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Why a Former Melting Pot Employee Decided to Open Four Franchises of His Own

Rob Arias worked at The Melting Pot before ultimately opening his own location – but now he has four. What prompted his decision to go from employee to franchisee, and what’s his plan for growth?

By Jeff DwyerStaff Writer
SPONSOREDUpdated 11:11AM 05/24/23

Rob Arias has had anything but a normal career. He began his professional life at 12 bussing tables, and nearly three decades later, he’s the proud owner and operator of four Melting Pot locations across the Midwest.

Arias has worked in the hospitality industry for most of his life and only recently jumped into the world of franchising in 2020. Despite being relatively new to the industry, Arias has put a lot of hard work in, and over the last three years, he has opened franchises in places like Madison and Brookfield, Wisconsin; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Dayton, Ohio.

1851 Franchise recently spoke to Arias about his goals for the future of his restaurants and why he decided to get into franchising.

1851 Franchise: Frame your personal story for us. What did you do before franchising, and how did you decide franchising made sense for you?

Arias: I’ve been in the hospitality industry since a very early age. I was adopted and my stepfather was a head chef with Hyatt back in the ‘80s. So, by three or four years old, I was already running around putting rubber bands on lobsters. When I was 12, I lied and said I was 14 so I could get a job bussing tables. Over time, I’ve worked through every position in hospitality. I initially worked my way up to a sous chef, but I was told I was a terrible sous chef and fired from that role and promoted to bar manager instead. 

That’s where my journey into the front of the house began. I despised doing inventory, so I was happy to be getting out of the kitchen. But I quickly learned that bar managers do inventory, too. So I thought to myself, why don’t I become a general manager? That way I wouldn’t have to do inventory. Honestly, it was my lack of desire to do inventory that spurred me all the way up to becoming a regional manager, then an area coach for YUM! Brands in the mid-2000s, where I had roughly 12 locations under my belt.

After a few years, I ended up going back to a different company I worked with for several years. In that position, I designed and built a restaurant in St. Petersburg, Florida, and managed a portfolio that included multiple restaurants, hotels and condos. That made me well-rounded on the property management side of the business. Fast forward to 2018, after being with that company on and off again for 10 years, they get sold. When that happened, I was out of a job and didn’t know what to do. 

Around this same time, I was contacted by a recruiter from The Melting Pot for a position that was really exciting. I interviewed for the position but didn’t get the job. Later, I ended up calling the corporate team, and they said they had another position available, but it was for a general manager role. At first, I hung up because that wasn’t the role I wanted, but after a while, I ended up calling them back and took the position. From there, I worked my way up to the Executive General Manager.

Through that opportunity, I met Mike Ronan, who later became my assistant. At the time, Mike was a franchisee who was going to purchase a Melting Pot location somewhere in the Midwest, though that didn’t end up happening. Mike and I worked together for about six to eight months, and then COVID hit. At that point, we were out of jobs and I was back to where I started in 2018. 

I received an email about a week before the national shutdown that mentioned a franchising opportunity. The email said there was a Melting Pot location available in Madison, Wisconsin for sale, and I looked at the price and thought, “That can’t be correct, there’s no way anyone would sell a restaurant for that little.” So I called Mike about purchasing it, and he said absolutely not. But we flew up anyway, and we met with some of the teams and looked at other Wisconsin-based locations. It was then that we discovered there were actually two locations that were for sale. We went back to the franchisor, Front Burner Brands, and said we were interested in those restaurants. They told us it’s a really bad time to buy restaurants because you can’t even open them. We asked if they would work with us, and they said they would. They worked hand in hand with us, and we purchased our first two locations in 2020.

1851: What was your perception of franchising prior to becoming a franchisee, and what do you want people to know about franchising now that you are in it?

Arias: I thought it was only for rich people. I thought franchising was unattainable or only reserved for people with Master’s Degrees or people with high net worths. But I’ve learned it’s absolutely attainable. There’s a high level of risk versus reward. I would say if you’re interested in investing in a franchised concept, go for it because all the guardrails are there to make sure you’re successful.

1851: What made you pick this brand? What excites you most about this company?

Arias: I look at these as two very different questions. What excites me about this company? If you look at The Melting Pot’s current leadership, there seems to be a very clear direction and there’s a very positive outlook for the future of the business. And I’m not just saying that, there are very real-world metrics that support that.

Why did I pick Melting Pot? Well, to be honest, I don’t feel like I picked it. I feel like the better question is “Why did I choose to stay?” I could have gone to any other concept because I had the net worth and the ability, but we choose to stay and purchase more Melting Pot locations. The reward is very commensurate with the level of effort. It’s not lopsided. The more you’re willing to put in, the more results you can have. The results kind of span across people and profits, so there’s a very good balance.

1851: What do you hope to achieve with your business? What are your plans for growth? 

Arias: World domination? In all seriousness, we do have plans for growth. We spent the first three years understanding the business model, and then in the latter half, probably over the last year and a half, we focused on how to build our operations to scale. I believe we’re there, and we’re ready to expand. I think we have a really good grip on the Midwest, but we’re ready to go to some contiguous markets. We can build out units of four or five at a time. Our goal is to get to 20 units over 15 years.

1851: What is the one thing about your story you want us to know?

Arias: If I could share any advice with anybody, I would say, put people over profits every single day. Profits are the byproduct of your people doing everything right. It’s really important to understand that, especially in the hospitality industry.

1851: What advice do you have for other people thinking about becoming a franchise owner?

Arias: There’s a lot you don’t know you don’t know until you find out. But it’s okay to learn as you go. You don’t have to know everything. That’s why you have a franchisor and you can partner with them in real-time.

When you’re on the outside looking in, it can seem impossible, but take the first step. That’s the most important part.

About Melting Pot

Founded in 1975, Melting Pot has offered a unique fondue dining experience for more than 45 years. As the premier fondue restaurant franchise, Melting Pot has more than 90 restaurants in 31 U.S. states and Canada. Known for offering a variety of fondue cooking styles and unique entrées, Melting Pot’s menu also features cheese fondues, salads, fine wines, spirits and chocolate fondue desserts. Melting Pot is an affiliate of Front Burner Brands, a restaurant management company headquartered in Tampa, Florida. For more information, visit