What You Need To Know About Buena Papa Fry Bar From Shark Tank

Though many entrepreneurs come on "Shark Tank" to pitch a product, the Sharks are no strangers to restaurant concepts being floated their way. In the past, eateries such as Custard Stand, a West Virginia-based chili dog and frozen custard restaurant; Cousins Maine Lobster, a seafood-centric food truck line; and Chi'lantro, a Korean-Mexican fusion chain from Texas, have showcased their ideas in hope of capital, mentorship, or both from the pool of investors. Though they haven't all been successful in getting a bite, many have seen bumps in sales due to the exposure. That may be just what Raleigh, North Carolina, restaurant Buena Papa Fry Bar is after, though cash is always king. 

Founded by Johanna and James Windon in 2021, Buena Papa — Spanish for "good potato" — takes loaded fries to a whole new level. Having seen a disruption in their cleaning business during the pandemic, the couple was searching for a new outlet for their entrepreneurial energies. Johanna, who was born in Bogota, Colombia, and immigrated to the U.S. at age six, decided to tap into her roots. More specifically, she honed in on a popular Colombian meal called Bandeja Paisa, which can include beans, rice, chorizo, and crispy pork belly. Without rice at the ready, the couple decided to see how the various elements would work over fries. It was an instant hit — at least with the Windons, who further refined the idea in their home kitchen.

What does Buena Papa serve?

It wasn't long before the couple realized that while the original lineup of toppings was a home run, they could go global when topping fries. The Windons created a veritable U.N. of loaded fry variations that reflect a diverse array of flavors. Mexicano features carne asada, pico de gallo, guacamole, and sour cream, while Parmesan, meatballs, mozzarella, and pomodoro sauce crown the Italiano. Puerto Rican pernil, guacamole, and pico de gallo, all come atop the Boricua. American-born flavor combos are featured too, such as the Carolina with pulled pork, coleslaw, and house barbecue sauce over vinegar fries, and the Americano, with shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, thick-cut bacon, and chives. The restaurant also offers signature fruit juices and an array of sauces, including the popular Latin-American option MayoKetchup, Carolina-style barbecue sauce, garlic-cilantro sauce, and a creamy hot sauce.

The first iteration of Buena Papa opened in Raleigh's Morgan Street Food Hall across from the couple's future "Shark Tank” compatriots, Cousins Maine Lobster. Salsa music and the chance to win free fries for a year helped the Windons launch the venture, which quickly caught on with hungry Raleighites. That popularity helped Buena Papa grow from a stand in a food hall to a second location in Raleigh's sister city, Durham. The Windons also opened a stall in PNC Arena, home of the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, who named Buena Papa their "Official Loaded Fry."

Franchising frontier

In addition to Buena Papa's Raleigh and Durham locations, the company operates a franchising arm that has helped spread the footprint to include the North Carolina cities of Wilmington, Chapel Hill, and Jacksonville, as well as Atlanta, Georgia, and Miami, Florida.

The Miami location of Buena Papa, which is inside Wynwood Miami's The Dirty Rabbit bar, also marks the company's first foray into a regional menu creation with three all-new offerings. El Miami comes with pulled pork, guava BBQ sauce, queso fresco, and crispy fried yuca strips. El Cubano has spiced mojo fries, pernil, jamon, pickles, and house-made Cubano sauce. Finally, El Japones is topped with a choice of teriyaki beef or pork katsu, eel sauce, pickled carrots, and chopped scallions. 

If you want to chart your own course, Buena Papa has you covered with its Crea lo Tu Yo, or "Create Your Own" option. Choose from regular or sweet potato fries; proteins like hot dogs, pernil, pulled pork, bacon bits, pork belly, and more; seasonings, including garlic mojo, BP signature seasoning, Italian spices, and Greek spices; extras like guacamole, cheddar, and salmon; refried beans, pico de gallo, parmesan, coleslaw, and other toppings; and sauces, like chipotle mayo, Buena sauce, MayoKetchup, and others. 

For those with a sweet tooth, take heart; Buena Papa sells more than just savory food. Pick up an order of churros with whipped cream or sweet potato fries tossed in cinnamon sugar and drizzled with pumpkin-spiced marshmallow fluff.

Reviews are in

Digging into the Yelp reviews for the flagship location at the Morgan Street Food Hall, you notice that out of over 30 reviews, the majority are five stars. Reviewer Rachel H. states that the service was expeditious and courteous and the food exceeded expectations, noting, "everything tasted fresh and had great flavorings, more than I expected from a fry bar." That sentiment was echoed by Jillian S. who writes, "they certainly don't skimp on the fries or toppings."

But it's not all sunshine for Buena Papa. Yelper Yanni H. complained about the heavy hand with which the establishment seasoned both the fries and meat for their dish. Additionally, Amber F. complained that while the portion was generous, the flavors quickly became tired and the coleslaw served on the Carolina fries was "soupy." 

The reviews for the Durham location of Buena Papa paint a less rosy picture, but it is worth mentioning that there are far fewer reviews to date. Still, Andrew M. lays out a meal that was lacking composition, describing a large piece of salmon on his El Healthy fries that was hard to eat with the other toppings and not well mixed into the overall dish. Lanae M. reports that the cheese, beans, and other toppings looked as though they may have been sitting in the steam tray a little too long. On the flip side, Tiff T. glows over the "delicious" fruit juices and the overall shareability of the portions. 

What happened to Buena Papa Fry Bar on Shark Tank

The Windons were upfront with their ask: $400,000 for a 7% stake in Buena Papa Fry Bar. The star of the hour are the fries — or papas — and they showcased how their culturally blended family led to the creation of their fry-forward signature dish. As Johanna explained the culinary inspiration of their dishes in Spanish, James translated, much to her chagrin. But that's part of the Buena Papa Fry Bar mission — exposing people to the flavors, language, and spirit of cultures outside their own. 

The assembled Sharks — Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Kevin O'Leary, Lori Greiner, and Robert Herjavic — dug into heaping helpings of Buena Papa's loaded fries. Cuban Loved his salmon-topped Healthy sweet potato fries while Corcoran got the pulled pork Carolina fries, a nod to the chain's heritage. James then noted that the couple maxed out their savings to open the business, turning their remaining bank balance of $18 into $18,000 in a week, thanks in part to over 16 million views on TikTok. 

O'Leary dug in on the cost, which the Windons explained is around $3.50 per unit but sells for an average price of $13.50 with a food cost of 28%. The first Buena Papa store generated gross sales of $1.1 million, and they further explained the growth strategy and franchise parameters. While Greiner, Cuban, O'Leary, and Corcoran were out — albeit with a positive word — Herjavic decided to put down $400,000 and obtain a 19% stake in the business.