing the safety of customers and staff, Chi’Lantro enforced indoor masking, social distancing measures, and rigorous cleaning and sanitization protocols. Despite the immense difficulties of sustaining a food service enterprise during such unprecedented times, Chi’Lantro persevered. After significant delays, the new Parmer restaurant finally welcomed patrons in August 2020.
Emerging from a period of great uncertainty, Chi’Lantro is now thriving. On course with his expansion ambitions, Kim has successfully established 11 locations, encompassing nine restaurants and one trailer within Austin. The first outpost beyond Austin’s borders debuted in Houston in April 2023, with two additional restaurants in the pipeline, set to open soon in Houston’s Vintage Park. Moreover, Chi’Lantro’s inaugural location outside of Texas is slated for a winter 2023 launch in San Marcos, California.
Since its appearance on “Shark Tank”, Chi’Lantro has significantly diversified its menu. It now boasts six signature rice bowls or the option to craft your own from a selection of specialties, including bibimbap, spicy pork, soy-glazed chicken, esquites (a Korean take on Mexican street corn), k’pop chicken (Korean fried chicken in Gangnam sauce), marinated tofu, japchae glass noodles, and fried egg. Ssäm wraps, reminiscent of burritos, are available, filled with meat, black beans, cheese, or your choice of ingredients.
Naturally, the iconic kimchi fries remain a menu staple, smothered in caramelized kimchi, Korean BBQ, and magic sauce – a dish so beloved that it’s ordered over 200,000 times annually.
Chi’Lantro also extends its culinary offerings to catering services, catering to groups at weddings, offices, conferences, and events of all sizes. Special event options include breakfast, build-your-own taco and bowl bars, and pre-packaged grab-and-go meals. Notably, Chi’Lantro was recognized as one of the best catering options in Austin for 2022 by A Taste of Koko.
The brand maintains an active and engaging presence on social media, boasting nearly 60,000 followers across its platforms. Marketing efforts are focused on promoting the company’s loyalty rewards program and online ordering app. In 2022, Chi’Lantro clinched the prestigious Best of 2022 Reader’s Choice award for the best Korean cuisine. Serving as an inspirational model for Asian and minority-owned enterprises, Chi’Lantro continues to thrive, demonstrating resilience despite having turned down a highly sought-after opportunity on “Shark Tank”.
The Net Worth Of Chi’Lantro
In a revealing interview with Fox 7 Austin in 2022, it came to light that Chi’Lantro is now raking in a substantial $ 10 million in annual sales and is in the process of expanding its footprint with new locations.
Remarkably, the company is actively recruiting personnel, offering enticing benefits such as complimentary meals and an impressive starting wage of $ 15 per hour, which notably exceeds the current Texas minimum wage by more than twofold.
What Is the Business Model of Chi’Lantro?
Chi’Lantro’s business model is a blend of traditional restaurant operations and innovative fusion cuisine. It started as a food truck business, then expanded into brick-and-mortar locations and franchise operations.
Here’s a breakdown:
- Food Truck Origins: Chi’Lantro began as a food truck in Austin, Texas, founded by Jae Kim, who maxed out his credit cards and used his entire savings to start the business. This model allowed him to test out his unique Korean BBQ and Tex-Mex fusion concept without the high overhead costs of a traditional restaurant;
- Brick-and-Mortar Expansion: After gaining popularity, Chi’Lantro expanded into physical restaurant locations. This allowed them to serve more customers and offer a dine-in experience;
- Franchise Operations: In recent years, Chi’Lantro has been working on launching a franchise program to expand its reach nationwide. This move can significantly increase their market presence and revenue;
- Unique Fusion Cuisine: At the heart of Chi’Lantro’s business model is its unique fusion cuisine. The combination of Korean and Mexican flavors sets them apart in the food industry and draws in customers looking for a unique dining experience;
- Investment Funding: Jae Kim successfully pitched Chi’Lantro on Shark Tank, securing $ 600,000 for 20% equity in the company. This investment has likely helped fuel the company’s expansion and growth;
- Loyalty Programs: Chi’Lantro also operates loyalty programs to retain customers and encourage repeat visits ;
Alternatives To Chi’Lantro:
- True Food Kitchen: This health-conscious chain offers a variety of dishes inspired by different cuisines, including Asian, Mediterranean, and American. The focus is on fresh, nutritious ingredients;
- Jack in the Box: Known for its fast food offerings, Jack in the Box also has an array of Tex-Mex-inspired dishes on their menu. While not a direct comparison to Chi’Lantro’s Korean BBQ fusion, it does offer an alternative for those seeking quick and flavorful meals;
- Loveless Cafe: This Nashville-based eatery is known for its Southern comfort food. While not a fusion restaurant like Chi’Lantro, it offers a hearty dining experience that might appeal to those who enjoy Chi’Lantro’s comforting dishes;
- The Grilled Cheese Truck: This LA-based food truck offers gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches with a variety of innovative fillings. It provides a similar food truck experience to Chi’Lantro
- Kogi: This LA-based food truck is known for its Korean-Mexican fusion tacos, which might appeal to those who enjoy the fusion flavors at Chi’Lantro;
- Chipotle: While not offering Korean BBQ, Chipotle serves customizable Mexican-inspired dishes like burritos and bowls. The fast-casual dining experience is similar to that of Chi’Lantro;
- KFC Korea: For those looking for a fast food alternative with a Korean twist, KFC in Korea offers unique menu items such as the Zinger Double Down King, a burger made with chicken instead of bread;
- Mighty Quinn’s: This BBQ joint, originating in New York, offers up slow-smoked meats and homestyle sides. If it’s the BBQ aspect of Chi’Lantro’s menu that draws you in, Mighty Quinn’s could be a great alternative ;
- What is the revenue of Chi’Lantro?
Recently Chi’Lantro reported annual revenue exceeding $ 14 million in a particular year, indicating substantial financial success .
- Which “shark” invested in Chi’Lantro?
Barbara Corcoran, one of the sharks on Shark Tank, made an investment in Chi’Lantro during the show’s episode where Jae Kim pitched his business.
- Is Chi’Lantro a franchise?
Yes, Chi’Lantro is a franchise. It has expanded its presence through franchising, allowing it to open multiple locations.
- How many locations does Chi’Lantro have?
Chi’Lantro has expanded its footprint with a total of 11 locations, which includes nine restaurants and one trailer in Austin, Texas . It has also ventured beyond Austin with additional locations.
- Do Shark Tank investors get paid?
No, the investors, or “sharks”, on Shark Tank do not receive payment for their participation in the show. They invest their own money in the businesses they choose to support.
- Which 3 sharks are billionaires?
As of 2023, 3 sharks on Shark Tank were billionaires: Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, and Lori Greiner . However, their net worth can change over time, so it’s advisable to verify their current status.
- How many Chi’Lantro locations are there?
Chi’Lantro has a total of 11 locations, which includes nine restaurants and one trailer in Austin, Texas. It has expanded its presence to locations beyond Austin.
- Which Shark Tank business failed?
Numerous businesses featured on Shark Tank have experienced failure after receiving investments or deals on the show. The success of a business is subject to various factors, and some may not sustain their initial growth or encounter challenges that lead to failure.
- Who is the most successful Shark Tank investor?
The title of the most successful Shark Tank investor can be subjective and depends on various metrics such as return on investment, number of successful deals, and overall business impact. Several sharks, including Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary, and Lori Greiner, have achieved significant success with their investments.
Mark Cuban, in particular, was known for having a strong track record of successful investments on the show, but the definition of success can vary from one investor to another. It’s advisable to check the latest information to determine the current most successful investor on Shark Tank.
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