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High End Restaurant Franchise Growth: How Melting Pot Cornered the Experiential Dining Category

Melting Pot CEO Bob Johnston discusses how the brand has cornered the unique dining category and how they’re committed to growing the restaurant franchise in the future.

By Jeff DwyerStaff Writer
SPONSOREDUpdated 3:15PM 03/09/23

For more than 40 years, Melting Pot has stood out as a successful and unique dining concept. However, in the last few years, the 97-unit fondue restaurant has seen exponential growth and continues to steadily expand thanks to its dedicated leadership team and passionate franchise owners. 

1851 Franchise Publisher Nick Powills and Melting Pot CEO Bob Johnston sat down in a recent webinar to discuss the brand’s growth and how it has cornered this unique dining category.

Why Melting Pot, Why Now?

Melting Pot has been around since 1975, but the brand has seen significant growth in the last two years. In 2022, at least 74 of their restaurants set all-time sales records. According to Johnston, there’s never been a better time for franchisees to get involved with the brand, and they’re currently looking for new business opportunities.

“Most of the world doesn’t even realize the Melting Pot is a franchise,” says Johnston. “If we could tell the world that business opportunities are available here with the Melting Pot, we would love to do that.”

Johnston and his two older brothers got involved with the brand fairly early on and were some of Melting Pot’s first franchisees. Decades later, he suggests one of the factors that has contributed to the brand’s growth is the support they give to its team of entrepreneurial franchisees.

“Our heroic cause is helping people achieve the dream of business ownership.”

Product and Experience Innovation

When it comes to its differentiators, Johnston believes there are no restaurants that offer an experience like the one customers have grown to love at the Melting Pot.

“One of the great strengths of the Melting Pot is the unique selling proposition of the brand,” says Johnston. “We are the only brand that exists in the fondue category.”

Because the Melting Pot stands alone in the fondue category, Johnston believes it’s hard to draw comparisons to other restaurant brands. Melting Pot doesn’t have the sort of competition that many other restaurants have to face off against like pizzerias or burger joints. And unlike other experiential dining concepts like Medieval Times or Brazilian steakhouses, Melting Pot stands out as an affordable option for customers. 

“We’re completely different from virtually anybody else,” says Johnston.

Success of Existing Melting Pot Franchisees

One reason the Melting Pot has seen such steady growth is because of its dedicated team of franchisees. Johnston says most of the brand’s franchisees have devoted themselves entirely to the restaurant brand because it presents them with a solid work-life balance that satisfies their business and personal needs.

Over the years, Johnston, who started his food service career washing dishes for his brothers, says he’s also seen a number of other franchisees first come into the Melting Pot system as servers. They then go on to get promoted to managers. Over time, many have branched out to become owners of their own locations. As a result, he says those franchisees have started investing in business leaders within their organization, who also go on to open their own locations.

Johnston also says their current owners and operators have helped the brand reach new prospective franchisees outside of their system by validating “why the Melting Pot as a concept, as a business model and as a franchise system is a great investment.”

Franchisee Opportunity and Support

When it comes to supporting new franchisees, Johnston says the Melting Pot is behind its new owners “from the word ‘go.’” 

According to him, the Melting Pot franchise network is like a family because that’s how they view their franchisees, as strategic partners who have become a part of their family.  

“If you go to our annual meeting, which we call the franchise family reunion, you will see these franchisees who are so close to one another,” says Johnston. “They know each other. They know each other’s families. They care about one another, and they support one another. And that same level of involvement within the franchise community isn’t limited to the franchise community. We, as the franchisor, are joined at the hip with our franchisees and are a big part of their success, along with their commitment and hard work.”

How Much Does It Cost to Own a Melting Pot?

The initial investment to open a Melting Pot franchise can range between $1.2 to $1.6 million, including a $45,000 franchise fee. Johnston says he recognizes that the cost to open a Melting Pot franchise is by no means a small investment, but it’s important to also consider the growth of the brand’s average unit volumes.

“When you look at the first-year sales or average sales versus the initial investment, it’s a really healthy ratio,” says Johnston. “I think this is what is appealing to folks that have done this before.”

Another business opportunity that makes the Melting Pot appealing, Johnston suggests, is the brand’s check average. Melting Pot is not fast food or casual dining; it’s an experiential dining experience. Because of this, Johnston says their check average falls into the low-to-mid range of $50 per person. Yet, Johnston says, consumers don’t typically view Melting Pot as a high-priced white tablecloth sort of restaurant.

