How This Fondue Restaurant Chain Is Surviving COVID-19

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

“2021 [sales] ended up up over 22% from 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 that’s really huge.”

The Tampa, Florida-based fondue chain, a subsidiary of restaurant management company Front Burner Brands, has reopened all of its 97 franchise restaurants in the United States and Canada and plans to add new franchisees to the team.

“What the numbers prove is that customers find our environments comfortable, enjoyable and, most importantly, they find them safe,” Johnston said. “This is a restaurant where you don’t just go to have a meal, but rather escape and make memories,” something Johnston said we can all use a little after more than two years of COVID-related restrictions .

The pandemic has decimated the restaurant industry, closing some 90,000 restaurants across the United States, but Johnston said The Melting Pot’s ability to cope with higher inflation has been a key ingredient to its success.

“We anticipated some of this inflationary pressure that the restaurant industry has experienced. We have a team of over 50 truly talented support people supporting all of our franchise locations, and a business unit focusing on purchasing and distribution. It’s something they do every day, not just because of the pandemic. But they are looking at what the futures are on various commodities and making very smart purchases on behalf of franchisees to try to stabilize or reduce costs where possible,” he explained. “It’s been difficult to cut costs in this environment, I think for any business, but especially restaurants, but they’ve done a magnificent job of stabilizing costs and protecting our franchisees’ profits.”

Despite restaurant closures due to COVID-19, the CEO of fondue franchise chain The Melting Pot says business has never been better.

The Melting Pot recently launched a new simplified menu, which was initially suspended due to the pandemic. And at a time when thousands of restaurants were closing, the company opened a spin-off restaurant called The Melting Pot Social. Johnston describes it as a “younger, hipper cousin” to the Melting Pot with shorter table times (which could originally be as long as two to three hours) and an emphasis on bar ware.

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 pay for a day’s work,” he said. “We are a springboard industry. Almost everyone on our team is on their way to something else…Our job is to create a learning environment…a nurturing environment for them while they’re with us.”

Alexis Christoforous is a presenter and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @AlexisTVNews.

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