Chi'Lantro: Here's What Happened After Shark Tank

The fast-casual chain restaurant Chi'Lantro BBQ, known for its kimchi fries, started in 2010 with one food truck and its founder's passion for Korean food as its fuel. Jae Kim's Austin, Texas-based brand of Korean Tex-Mex fusion grew from its single-truck beginnings to multiple trucks and brick-and-mortar locations. With small-scale success for over a decade, Kim had a vision for expanding Chi'Lantro, which he needed funding for, leading him into the waters of "Shark Tank."

When he was 11, Kim's mother brought him and his sister from South Korea to the United States. Kim struggled in his new country, but as he grew up, he took on the responsibility of providing for his family. His love for Korean cuisine drove him into the food business. At 21, while paying off college tuition and providing for his mom and sister, Kim could not yet afford a restaurant. Instead, he used his savings and credit cards to get a food truck. His version of Korean BBQ proved popular, allowing him to purchase more trucks and eventually put down roots. Five years after his truck hit the streets, the first Chi'Lantro restaurant opened in 2015.

Before making it onto "Shark Tank," Kim had two previous unsuccessful auditions. It wasn't until he had built up his fleet of food trucks and had two profitable restaurants that he made another attempt. He finally got his chance, and Chi'Lantro made its appearance in Season 8, Episode 8, which aired on November 11, 2016.

What happened to Chi'Lantro on Shark Tank?

While relaying Chi'Lantro's story to the "Shark Tank” judges, Kim gave them his favorite Korean barbecue rice bowls and famous kimchi fries to try. He explained that he wanted to open many more locations but needed the money to finance the expansion. He asked for $600K for a 15% stake in the company.

Kim's numbers impressed the Sharks. Chi'Lantro had grown into a fleet of food trucks, three restaurants, and two more on the way. The business made $4.7 million the previous year, with the trucks netting $300,000 to $400,000 in profit and the restaurants earning from $ a million to $1.5 million. The following year was projected to bring in $6 million. Kim planned to open 15 restaurants that would generate $15 million in revenue. While all the Sharks loved the food and admired Kim's acumen as an entrepreneur, all but one declined to make an offer.

As an expert on when to franchise and when not to, Barbara Corcoran believed Chi'Lantro was ready and wanted to be Kim's partner. She spoke of her experience with similar ventures and knowing how to avoid the pitfalls they face. She made an offer of $600K for a 30% claim. Knowing the potential for high profits, Kim countered by offering 20%. It didn't take long for Corcoran to accept the deal. The episode ended with Kim tearfully expressing that everything he's ever done has been for the love of his mother and sister.

Chi'Lantro after Shark Tank

Although his restaurants celebrated with in-store streaming parties on the night of Chi'Lantro's "Shark Tank" episode, and the show generated a bump in business, ultimately, Jae Kim decided to walk away from the deal. He told QSR Magazine in a 2020 interview that while going on "Shark Tank" had been a positive experience that taught him much about the restaurant business, he passed up the offer due to "just my heart saying no."

Kim decided to stick with his plans to expand but to take things slower and eventually grow into franchising. New dishes were added to the menu, and sales remained brisk. A new location on Austin's Parmer Lane was under construction, but then everything took an unexpected turn when the global pandemic was declared in March 2020.

Like many restaurants, Chi'Lantro struggled to stay in business during COVID-19's peak. At times fearing bankruptcy, Kim did everything he could just to stay afloat. While some locations had to temporarily shut down, others were able to remain open for online orders, pick-up, and delivery, and some were able to offer outdoor dining. With customer and staff safety in mind, Chi'Lantro implemented indoor masking, social distancing, and frequent cleaning and sanitizing throughout the restaurants. Despite the difficulties of trying to keep a food service business going during such unprecedented times, Chi'Lantro managed to pull through. After much delay, the new restaurant on Parmer was finally able to open its doors in August 2020.

Is Chi'Lantro still in business?

Having rebounded from great uncertainty, Chi'Lantro is now prospering. On track with his expansion goals, Kim now has 11 locations, including nine restaurants and one trailer in Austin. The first location outside of Austin opened in Houston in April 2023. Two more restaurants are on the way, coming soon to Houston's Vintage Park, and the first Chi'Lantro outside of Texas is scheduled for winter 2023 in San Marcos, California.

Many new items have been added to Chi'Lantro's menu in the years since "Shark Tank." There are six signature rice bowls, or you can create your own from specialties like bibimbap, spicy pork, soy glazed chicken, esquites (a Korean take on Mexican street corn), k'pop chicken (popcorn style Korean fried chicken in Gangnam sauce), marinated tofu, japchae glass noodles, and fried egg. Ssäm wraps, which are a lot like burritos, come in a tortilla stuffed with meat, black beans, and cheese, or any ingredients you choose. Of course, Chi'Lantro's original kimchi fries are still on the menu. Smothered in caramelized kimchi, Korean BBQ, and magic sauce ... the fries are so popular they are ordered over 200,000 times yearly.

Chi'Lantro also has a catering division, serving groups at weddings, offices, conferences, and events of any size. Special event options include breakfast, build-your-own taco and bowl bars, and pre-packed grab-and-go meals. Chi'Lantro was named one of the best catering options in Austin for 2022 by A Taste of Koko.

What's Next for Chi'Lantro?

In a 2022 interview with Fox 7 Austin, it was divulged that Chi'Lantro now "brings in $10 million in sales yearly and are opening new locations." The company is hiring staff with benefits that include free meals and a $15 per hour starting wage — more than twice the current Texas minimum wage.

In 2020, the Chi'Lantro Cares program was started in response to COVID, to bring food to frontline hospital staff and first responders, with over 20,000 meals donated. The company continues to give back to its community. The restaurants host giveaway days, feeding hundreds of free meals to anyone in need. Chi'Lantro participated in the 2022 Asian restaurant edition of Dine With Ukraine, a program where a percentage of sales are donated to World Central Kitchen, an organization bringing meals to conflict and disaster areas. At the Houston Heights restaurant grand opening in 2022, it was announced that donations were being collected for Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) patients, a condition to which Kim lost his beloved sister earlier that year.

The brand has an active and engaging social media presence, with nearly 60,000 combined followers across its platforms. Marketing efforts have focused on promoting the company's loyalty rewards program and online ordering app. Chi'Lantro won the Best of 2022 Reader's Choice award for best Korean cuisine. Serving as an inspiration for Asian and minority-owned businesses, the company appears to still be flourishing, notwithstanding having turned down a much coveted "Shark Tank" offer.