“This is the best of both worlds,” he says. “We have a high check average, but we’re not viewed as something that’s unapproachable by the consumer.”  

Why Melting Pot Is the Right Opportunity for You

While the uniqueness of the concept cannot be emphasized enough, Johnston says it’s not just the food that separates Melting Pot from other restaurant brands.

“We have tremendous strength within the concept,” he explains. “Our consumers are emotionally attached to the brand.”

According to Johnston, many of their guests have a high affinity for Melting Pot and have chosen the restaurant as their go-to place to celebrate milestones or moments in their lives. The restaurant has become more than a place to dine, but also a place to create memories and gather with friends and family.

“It’s as much about what’s going on around the fondue pot as it is what’s in that fondue pot,” he said.

Franchisee Support Framework Unpacked

Melting Pot offers an abundance of support to help get new franchisees off the ground running. The brand’s leadership team provides help with site selection, and will help franchisees pick the right market and location in that market. They will even help forecast the sales potential within that area. Additionally, they also provide construction and design support, and have an in-house team dedicated to assisting with new construction projects and renovations. There’s an ample amount of training provided, which includes prior-to-opening, at-opening and subsequent to-opening.

“We have a team of seasoned experienced restaurant veterans who help our franchisees,” he says. “They’re not there just dealing with compliance issues. They’re there helping that franchisee maximize the business potential of their location.” 

Everyone on their executive leadership team also knows each franchisee personally and directly. As part of that, the leadership team makes themselves available to franchisees at all times to help them continue scaling their business.

Melting Pot CEO Vision and Leadership Philosophy

When it comes to Johnston’s leadership philosophy, he says Melting Pot is about more than just serving food. He says the brand’s mission to help individuals achieve their dream of business ownership is a big part of their goal. Also, he wants to ensure that their guests are provided with the perfect night out—“whatever that looks like for them.”

“We don’t take this lightly, it’s not an obligation, it’s an opportunity to serve,” says Johnston. “Our leadership model is based upon servant leadership.” 

As a franchisor, he confirms that Melting Pot is dedicated to serving its franchisees, stakeholders, team members, business leaders and its “loyal, committed and engaged customers.”  

Melting Pot Culture and Core Values

Melting Pot invests heavily in the success of its franchisees. In fact, according to Johnston, the leadership team doesn’t even refer to its Tampa, Florida-based headquarters as a “corporate headquarters.” Instead, they refer to it as their “restaurant support center.”

“Our success comes from our franchisees’ success,” says Johnston. 

The restaurant support center has a team of about 60 people between the Tampa location and in the field, who are actively working to assist franchisees whenever they need.

#1 Roadblock to Owning a Melting Pot and How Melting Pot Solves It

Johnston says he loves when prospective franchisees have prior restaurant experience. However, individuals who have never worked in the restaurant industry should not be dissuaded. He believes a roadblock that some may consider while applying to own a franchise is their possible lack of experience. 

“We have a lot of very successful franchisees that have never worked in this industry before,” says Johnston. “But they have the right wiring and the right service aptitude, mixed with good business skills in order to be successful.”

He also believes some might be hesitant to franchise with Melting Pot because it’s a “niche concept.” However, he says, Melting Pot’s uniqueness and the fact that it stands out among other restaurants that serve ordinary everyday food is a “great strength of the brand.”

The Future Experience of Melting Pot

On the consumer side of things, Johnston says most of the time their guests make reservations in order to dine at Melting Pot. Recently, their team has built new tools that can measure how many guests want to eat at a Melting Pot location on a certain night but aren’t able to because the restaurant either doesn’t have time or table space available. This discovery, Johnston says, has made the brand realize they have a massive and unmet demand that needs to be filled. Melting Pot is growing to meet that demand and to serve as many guests as possible. Moving forward, the Melting Pot team is looking for qualified franchise prospects to help reach 125 units by 2026.

“This has been a very difficult time for our industry, to be able to boast the best performance that the brand has ever seen through that,” says Johnston. “I think this is a great testimony that we have a winning team, a winning product and experience for the consumer.”

You can watch the full conversation by clicking here.

For more information on franchising with Melting Pot, visit