Food Trends

Former NFL star Bubba Baker finds success as barbecue entrepreneur

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 (Courtesy Hardee's)

He was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1978, and spent 13 years as a professional football player for teams like the Detroit Lions, Minnesota Vikings and Cleveland Browns.

But for Al “Bubba” Baker, a 2013 appearance on Shark Tank was only the beginning of a lucrative second act in the spotlight. 

This year, his baby back rib company “Bubba-Q’s Boneless Ribs” signed an agreement with CKE Restaurants—the company behind Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.—to become the exclusive rib supplier for their new “Baby Back Rib Burger,” which launches this week in 3,000 Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. locations nationwide.

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The burger deal is the latest in a series of successes for Baker, who at one point almost abandoned his delicious dream. Before throwing in the towel, the football star says he was encouraged by his daughter not to stop. 

“The reason this young lady and I are partners is—she was in track and, like most dads, I was pushing her,” Baker explained to the Sharks during his first appearance with his daughter Brittani in 2013. “She said, ‘Hey, I don’t want to run track ... You quit the boneless ribs.’”

It’s no wonder Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s wanted to partner with the former defensive lineman. Baker owns two patents—both for the product itself and the process to produce the unique meat item—meaning that his company is the only one in the world authorized to sell a fully-cooked rib with either one or more bones removed from it.

It’s the second patent that wowed "Shark Tank" investor Daymond John in December 2013. After viewing the patents and tasting Baker’s De-Boned Baby Back Rib Steak—which can be prepared in the microwave in two minutes and eaten-- mess-free-- with a knife and fork—that John invested $300,000 for 30 percent company equity.  

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At the time of the Baker's first "Shark Tank" apperance, sales for Bubba-Q’s Boneless Ribs were $154,000. It was revealed on a Shark Tank update April 15 that, after appearing on the show, the company’s profits had blossomed to $16 million in under four years. 

For Baker, it’s a lifelong dream come true.

“Ribs are my passion,” he told the Sharks during his initial appearance. The episode ended with Baker claiming that his ribs would “change barbecue as we know it.”

On this month’s follow up episode, he explained how the deal with Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s came to be. 

“Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s came up to my booth at a food show because it’s a patented boneless rib. We’re the only people in the United States to do it.”

Baker’s contract with CKE Restaurants also has the chain excited.

“We’ve pioneered many iconic burgers over the years but no other chain has ever before put real, boneless, baby back ribs on a charbroiled burger and, with some crispy onion strings, pickles and BBQ sauce on it, it’s a combination that tastes amazing together,” Brad Haley, chief marketing officer for Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, told Fox News. 

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“As you can imagine, it’s not easy to get real, boneless, baby back ribs, but our friends at ‘Shark Tank’ helped us out by investing in a start-up company that did just that,” said Haley.

“And, thanks to Al “Bubba” Baker and Bubba’s-Q for making it possible for us to pioneer the next ‘Great American Burger.”

Baker’s de-boned ribs can be purchased at retailers like Sam’s Club and ordered online, while Baker has made sales appearances on QVC and Hallmark Channel.

John, who has previously said the partnership was one of the best investments he’s ever made on the show, said during the update, “The future couldn’t be brighter for Al. I still believe that this will potentially be my biggest deal ever.”

“I’ve been very lucky in my life,” Baker said. “It’s proof that if you live your life with integrity and you work hard, good things happen to you.”

Launching April 26, the Baby Back Rib Burger, feautres a single patty for $5.59, a double patty for $6.79 or a one-third-pound Thickburger for $6.79.