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LET’S EAT! | Fondue Family: State’s First Melting Pot to Bring Unique Dining, Community Focus

May 31, 2024 Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

State’s first Melting Pot a family affair

The Natural State will soon be home to its very first Melting Pot fondue restaurant.

Fondue? Really? Is there really a successful chain of fondue restaurants in today’s world?

I’ve only heard “folk tales” from my parents about the fondue party fad of the 1960s — and their memories weren’t exactly great. I recall hearing about spilled cheese and burned body parts as partygoers reached over each other to dip their meat into a pot of scalding hot cheese.

That’s why I wondered how the Melting Pot was approaching this unique eating experience and succeeding.

“We like to say, the Melting Pot is as much about what’s going on around that fondue pot as it is what’s in that fondue pot,” says Bob Johnston, CEO of Melting Pot Restaurants. “The food’s delicious, the experience is unique, but really, the magic in the Melting Pot is about the perfect night … and creating some real memorable experiences.”

So, it’s a social experience as well as a dining one. That makes sense. But Johnston also says that part of its popularity is that the Melting Pot has kept all the great social aspects of a classic fondue gathering but without all the prep and cleanup work.

When I found out I would be speaking to the CEO of Melting Pot Restaurants, I knew my first question would be a simple one.

Why Arkansas? Specifically Northwest Arkansas?

The answer was not quite as simple.

During the peak years of covid, Melting Pot was not focused on franchise growth, Johnston explains, but rather on helping their current franchisees get through the difficult time. Coming out of those years stronger, they were able to look into growth once again. And one place kept coming up.

“We just started getting a bunch of inquiries about Bentonville,” Johnston says. “And so that piqued our interest.”

After analyzing the market and realizing the potential of the Bentonville and Rogers area, Melting Pot knew they could do well there and began looking for potential franchisees. Enter Chad Hickerson, his wife Candice Bright, and his mother-in-law Diana Bonnett.

Together they plan to bring the first Melting Pot franchise to the area, hopefully by spring of 2025, Hickerson says.

“Melting Pot didn’t bring us here,” Hickerson clarifies. “We actually relocated here from

California a couple of years ago. So we live in Rogers out by Beaver Lake. We have about 16 family members plus kids that all moved out here. So we … embraced Northwest Arkansas as our new home.”

But even though they said goodbye to California, they ended up wanting to bring something with them that Northwest Arkansas did not yet have.

“We’ve been going to Melting Pot for a couple of decades,” Hickerson says. “My wife and I would go there once a month for date night. My wife and her mother would go every couple of months and actually have business meetings. So it’s been kind of a staple for our family — for date nights, for special events, all of those things.”

“We’re living here [now]; our children will live here,” Bright says. “Diana, my mom, is one of our business partners. My sister, who’s a firefighter in Springdale, intends to do some part time work there — so it’ll also be a family experience.”

It’s the perfect time to bring a new and interesting dining experience to the area that lends itself to social gatherings — from casual to formal. The fondue restaurant will even feature a bar area that not only offers cocktails, but that is also set up for happy hour style dining right at the bar.

But personally, I’m drawn to the sweet siren call of chocolate.

Lucky for me, that’s one of the classic fondue treats.

When I asked about their favorite items on the Melting Pot menu, chocolate came up in all the answers. Johnston had trouble picking a favorite, but highlighted the Yin & Yang Fondue, which is the perfect balance of dark and white chocolate artfully swirled into the symbol of its namesake. Hickerson, however, let his wife answer the question. Her love of the Melting Pot shone through right away as she chimed in nearly before Hickerson had even finished asking if she wanted to answer.

“Oh my gosh, yes! I get the same thing every time,” Bright says. “I get the Spinach Artichoke Cheese Fondue and then we do Court Bouillon cooking style and then we get the Original Fondue, which is milk chocolate and peanut butter.”

When the fondue restaurant opens next year, its hours will be from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, and they’ll offer lunch and dinner on the weekends, Hickerson says.

“Melting Pot is something that we love. It’s a staple within our family,” Hickerson says. “And in particular, it’s a brand that we absolutely believe in, and that’s why we’re so excited to be able to share it.”

I will keep you updated on the restaurant’s progress as details continue to come in.


Ben Collins
Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

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