How this fondue restaurant chain is surviving COVID-19

·3 min read

Fondue may seem like a questionable dining choice during COVID-19. After all, it involves dipping pieces of bread and other assorted foods on long forks into a communal pot of hot cheese and wine, but the CEO of The Melting Pot fondue franchise chain says business has never been better.

“2021 [sales] ended up over 22% higher than 2019,” The Melting Pot CEO Bob Johnston told Yahoo Finance Live. “And that's with 2,372 days of zero sales due to COVID-related closures in the first part of last year — so it's really tremendous.”

The Tampa, Fla.-based fondue chain, an affiliate of the restaurant management company Front Burner Brands, has reopened all of its 97 franchised restaurants in the U.S. and Canada and plans to add new franchisees to the team.

“What the numbers are proving is that the guests are finding our environments to be comfortable, enjoyable, and most importantly, they're finding them to be safe,” said Johnston. “It's a restaurant where you don't go to just have a meal, but rather you go to escape and create some memories,” something Johnston said we can all use a little of after more than two years of COVID-related restrictions.

The pandemic decimated the restaurant industry, shuttering some 90,000 restaurants across the U.S, but Johnston said The Melting Pot’s ability to navigate higher inflation has been a key ingredient to its success.

“We anticipated some of this inflationary pressure that the restaurant industry has been seeing. We have a team of over 50 really talented support folks that support all of our franchised locations, and one business unit focuses on purchasing and distribution. This is something they do every day, not just as a result of the pandemic. But they look at what the futures are on various commodities and do very intelligent buying on behalf of the franchisees to try to stabilize or drive down costs where able,” he explained. “It's been difficult to drive costs down in this environment, I think for any business, but especially for restaurants, but they've done a magnificent job in stabilizing cost and protecting the profits for our franchisees.”

The famous authentic Swiss cheese fondue served in an earthenware pot, with cubed breads and potatoes  dipping into rich melted cheese, landmark of Switzerland.
Despite restaurant closures due to COVID-19, the CEO of The Melting Pot fondue franchise chain says business has never been better.

The Melting Pot recently launched a new, streamlined menu, that was initially put on hold because of the pandemic. And at a time when thousands of restaurants were closing, the company opened a spinoff restaurant called The Melting Pot Social. Johnston describes it as a “younger, hipper cousin” to the Melting Pot with shorter table times (which originally could run up to two to three hours) and an emphasis on bar items.

Johnston said the chain has been largely unaffected by ongoing labor shortages in the hospitality industry.

“We were prepared for this. We don't just give a day's wage for a day's work," he said. "We're a stepping stone industry. Nearly all of our team members are on their way to something else... Our job is to create a learning environment ... a rewarding environment for them while they're with us."

Alexis Christoforous is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.

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