What Happened To Chi'Lantro After Shark Tank?

Among the many restaurants to find success after "Shark Tank" is Chi'Lantro, a Korean BBQ restaurant and catering service. Chi'Lantro started in 2010 as a food truck based in Austin, Texas, with the goal of making Korean food both more accessible and more popular. Initially founded by entrepreneur Jae Kim and funded by his personal savings, Chi'Lantro soon needed an investor's help in order to expand.

At the time of Kim's "Shark Tank" pitch in 2017, he had grown his brand to include several food trucks and three brick-and-mortar restaurants. He asked the sharks for an investment of $600k in exchange for 15% equity, with a plan to add two additional restaurants in the near future. Ultimately, Kim wanted to create a Korean BBQ empire, and as we now know, he was well on his way -– shark or no shark. So, how did the sharks respond to the Chi'Lantro pitch, and where can we find Kim's empire today?

The sharks circled Chi'Lantro's business plan

Jae Kim stepped into the tank in 2017 to pitch his idea: Chi'Lantro, a fast-casual Korean BBQ empire. The small chain was already well established, with Kim having done $4.7 million in sales the previous year. However, he was looking to scale up his business across Texas, and he wanted help from a shark.

Shark Kevin O'Leary agreed that the food was "fantastic," even going so far as to say Kim was living the American dream. However, upon hearing his goal of scaling up to 15 restaurants and $15 million in revenue, the sharks questioned why Chi'Lantro even needed them.

Fortunately for Kim, Barbara Corcoran wanted to take the risk. She'd had success with other restaurants and food truck ventures, such as Cousins Maine Lobster, so she offered Kim $600,000 for a 30% stake. They negotiated down to a 20% stake, and in a later interview with QSR Magazine, Kim said he believed Corcoran was "the perfect person" to help Chi'Lantro grow into his vision.

The Shark Tank effect helped Chi'Lantro expand

As you would expect of one of the best foods we've seen on "Shark Tank," Chi'Lantro flourished after its moment on TV, even though some sources say the deal with Barbara Corcoran never closed. In a 2018 interview with CNBC, Chi'Lantro CEO Jae Kim said that they had been focusing on building community among ChiLantro employees, and as a result, was "growing at a pace of 20% year over year."

On a similar note, Kim also decided to take the business in a cashless direction, enabling his employees to spend more time interacting with customers and building connections. Chi'Lantro was soon bringing in more than $8 million a year, with five brick-and-mortar restaurants, a catering service, and a fleet of food trucks.

Kim still planned on one day being able to open a restaurant in his beloved Houston, Texas, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed his timeline. Regardless, Chi'Lantro has managed a great deal of growth within a relatively short period of time, but where is the company today?

Chi'Lantro continues to grow its sales each year

In an interview with CultureMap Houston, Jae Kim explained that, although Chi'Lantro was based in Austin, the business had gotten its start as a single food truck in Houston, Texas. Following several years of impressive growth in Austin, however, Kim decided "the timing [was] right" to open a brick-and-mortar in Houston in the spring of 2023. This restaurant was Chi'Lantro's 11th location, adding a great deal to the 200,000 orders of kimchi fries the chain serves each year.

Chi'Lantro allegedly now makes around $14 million in sales each year, so it goes without saying that people love their Korean Tex-Mex. Indeed, one TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, "You can't go wrong with anything on [Chi'Lantro's] menu," giving the chain a five-star rating.

Today, in addition to restaurants, catering, and food trucks, Chi'Lantro also offers delivery through DoorDash, Uber Eats, and Postmates. An order of its famous kimchi fries costs about $11, while a customized Korean BBQ bowl costs around $10.86.

What's next for the Chi'Lantro empire?

Without a doubt, Chi'Lantro will continue to expand, just as founder Jae Kim had envisioned. According to the Chi'Lantro website, the chain's next location will be in Houston's Vintage Park, though no exact opening date or location has been given. However, considering that the previous location only took so long to open due to pandemic-related delays, customers can likely expect the newest build to come along more quickly.

In the meantime, Chi'Lantro encourages its customers to take its food to experience local culture, like Austin's monthly Blues on the Green summer concerts, and offers anything from meal inspiration to custom Spotify playlists on its social media pages. The chain also regularly holds team building sessions so its employees can spend time together, further cementing a high value on company culture.

Looking back on how far Kim has come with Chi'Lantro since 2010, we have no doubts he'll soon be able to reach that magic number of 15 restaurants, let alone his goal of $15 million in annual revenue. We do hope, though, that Chi'Lantro will eventually branch out of Texas and share the absolute best Korean BBQ with the rest of the country.