When life hands you potatoes, make gourmet fries—that’s the philosophy that James and Johanna Windon acted upon when launching Buena Papa. A food venture with roots in Raleigh, North Carolina, Buena Papa made its debut in 2021 amid the uncertain times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. It offered the Windons a new beginning when their cleaning business, Maid in Raleigh, was temporarily shuttered due to the health crisis. Borrowing culinary inspiration from Johanna’s Colombian heritage and integrating it with American fast-food culture, Buena Papa is more than just a French fry bar; it’s a melting pot of global flavors and a tribute to cultural unity.
Buena Papa Before Shark Tank
James and Johanna Windon are no strangers to the trials of entrepreneurship. Before venturing into the food industry, the couple operated a cleaning service called Maid in Raleigh. However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a temporary cessation of their business operations. Amid the days of staying home and the necessity of social distancing, the Windons began to experiment in their kitchen, which served as the inception point for Buena Papa.
Johanna Windon, who was born in Bogota, Colombia and moved to the United States at the age of 6, yearned to share her Colombian roots through food. She took particular interest in “Bandeja Paisa,” a traditional Colombian dish brimming with chorizo, beans, and fried pork belly. During one home-cooked dinner, they realized that they were missing a critical component of the dish—rice. Unfazed, James suggested a culinary pivot: Why not replace rice with French fries, an enduring American favorite? Thus, in that moment of culinary improvisation, the idea for Buena Papa was born.
Realizing they had stumbled upon a unique fusion of flavors, the couple spent the subsequent weeks refining their concept. The Windons envisioned a place where community and culture collide, framed against a backdrop of “hand-cut, made-to-order” gourmet fries. They believed in the universal appeal of the humble fry, layered with a kaleidoscope of global toppings, from Colombian to Mexican to Italian influences.
Buena Papa prides itself on delivering a unique, quick-serve dining experience, centered around gourmet French fries with an international twist. Its flagship dish, “The Colombiano,” is a delectable ensemble of fries topped with ingredients native to Colombia: chorizo, beans, and fried pork belly, among others. The restaurant has since expanded its menu to include offerings that are a nod to other cultures, such as “El Mexicano,” which features carne asada, guacamole, and sour cream, and “El Italiano,” adorned with Italian seasoning, Parmesan cheese, sauce, and meatballs.
The restaurant’s menu isn’t just about fries, but the atmosphere and community it aims to build. Johanna and James created a setting that they describe as evoking a vacation vibe. This is further enriched by the meticulous attention to detail in their dish presentation and the playful use of “Spanglish” in naming their dishes.
The fries at Buena Papa have gained so much traction that they were declared the “official loaded fries” of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. This feat stands as a testament to the restaurant’s surge in popularity, compelling enough to prompt its expansion, with locations now in both Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina.
Beyond fries, the restaurant seeks to be a community hub where people can explore new cultures without stepping on a plane. By layering globally-inspired toppings on a universally beloved base, the Windons have carved out a culinary niche that celebrates diversity. Johanna, who once was a 6-year-old immigrant from Colombia, now sees Buena Papa as a platform to share her culture and bring communities together—one gourmet fry at a time.