Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

The Melting Pot dips into foreign markets

Seven years ago, as the U.S. economy fell into recession, the Melting Pot, the 4-decade-old Florida restaurant chain that specializes in fondue, began looking at expanding internationally. With more than 130 locations in 35 states, it had reached “third base” in its U.S. growth strategy, says Dan Stone, chief business and people development officer at Front Burner Brands, the chain’s management company.

“Our development opportunities domestically were limited,” he says.

In 2010, the Melting Pot opened a restaurant in Edmonton, Canada, its first international location. By 2012, it had added three locations in Mexico.

Last spring, the chain opened its first outlet outside North America — in Jakarta, Indonesia. About 20 more foreign franchise locations are in various stages of development. This year, Melting Pot will open in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Other target markets include Australia, Brazil, China, India and Japan.

Working in the company’s favor, Stone says, are two factors: Foreign nationals appreciate American concepts, and they have more disposable income these days. He says the company’s fondue niche “translates really well in other cultures,” particularly those that value taking time to eat with friends and family.

One challenge for the company is adapting fondue to local tastes and customs. One of Melting Pot’s more popular menu items is a spinach and artichoke fondue; as it trained Indonesian staff for the opening of the restaurant in Jakarta, it realized that none of the trainees had heard of artichokes. So, “we spent an hour talking about artichokes,” Stone says.

Each country poses different challenges. In Mexico, the Melting Pot added a spicy dipping sauce and opened for lunch to suit local eating habits. “Most people in the U.S. don’t have time to do fondue for lunch,” he says. “In Mexico, their siesta is from 2 to 4, and they don’t eat dinner until 9, 10 or 11. You’ll see people take a two-hour lunch break, with wine, in business suits at a Melting Pot in Mexico.”

Meanwhile, for its planned opening in Saudi Arabia, the Melting Pot removed beer and wine from its cheese fondue to adhere to the Islamic country’s ban on alcohol.

“You’ve got to respect the culture and know when and what to adapt,” Stone says.

Country Briefs

BRAZIL — Campus Management, a Boca Raton-based education software company, opened an office in Brazil to grow its overseas customer base. The company also has a presence in India.

JAPAN — Tokyo’s Sato Holdings, a global bar code and RFID technology company, will set up a software division called Sato Global Solutions in Fort Lauderdale, creating 200 jobs within three years.

SPAIN — Vimac USA, an engineering company based in Spain, plans to add 12 jobs and invest $1 million at its new U.S. headquarters in Miami. Spain-based Bird Biotech also has entered the U.S. market with an office at the University of Miami Life Science and Technology Park, adding 10 jobs.