Bubba's Boneless Ribs: Here's What Happened After Shark Tank

Former NFL athlete Al "Bubba" Baker spent 13 years playing football in the NFL before retiring to pursue his other passion, barbecue. His dream led him to opening up the once longstanding Bubba's Q restaurant outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and as the years went by, Baker was inspired by his wife, Sabrina, to figure out how to make barbecued ribs less messy.

After 20 years of trying, Baker figured out how to remove the bones from racks of barbecued pork ribs, creating a rib steak that could be eaten with a fork and knife, rather than using your fingers. Furthermore, Baker's invention left the meat intact, unlike competitors, removing the bones only after the ribs cooked to provide some extra flavor. His de-boned rib idea took off so much that he started marketing Bubba's Boneless Ribs to the masses with microwaveable Bubba's-Q products sold in grocery stores. In order to increase distribution of his product, Baker went to the investors on "Shark Tank" looking for a deal.

Bubba's Boneless Ribs appeared in Season 5, Episode 11, originally airing in December 2013 and featuring sharks Mark Cuban, Kevin "Mr. Wonderful" O'Leary, Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John, and Robert Herjavec on the panel.

Although Baker impressed the billionaires with his tasty, two-minute microwaved boneless ribs, the sharks needed more than just flavorful barbecue to invest in Baker's year-old business. While they enjoyed eating the product, they were even more impressed with Baker's patents, one for the process and another for the product, preventing anyone else from making boneless ribs in the same manner. 

What happened to Bubba's Boneless Ribs on 'Shark Tank'?

When Al "Bubba" Baker appeared on "Shark Tank" in 2013, he was seeking a $300,000 investment for a 15% stake in Bubba's Boneless Ribs. It was the first time the show was presented with a food product that had a patent, which impressed the panel. With a company valuation of $2 million, however, Kevin O'Leary was unimpressed with reported annual sales of $154,000, yet he was reminded of Jeff and Josh Cohen from Season 1, the duo behind Voyage Air Guitar, who licensed their folding neck patent to Fender guitars, a business decision that enticed O'Leary to make them an offer.

O'Leary did the same for Bubba's Boneless Ribs, offering Baker the $300,000 he was seeking in exchange for 49% equity, contingent on getting one of the nation's largest meat manufacturers to license the patents. Agreeing that the money is in licensing, not manufacturing, Daymond John also made an offer, pitting the $300,000 request for 30% equity in the company, and essentially trying to outbid O'Leary.

Robert Herjavec and Barbara Corcoran bowed out, believing that they couldn't best the offers on the table. Mark Cuban was the last one to pass, telling Baker that the business needed to grow before he'd want to invest, leaving Baker to decide whether he wanted to go in a different direction and license his patent as the sharks were pushing him to do, or leave empty-handed. Ultimately, he trusted the panelists, and went with John's offer.

What happened to Bubba's Boneless Ribs after 'Shark Tank'?

Unlike some deals made on "Shark Tank" that ultimately fall through, Al "Bubba" Baker and Daymond John went into business shortly after the "Shark Tank" appearance. Joining together a few weeks after the episode aired at the end of 2013, the two were interviewed by News 5 in Cleveland, where they spoke about the business' initial success.

Even with the deal he took, one that included licensing agreements, Baker continued to manufacture his rib steaks, generating sales online through the company's website and wholesale operations. Sales spiked after the Bubba's-Q website went live, leading the company's meat co-packer to produce up to 15,000 units daily. The line expanded to sauces and additional types of meat beyond ribs, which Baker and John have promoted on social media in subsequent years. As well, nationwide supermarkets like Acme and Walmart picked up the line.

According to CNBC, things were still promising as of 2017, when Baker reported $16 million in sales just three years after appearing on the show; John called the deal "potentially my biggest deal ever." And, thanks to a contract with CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, Bubba Q's boneless ribs were distributed to 3,000 of its franchise locations for its newest menu item, the Baby Back Rib Burger. In fact, it's been said CKE Restaurants ordered one million pounds of Baker's products.

What went wrong with Bubba's Boneless Ribs?

After years of success, in 2019, things took a turn after Al "Bubba" Baker accused shark Daymond John and his company DF Ventures, as well as Rastelli Foods Group (the meat co-packer since 2015), of trying to take over Bubba's-Q and siphoning profits. In an L.A. Times article, Baker alleged that he only received 4% of the $16 million revenue that John and Baker had reported in previous interviews, and said that John changed the details of their "Shark Tank" deal to $100,000 for 35% equity.

John and Rastelli Foods Group countered, accusing Baker of defamation, and filed several lawsuits. According to the L.A. Times, in July 2023, a New Jersey federal court seemed to side with John and Restelli Foods Group, issuing a permanent restraining order against Bubba, Brittani, and Sabrina Baker that prohibits the family from disparaging John or the Rastelli Foods Group after the judgement found neither party breached their contracts. 

Baker was ordered to remove all social media posts that discussed the plaintiffs and was forbidden from speaking about his business dealings with John or Rastelli with all media outlets in the future. The judge also ruled that Baker's comments breached a 2019 settlement agreement with Rastelli as well as their confidentiality agreement, which prohibited all parties from disclosing confidential information.

What are the Bakers doing now?

In 2019, the Bakers' southern-style barbecue restaurant in Avon, Ohio, Bubba's-Q, closed after 13 years of business. COVID-19 and mounting legal troubles forced the Bakers to restructure the company, shifting to catering, online sales, and even selling the ribs on QVC in 2020. 

Although the website has changed, Bubba's-Q is still in business via Shopify, selling products online and offering customers a loyalty program to cash in for rewards. Rastelli continues manufacturing the product line, despite the lawsuits, and any evidence of Baker's disparaging comments has been erased online. 

According to Instagram posts, in December 2019, daughter Brittani Baker brought the ribs to the Tampa, Florida area with the Bubba's-Q food truck, meant to help cater events. At some point, the business and its social media accounts transitioned to BBQ Consulting, and Brittani Baker began selling a line of sauces online called Brittani Bo Baker's FruityQue. 

The food truck also created an opportunity for Brittani to appear on the Food Network's "BBQ Brawl" in 2021, working alongside Iron Chef Michael Symon. The consulting company's website says there are now three food trucks and that Brittani offers one-on-one consulting services to individuals interested in the food truck business by assisting in developing a business and marketing strategy.

In 2022, son James Baker also brought his father's ribs back to the Cleveland area with Bubba's-Q Two Food Truck, catering events with barbecue pork ribs and other classic dishes like slow-smoked beef brisket, mac n' cheese, and baked beans.