Korean music, movies, drama, fashion, and beauty are taking over America, so it only makes sense that Korean food should be just as popular. That’s what friends and business partners Jung Song and Dok Kwon want for their Korean BBQ brand, CUPBOP.
CUPBOP takes the tantalizing Korean street-style barbeque known as cup-bap in its homeland and adds it to a bowl with a base of noodles, rice, or vegetable and tops that off with spicy sauces to create a delicious meal in minutes.
Born in South Korea, Junghun migrated to Salt Lake City in the early 2000s and found no restaurants were serving Korean food. This lack inspired him to start a single food truck when he was 20 years old with his Korean friends in the city. CUPBOP’s food truck quickly gained popularity and opened its first physical restaurant near Brigham Young University.
Dok also migrated to the US from South Korea and was one of Junghun’s first customers. After mentally burning out from his job with a hedge fund corporation in New York, he came back to Salt Lake City to team up with his friend Junghun. Together they worked hard to build their brand. Thanks to multiple marketing campaigns, local events, and exposure on social media, this Korean BBQ eatery opened 30 more locations across the US.
How Did The Shark Tank Pitch Go?
Junghun and Dok bounced into Shark Tank with a fun animated pitch highlighting Korean culture’s explosion on the streets of America, yet there was no Asian concept fast food chain in the top 50. They want CUPBOP to be the first and achieve this with a Shark. These business partners wanted $1 million for 3% equity, valuing their Korean BBQ at a cool $33 million.
Before they let the Sharks comment, they gave out samples of the various items on the menu that the Sharks devoured. According to Kevin, it was one of the tastiest food concepts that had come through the Tank, which means a lot coming from Chef Wonderful.
And if the food wasnt tasty enough, the numbers had the Sharks jumping in their seats. Dok told them about their 75% gross margins, $18.7 million in sales over the past 18 months, and 27 brick-and-mortar locations with ten more opening soon. It was hard to tell if the Sharks were salivating over the food or these impressive figures.
Junghun told them about his dream of turning CUPBOP into an Asian party fast food chain, and he wanted to do it with a Shark. He was lucky because all five Sharks wanted a piece of the action.
Robert wanted 28% equity, and Barbara wanted 30%, which was too much for the business duo. Then Kevin and Lori came in, making separate offers of $1 million loans with 5% equity. Barbara then changed hers to match Lori, which promoted Kevin to lower his equity to 3%.
Mark, who had been silent up to this point, said these two entrepreneurs had the operations and logistics down but needed help with marketing and PR on a national platform that only he could do for them. He offered $1 million for equity 7%, which he brought down to 5% after some back and forward. CUPBOP finally had a Shark on its side.
Our Review of CUPBOP
CUPBOP has eight mouth-watering bowls that serve its unique spicy Korean BBQ on top of either rice, noodles, or a cabbage mix. Protein choices include pork, chicken, and beef, as well as meatless options like tofu and vegetables. There are also other popular Korean favorites on the menu like Mandoo (deep-fried potstickers), Kimchi (spicy pickled cabbage), and Kko Kko Sticks (fried chicken skewers).
Pros of CUPBOP
- Authentic Korean barbeque flavor
- Unique ingredients, such as homemade sweet potato noodles
- Affordable, generous portions
- Vegetarian options
- Gluten-free options
Cons of CUPBOP
- An acquired taste that may not suit a border audience
- Spicier than traditional American food
- Not the healthiest option averaging 600 – 700 calories a bowl
Who is CUPBOP For?
CUPBOP is for anyone who enjoys Asian cuisine, especially Korean barbeque. It is also a fun option for anyone tired of the usual array of burgers and sandwiches fast food chains flooding the market.
Are There Any Alternatives?
Many restaurants across the US serve Korean cuisine, but these neighborhood establishments are where customers sit down for a meal and do not fit the criteria of a fast food eatery.
CUPBOP, on the other hand, wants to be at the top of the Asian fast food chains in America. Therefore, those are the ones we are considering in terms of alternatives.
This Asian fast food chain serves a selection of American-Chinese entrees, appetizers, sides, and desserts, with their Kung Pao Chicken and Orange Chicken being the two most popular on the menu.
With over 2000 locations across the US, they are undoubtedly the largest Asian fast food brand in the country and are continuing its expansion into other counties such as Canada, Mexico, and the UAE. Learn more about their dishes and locations on its website.
Putting a Thai spin on Panda Express’s quick service business model is Thai express. Here the menu is traditional Thai food with limited soups, appetizers, curry dishes, stir-fry dishes, and noodle dishes. Founded in 2004, the company has grown to 285 locations. The full menu and sites are listed on its website.
Founded in 2003, Teriyaki Madness serves eight signature bowls that feature a variety of protein combinations such as beef, chicken, and tofu, along with appetizers and flavorful sauces. So far, they have 102 locations across the US. You can learn more from its website.
Pokéworks mixes their signature poke bowls with sustainable natural ingredients that also give customers a choice to build their bowls from a selection of proteins, mix-ins, Asian-inspired sauces, and toppings. Founded in 2015, Pokeworks has close to 60 locations across the US and is looking to expand outside the country. Learn more about its wide selection from its website.
Our Final Thoughts
Since appearing on the show, CUPBOP has increased its number of locations, food trucks, and even concessions locations, including the Utah Jazz NBA Arena, proving that both CUPBOP and Mark are benefiting immensely from this partnership. There is no denying the appeal of Asian cuisine, and in a quick service format, it is a winning combination that will keep it growing.