The opening of the country’s largest chain of fondue restaurants, The Melting Pot, marks another milestone in the draw of national chains to Chattanooga.
Scheduled to open by early next year in the new Waterside Lifestyle Center, its owners hope it will become the place to find fondue in the city.
Owners Thane Rice, 46, and wife Michelle, 39, moved from Rusby, Md., an hour south of Washington, D.C., to Chattanooga in December 2007.
“We’d driven through many times and grew to love Chattanooga,” Mrs. Rice said. “We would have moved here regardless of whether we were opening a Melting Pot or not. Chattanooga’s rated high as a great place to raise kids, and it has so many outdoor activities. It’s a great place to live.”
The Rices experienced the restaurant for the first time while visiting Wilmington, Del., four years ago. When they moved to the Scenic City, the couple checked into Melting Pot franchise opportunities.
“And it so happened that Chattanooga was a target area on their list, so it worked out well for both of us,” Mrs. Rice said.
Melting Pot spokeswoman Stefanie Phillips said the company has “been inundated with requests from people from Chattanooga (to open a Melting Pot in town).”
The Melting Pot targets people looking for special-occasion dinner venues.
“You see a lot of the other chains going to curbside-to-go service to get additional business,” Ms. Phillips said. “Melting Pot doesn’t want to do that and never will, feeling it has a niche in the special-occasion market with people celebrating birthdays, engagements, anniversaries and proms.”
Ms. Phillips said the restaurant’s goal is also to get more children into the mix.
“Kids love to dip everything,” she said.
The Melting Pot is not a hurry-up-and-finish experience. It takes an average of two hours to dine there, particularly if you order the four-course meal, which includes a cheese fondue course, salad, main entree fondue course and chocolate fondue to finish. And it’ll set you back an average of $72 to $130 per couple, depending on the meat entree you order and the city you live in, Ms. Phillips said. Franchisees set their own menu prices.
But the prices don’t worry the Rices.
“We looked into all that before we made the move to open a Melting Pot,” Mrs. Rice said. “It doesn’t have to be pricey because you don’t have to get the whole meal.”
She said one of her favorite meals to have is the Wisconsin cheese trio fondue with Bananas Foster fondue for dessert, which is two courses rather than the full four-course experience.
“I think it will go over well,” she said. “It’s absolutely wonderful.”
According to the Food Marketing Institute, just 40 percent of American families eat dinner together, and Ms. Phillips said The Melting Pot is a good one to make the best of the time spent together.
“Fondue is interactive,” she said. “You’re reaching over, dipping in the same pot, food falls off, and you have to rescue it. It encourages people to interact and talk to each other and makes for a great family dinner.”