The Melting Pot Restaurants Inc.

Melting Pot

Melting Pot is refreshing its brand with changes to its menu and design.

By Mark Lawton, Knighthouse Media

People looking to start their own business have numerous reasons to consider a Melting Pot franchise. “Franchisees of Melting Pot would be bringing something to their communities that isn’t just another sandwich shop or Italian restaurant,” says Dan Stone, chief operating and development officer.

Melting Pot is a fondue operation. Fondue is not your typical dining experience. It is an interactive experience. “There is a little bit of a theatrical aspect to the experience,” Stone says. “And its polished casual, that dining space in between fine dining and casual.”

Among the benefits of a Melting Pot franchise is a brand established for more than four decades.

“Because of the uniqueness of Melting Pot, we have a deep emotional connection with our guests,” Stone says. “We pride ourselves on supporting franchises. Sixty-five team members to support 108 locations is a lot of support.”

For new franchisees, the company helps with site selection, initial layout and space planning before construction and offers an eight-week Melting info box1training program for managers at its company-operated locations. Closer to opening, the marketing team helps create a grand opening plan and company trainers go to the restaurant to train staff.

In terms of ongoing support, Melting Pot analyzes food and commodities markets to lock in high-quality foods at optimal prices. The company also helps with IT, P&L, inventory and other aspects of the business.

“We work very closely with our franchise community,” Stone says.

Melting Pot offers an eight-mile protective radius for franchise restaurants with rare exceptions such as airports or densely populated cities like New York City.

The first Melting Pot opened in an Orlando suburb in 1975, serving only cheese, beef and chocolate fondue. Mark Johnston, who was working his way through college as a waiter at Melting Pot, saw how popular the concept was and with his two brothers raised the money to open their own Melting Pot in Tallahassee, Fla.

In 1981, they opened a second Melting Pot in Tampa. In 1985, the brothers bought all rights to Melting Pot and began selling franchises. Today, the company has 108 locations in 31 states and – since 2010 – in Canada and Mexico. About three percent of those are company stores; the rest are franchises.

Melting Pot buys high-quality ingredients from sustainable vendors. The company works with Cacao-Trace® to make sure cocoa farmers are earning a living wage and that the post-harvest fermentation of cocoa beans produces superior tasting chocolate. Also, Melting Pot works with cheesemaker Kindred Creamery®, based in Wisconsin. In partnership with the Swiss/American company, Emmi Roth®, the cheesemaker is known for their Cows First program. This program recognizes farmers’ hard work and respect for their herds and allows them to treat their cows like family. Treating its cows well produces better milk and therefore cheese.

The restaurants offer gluten-free options which are certified through the Gluten Intolerance Group. In addition, Melting Pot has increased its use of technology.

“We have embraced more technology,” says Jason Miller, director of culinary innovation and development and corporate chef. “Now all recipes are on a digital format. There are tablet computers in the kitchen to quickly pull up recipes. There are links to training videos on how to prepare dishes. The biggest challenge for a chef is consistency and we have increased efficiency on overcoming this challenge.”

Melting Pot Evolution

In his book “On the Origin of Species,” naturalist Charles Darwin suggests that species need to evolve to fit a changing environment. Melting Pot restaurants, the preeminent fondue operation in the United States, is planning its own evolution.

“The consumer has evolved,” Stone says. “The competition has evolved. We too need to evolve.”

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Miller says. “We started in 2018 and by 2021 we’re looking to have the bulk done.”

At Melting Pot, there are cooktops on every table and food is cooked at the table rather that in a kitchen. The company, however, wonders if there is a way to speed up cooking at the table.Melting Pot 2

“Making that cheese at the table, as interesting as it is, can be time-consuming,” Miller says. “You are there and you’re hungry and you are just waiting for a server to finish crafting the cheese fondue.”

That is why Melting Pot plans has introduced an optional cheese and chocolate station in the dining room that will enhance the guest experience. The tenders will make the cheese at the station and a server will bring it to the table to add final ingredients. “Think of it in terms of a relay race,” Millers says.  “The server comes in on the last leg. You still get that entertainment factor and it allows customization. It doesn’t compromise the integrity of the cheese or the quality of the ingredients.”

In addition to fondue, select Melting Pot locations will offer cooked food options. “There might be a person in a group that doesn’t want fondue and that one veto vote sways the group [to another restaurant],” Miller says. “One of our legacies is that Melting Pot was a cold prep kitchen. Now we are adding ovens, fryers and cheese melters where the location will allow. We can compete with other restaurants.”

Besides satisfying a potential veto diner, cooked foods allow diners to get in and out much quicker. That means Melting Pot restaurants can start offering lunch, something the restaurants couldn’t do in the time it took to serve a typical four-course fondue meal.

Restaurants now offer new cocktails with an emphasis on clean and fresh ingredients.  There will also be a centrally located area for wine.

As with any makeover, there are challenges. Those include hiring higher-wage cooks, training of employees and buying kitchen equipment. Stone thinks those challenges can be handled. To help work through it all, the company leverages a committee comprised of franchise owners and company staff.

“We largely agree the brand needs to be refreshed and evolved,” Stone says. “We need to remain relevant with the consumer.”

To be clear, Melting Pot will remain a fondue operation during and after its evolution. “We are not departing from fondue,” Stone says. “Historically we have been viewed as a special-occasions dinner – birthdays, anniversaries and engagements. The Melting Pot evolution allows us to broaden the brand and allows guests to think of us in ways they haven’t thought of us. What we have seen, however, is consumers have been trained that Melting Pot is a dinner-only experience. Many people are not educated yet on other ways they can use Melting Pot. But when you evolve a 44-year-old brand, that change doesn’t happen overnight.”

Melting Pot has fully instituted those changes in its locations in Red Bank, N.J., and El Paso, Texas. “The consumers love it,” Stone says. “They are enjoying the new design, the cooked items.”

While the company wants to refresh its brand, it is flexible with franchisees. “Franchisees have to include some of the changes,” Stone says, “but can choose to opt out of the others.”

During the next two years, the corporate office will focus on remodeling, Stone says. “We can’t be in every market but we want to be able to grow the brand into smaller markets that we have not historically targeted,” he says. “We are exploring the idea of tweaking the model into other size markets and non-traditional places such as ski resorts and airports.”

Beyond that, the company is exploring food-to-go and whether it could package cheese and chocolate. “Consumers are really leveraging online ordering,” Stone notes.

Giving Back

Melting Pot believes in giving back to others. The company does this by supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, which works on treating childhood cancer and other pediatric diseases.

From mid-October to the end of December, customers can donate to St. Jude whenever they dine. For every $10 donated, guests receive a Donate and Dine card valid for $20 off a future meal of $50 or more at the Melting Pot. One hundred percent of the donation goes to St. Jude.

Throughout the year, Melting Pot will donate $1 from each $5 box of chocolate fondue wafers customers buy. The company will also donate 50 cents for each kid’s specialty drink purchased in a take-home piggy bank cup.

Each year, Melting Pot sends top fundraising team members from across the nation during the previous year’s St. Jude Thanks and Giving® campaign to Memphis to tour the hospital. They serve chocolate fondue to St. Jude patients and their families at a fondue party.

Melting Pot has raised more than $12 million for St. Jude since the partnership began in 2003.

 

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