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How This Melting Pot Franchisee Grew From Waiting Tables To Owning and Leading One of the Top-Performing Locations in the System

With the support of a leader who believed in him, Anthony Wheeler took advantage of the opportunity that existed within the fondue franchise system, climbing the ranks and stepping into ownership in 2021.

By Morgan Wood1851 Franchise Contributor
SPONSORED 3:15PM 05/24/24

Melting Pot, the 92-unit fondue franchise, has a special way of capturing people’s hearts and minds. Anthony Wheeler, owner of the Melting Pot location in Littleton, Colorado, has one of these amazing stories. When he began working at Melting Pot, he was a server looking to make some extra money. However, he quickly became enchanted with the business model and brand’s focus on the guest experience. Wheeler’s commitment to Melting Pot’s quality turned a side gig into a business ownership opportunity.

“I started working with Melting Pot and right away, I was hooked because it had a different appeal than most restaurants. Most restaurants are turn and burn,” Wheeler said. “I walked in, and the previous owner had done such an amazing job with the building — it was so intricate and unique. Then, when I found out how much the Melting Pot brand cares about the guest experience and delivering something a little bit more perfect than people are used to, that became a place for me where I felt like every guest mattered. And I was hooked.”

After about two years with the restaurant, Wheeler became the general manager and began overseeing day-to-day operations. He took ownership of the role, restaurant and guest experience, and the owner at the time took note. Years later, when the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the restaurant industry, the owner decided he was ready to step away, and Wheeler began the purchasing process. Wheeler took over the restaurant fully in late 2021, and he now runs one of the best-performing locations in the Melting Pot system. 

Wheeler’s passionate alignment with the brand values is what has made him so successful. Founded in 1975, Melting Pot has become synonymous with fondue dining thanks to the incredibly memorable experience it offers each guest, every time. This level of care is a key contributor to the choice of many team members to stay with the brand for such a long time, but it is also an undeniable reason why guests just keep coming back. As it continues to expand nationwide, guests everywhere look forward to the experiential dining model that can only be had at Melting Pot.

“In this DoorDash and GrubHub world, people want to be treated like kings and queens, and I want to give that to them. I want our experience to be a place of respite,” Wheeler said. “They don’t have to worry about little Johnny’s grades tonight. They can come in and get totally lost in our experience. We always have to have sincere conversations with the guests about them and their experiences. It’s not about me or my long drive to work. It’s about you. It’s about your little girl’s birthday; let’s just get lost in that moment together.”

To find out more information on costs to buy this franchise, please visit

A summarized transcript of Wheeler’s interview with 1851 Franchise’s Nick Powills is included below. It has been edited for clarity, brevity and style.

Nick Powills: I love these conversations because it’s genuinely special to see someone bust their butt to become a business owner. So, I’m excited to hear your story. Let's start from the beginning—how did you get into franchising?

Anthony Wheeler: During college, I worked in restaurants and graduated with a degree in English education, planning to be a teacher and coach. I started working at Melting Pot right after graduating to pay bills because teachers don’t get paid much. I was applying to grad school, thinking I’d make more money, but got hooked on Melting Pot. It was different from most restaurants — less about quick turnover and more about creating special experiences. I didn’t even know it was a franchise at first. The place was unique, and once I saw how much the brand cared about the guest experience, I felt every guest mattered. I worked there for about eight months before taking time off to be with my terminally ill mom. When I returned, the owner’s sister asked if I’d considered management.

Melting Pot was the first franchise I worked for. I’d been in the restaurant business in various places, from Tucson to Las Vegas, but never had such a meaningful experience. Initially, I laughed at the idea of being a manager because of my previous experiences, but my girlfriend (now wife) encouraged me to try. One shift in management changed my perspective. It combined hard work and psychology, and I felt invested in both the people and the guests. After that, I was hooked and ready to go full-time.

Powills: That’s a great start. Congratulations on surviving the [Las Vegas] Strip! What stood out to me is that anyone who buys a Melting Pot has to love the business. How does it compare to other places you've worked?

Wheeler: You can get a steak or shrimp cocktail anywhere, but Melting Pot focuses on perfecting the guest experience. From day one, I was taught to prioritize the guest, whether it was cleaning up messes or ensuring efficient service. The sense of family and belonging was profound. It was about making every guest feel special, not just catering to the wealthy. The Melting Pot’s mission had a profound impact on me, and I knew there was a better way to do things. They turned that light on for me.

Powills: That’s part of the gap we need to close with prospective franchisees. How do you uncover that emotional hook for people who might not see it immediately?

Wheeler: You have to find people aligned with your vision. When I became the general manager in 2008, everyone I interacted with, from the training team in Florida to my owner, supported me and believed in me. They allowed me to create standards specific to our location without pushback. This made me feel comfortable and empowered to improve the business.

Powills: At what point did you think about becoming an owner, and how did you get comfortable with that idea?

Wheeler: Kyle, the previous owner, always empowered me to act like an owner. When we started talking about me buying the business, it was right before COVID. We had preliminary discussions, but COVID delayed everything. During the pandemic, we created a successful to-go fondue program. When we reopened, Kyle decided he didn’t want to return full-time. That reignited our conversation about me taking over. The process took about a year and a half, with lots of ups and downs. But in December 2021, it finally happened. I was nervous, having borrowed a lot of money, but seeing those first sales and paying that first bill as the owner was an incredible feeling.

Powills: When did the dream of owning your own Melting Pot really take hold?

Wheeler: A few years before COVID, at a Christmas party, Kyle and I talked about it. He mentioned he might want to retire sooner than I thought. We started serious discussions right before COVID hit. After the initial shock of the pandemic, we resumed talks, and by December 2021, I became the owner. It was a challenging process, but the support from the corporate team and Kyle’s faith in me made it possible.

Powills: That’s amazing. It’s about finding people who believe in the vision and supporting them. How has your team responded to your ownership?

Wheeler: They’ve seen the changes I’ve implemented. We’ve made the building safer, improved operations and created a scholarship program for our staff. I’ve invested in new carpet, upholstery and other improvements. They know I’m committed to the business and their well-being. My philosophy is simple: the more money our staff makes, the more the restaurant makes. I’m there six days a week, working to improve the business and their lives.

Powills: That’s a great approach. It’s about treating your guests well, which starts with taking care of your staff. How do you see this in the broader restaurant industry?

Wheeler: People want to be treated like royalty when they dine out. It’s about creating a perfect night where they can forget their worries. We focus on delivering a memorable experience. We haven’t raised prices in two and a half years because we’re sensitive to the economic climate. It’s about playing the long game, ensuring our guests keep coming back and looking out for the next generation of staff. It’s about sincere engagement and making every guest feel special.

Powills: You have a great philosophy. When you share this with other Melting Pot operators, do they see the value in your approach?

Wheeler: Many are data-driven, but I believe in spending time engaging with my team. People want to feel special when they dine out. By investing in our staff and building a strong team, we ensure our guests have an exceptional experience. It’s not about me; it’s about making the guests feel valued and creating lasting memories.

Watch the full interview here.