Meet the brand using French fries as a base for foods from around the world.
After establishing himself as a serial entrepreneur in the entertainment industry, James Windon pivoted to the cleaning business before the pandemic struck. However, the pandemic fueled Windon’s creativity, leading him and his wife Johanna to open Buena Papa Fry Bar in Raleigh, N.C. in 2021. The concept was based on a dish that Windon invented during the lockdown: the loaded fry. Windon learned how to make homemade French fries while cooking for his family during the COVID-19 lockdown. One day, when Johanna ran out of rice while making a traditional Columbian dish, Bandeja Paisa, Windon offered his homemade fries as a replacement, which seemed crazy at first, but the couple was desperate at the time.
According to Windon, when they ran out of rice while cooking a traditional Columbian dish and his homemade fries were offered as a substitute, their children were hungry and looking at them for a solution. As parents, they were determined to make it work. The couple had closed their cleaning business due to the pandemic, and Windon was eager for the next business opportunity. He quickly realized the potential of his loaded fry invention and said, “My business mind started rolling. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. You might have a business here.'” Windon described Buena Papa as similar to the Chipotle concept, but instead of just bacon bits, they offer dishes from various regions around the world, all featuring fries as the base.
After conceiving the idea for Buena Papa, Windon conducted online research on the most renowned dishes from different countries. The menu features diverse offerings, such as El Colombiano, which consists of fries layered with Colombian refried beans, chicharron, chorizo, guacamole, and pico de gallo; The Carolina, which features fries tossed in vinegar, topped with pulled pork, coleslaw, and a tangy barbecue sauce; and El Griego, which comprises fries tossed in Greek seasonings, topped with grilled chicken, tzatziki sauce, and pico de gallo. Windon believes that this menu diversity sets Buena Papa apart from its competitors, allowing customers to explore new cultures, languages, and foods. Some menu items are in Spanish, which he says customers enjoy and helps them learn a new language.
Buena Papa has already opened three restaurants, with plans to open a fourth and fifth. The first Buena Papa restaurant was established in a food hall in Raleigh’s Morgan Street Food Hall because someone finally understood the concept. According to Windon, when they pitched the idea to the food hall, they were asked about their years of experience in the restaurant business. Windon answered, “Zero. But I’m going to figure this thing out,” and he did. The fourth Buena Papa will be located in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, and the company is about to finalize its first franchise agreement. Windon is enthusiastic about bringing this simple concept to other people throughout the United States who, like him, lack restaurant experience but possess business knowledge.
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