How Utah’s Cupbop did in their $1 million moment on ‘Shark Tank’

Co-owners Jung Song and Dok Kwon impress the investors with their food, and their numbers.

(Christopher Willard | ABC) Jung Song and Dok Kwon pitch their Utah company, Cupbop, on ABC's reality show "Shark Tank." The episode is scheduled to air Monday, May 2, 2022.

Jung Song’s pitch was straightforward: “We are super energetic. And a little bit crazy!”

The pitch, by the founder of Salt Lake City-based Korean barbecue chain Cupbop, appealed to the panel of investors on ABC’s “Shark Tank” Monday night.

“K-pop, K-drama, K-movies are taking over,” Song said, as he and co-owner Dok Kwon made their pitch on the reality competition. “Now it’s time for K-food to take over the world! There’s one Asian concept in the top 50 restaurants. There’s room for more. And we are next.”

The pair’s playful, energetic presence charmed the “sharks” — this season, that’s Mark Cuban, Barbara Corcoran, Lori Greiner, Daymond John, Robert Herjavec and Kevin O’Leary — but it was the numbers, and the food, that sealed the deal.

Kwon, who in his earlier life was a hedge fund investor, told the panel he was Song’s first customer, back when Cupbop had one food truck that parked at Gallivan Center once a week.

[Related story: Read about Cupbop’s food truck origin story.]

“I’m Korean, and just fell in love with the product,” Kwon said. “I moved to New York, did my seven or eight years there, and I just wanted something different.”

When he returned to Utah, he called Song, and pitched himself as a partner.

“He said, if you don’t hire me right now, you’re gonna regret it,” Song laughed.

(Christopher Willard | ABC) Jung Song and Dok Kwon pitch their Utah company, Cupbop, on ABC's reality show "Shark Tank." The episode is scheduled to air Monday, May 2, 2022.

The pair presented their deal: 3% of the company for $1 million.

“Sharks! We’ll keep making the Cupbops, you’ll be swimming in cash,” Song said. “We have a Cupbop for each of you guys. Now....just eat!”

They then served the sharks cups filled with sweet potato noodles and a mix of beef and hot spicy pork. Every shark remarked that the food was delicious, but spicy. (At stores, Kwon noted, eaters can choose their spice level, on a scale from 1 to 10; 7 is equivalent to a jalapeño.)

“Mark Cuban, are you crying?” Song asked.

Cuban, apparently hit by the spicy flavor, said, “no, I’m good.”

O’Leary — who, according to Greitner, is a tough judge of food vendors — said, “we’ve had a lot of food concepts on ‘Shark Tank.’ I have to give it you: This is one of the best I’ve ever tried.”

The sharks thought Cupbop’s offer was as bold as the food. The 3% offer, Corcoran said, was “through the roof.” But the would-be investors were impressed by Kwon’s numbers: The bowls cost the company between $1.88 to $2.50 to make, and are sold for $8 to $10 each. When Kwon said the company’s current worth was $18.7 million, accrued over the last eight years, the sharks let loose a chorus of “whooooahs!”

“Wow, are you kidding? How many trucks?” O’Leary asked. Kwon replied that the company started with trucks, but now use them more as a marketing tool; the company now has 27 brick-and-mortar stores in six states.

Greitner was impressed that Cupbop’s biggest growth came during the pandemic, when restaurants were going out of business left and right. Kwon explained that delivery and take-out carried them through.

Herjavec said his father gave up everything to get to the United States, and was impressed by the dedication Song and Kwok — who were both born in Korea — show the idea of the American dream.

But he couldn’t quite square the ask: “You guys are onto something here. Purpose comes from everything. Except $1 million for 3%. I don’t know what the purpose of that is! What is that, a $33 million valuation? How do I get there?”

“It’s really the growth rate,” Kwon said. “It took us seven years to get to $10 million. We have 10 more stores coming before the end of the year.”

Then the bidding war started, with O’Leary out front. “I like the deal,” he said. “I like the mission, the energy. I love the food, and the cash flow a lot.”

O’Leary offered a $1 million loan, at 10% interest, for a 3% stake in the company. Corcoran countered with $1 million straight up, for a 30% stake. Herjavec then upped the offer to $5 million for a 28% stake.

Greiner then offered a $1 million loan, at 8% interest, for a 5% stake in the company. Greiner and Corcoran then partnered up with the same offer.

Cuban — who’s also the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks — then bid $1 million in straight equity, for a 7% stake. Kwon counter-offered Cuban’s bid with a 4.5% stake. After a back-and-forth, Cuban agreed to a 5% stake.

“America is truly the land of opportunity,” Kwon said in his to-the-camera comments after the deal was struck. “It’s a huge milestone for us, so I could not be happier right now.”

“We should go to the moon, right?” Song said.

“Right!” Kwon said, “Let’s go to the moon!”