The owners of Utah-based fast-casual Korean barbecue chain Cupbop were able to feature on ABC’s entrepreneurial reality show “Shark Tank.”
Cupbop’s Jung Song and Dok Kwon recently recorded their appearance on the show, alongside three other companies. They pitched the idea of Korean barbecue in a cup to a panel of “sharks,” which this season includes Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Daymond John, Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary.
Yeiri Kim, Song’s wife and co-owner of the company, said she couldn’t share many details about Cupbop’s appearance until the show airs on Monday. She could tell that the Sharks tried Korean BBQ — and that Song has longed to be on the show for years.
Song, Kim said, “is very fun and funny, whimsical. He’s different, and he’s a little crazy. He was always talking about that “Shark Tank” show all the time, and I thought we weren’t ready. And then last year when he was talking about it, I said, “Maybe we’re too big to go on the show, because we’re pretty well established at this point.”
On “Shark Tank,” for those who haven’t seen it since its 2009 debut, small business owners and entrepreneurs stand before a line of potential investors, or “sharks,” who decide whether to invest in the business.
Cuban, by the way, was in Utah this week overseeing one of his investments: He’s the owner of the Dallas Mavericks and sat behind his team’s bench at the Vivint Smart Home Arena on Thursday as they eliminated the Utah Jazz from the NBA playoffs. .
The broadcast of the show is approaching another milestone for the company: Cupbop will celebrate its ninth anniversary on Wednesday. To celebrate, the chain will be giving away any mug for $5.99.
Kim told Cupbop’s origin story, “My husband came home from work and he was like, ‘Hey, I want to do a food truck with Korean BBQ.’ And at the time we had three kids. And I said, ‘Do you want to do a food truck like that?’ And my husband said, “We always wanted to open our own restaurant. And I said, ‘Yeah, but a restaurant, right?’
Prior to her statement, Kim said, Song had attended a food convention where there was not a single Korean food stall. He had also recently watched a documentary about Korean street food. The two experiences converged to inspire the food truck concept, and soon after, Cupbop was born.
Kim said it was Song’s sense of fun and whimsy that helped launch the business. When they drove their first trailer to a food truck meetup at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City in 2013, it was one of 20 food trucks on the street — though several of them had dedicated supporters.
“Our very first day, we were surrounded by two popular food trucks with huge lineups,” Kim said. “There wasn’t a single person in front of our food truck.”
What happened next, Kim said, speaks to her husband’s personality. “He’s a fun person,” she said. “If you have a coin or a pen, the pen is writing, the coin is paying, but my husband always looks at things from different angles. Everything he sees is a tool to play with.
Kim said that inside the trailer, as Song watched the other trucks and the long lines waiting for them, “he always wanted to have fun. So he was dancing in the trailer, and the trailer was dancing from up and down, and even though people weren’t interested in our food, people were thinking, ‘What are they? Who are they?'”
That’s when people started trying Cupbop’s food, Kim said, “and soon it went viral within a month or two.”
In 2015, Cupbop opened its first physical restaurant, in Provo, near the Brigham Young University campus. The chain now has 36 locations in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Oklahoma, and more than 100 locations in Indonesia. They also maintain a number of food trucks.
The food, Kim said, is quite similar to what was served in that bouncy Gallivan Center trailer nine years ago — although they’ve added fried options to their restaurants.
Cupbop’s appearance on “Shark Tank” is set to air Monday, May 2 at 8 p.m. Mountain Time on ABC – in Utah, it’s KTVX, Ch. 4.
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