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How This Franchisee Turned a College Job Into a Meaningful Career in Hospitality, Leadership and Mentorship

Brian Neel, a seven-unit Melting Pot franchise owner, started his journey with the brand as a dishwasher before climbing the ranks and stepping into ownership.

By Morgan Wood1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSOREDUpdated 10:10AM 03/12/24

When Brian Neel started as a dishwasher at Melting Pot while in college, he didn’t foresee the job turning into a career. Now, he owns a number of restaurant franchises, including seven Melting Pot locations, and is providing support to other young entrepreneurs who are building their own dreams.

Neel joined 1851 Franchise Publisher Nick Powills for a February webinar to discuss his journey from dishwasher to owner, his mentorship and partnership in business, and his plans for the future.

“The dream of being your own boss, particularly at a young age … I caught that bug as well and started looking for locations,” said Neel. “Long story short, I decided on Charlotte, North Carolina, for my first restaurant, negotiated a lease with a landlord and figured banks would lend me money because I had what I thought was a lot of experience.”

While Neel had experience with the concept and a good business plan, he didn’t have capital. He applied for loans at around 40 banks throughout North Carolina and his home state of Florida, but was turned down by all of them.

“I went to my landlord, Steve, and told him I didn’t have the funds available. I couldn’t get a loan from a bank, and I was going to have to move back to Florida and get a job,” he said. “Steve said, ‘I like the concept, I like you. What do you think if I invested and we went in 50/50 partners?’ So I said yes right away, and that’s how I got the funding for the restaurant.”

The Charlotte restaurant opened in November of 1989, and it still exists in its original location.

Since then, Neel has grown his portfolio to include multiple restaurants with multiple brands, and he has helped around 30 other entrepreneurs get into business. While he did not necessarily have a vision of business ownership at the start of his journey, he had a vision of the kind of life he would lead; this is what made him such a great fit for the Melting Pot brand and allowed him to grow as he has.

“I always had a vision that if I worked hard and treated people fairly and I was honest, that, whatever I decided to do, I could make it happen,” he explained. “I always believed in the American Dream. I feel that each person has their own pathway to achieve it, and with mine, having integrity and honesty and treating other people how I want to be treated helped me be successful in the restaurant business.”

Now that he has the financial resources and experiences he does, Neel is looking to pay it forward and “do for somebody else what Steve did for [him].”

With each new hire, Neel shares the story of how the business came to be and he will sometimes notice a spark of interest in a new hire’s eyes. Through his periodic trips to the restaurants to help out, Neel can better understand which team members truly embody the values he prioritizes and those that align with the larger Melting Pot brand. This helps him identify team members with the potential to grow, even if they are just like him — starting as a dishwasher with no conscious goal of ownership.

The culture of hospitality, care and collaboration is what makes the guest experience at local Melting Pot restaurants so special, and some of the most successful owners and leaders in the system have embraced these values in every stage of their journeys. Through mentorship, Neel is looking to foster those values even longer.

“Some of my best friends in the world are fellow franchisees that I’ve gotten to know through [Melting Pot],” said Neel. “I feel like I’m living the dream now. My next step in life is to be able to step back even a little more and have even more trust than I already have in my management and my partners. My wife and I want to travel and spend some more time together, but also, by doing that, empowering our partners, management and team members even more. And to help them fulfill their dreams.”

Watch the full conversation here.

Total investments range from $1.3 million–$2 million. For more information, visit