Whip out a fondue pot at a party nowadays and people are likely to think you're about to ask them to drop their keys in a fishbowl. It's also not exactly a hot trend among restaurateurs, who all seem to be going Italian or offering comfort foods.
But the old standard in fondue -- the Melting Pot -- is still going strong 25 years after it first came to South Florida. To find out how, we asked Selene Munach, owner of the Miami location and former owner of the Coral Springs one, five questions about her business and how to stay relevant these days.
New Times: You were 22 when you started your first Melting Pot and had to borrow a dress from your mom for the opening night. What was that like?
I was 22 when we opened in 1985. (Oops, did I give away my age?) My boyfriend, now husband, and I worked very hard to prepare for the opening. We did everything we could ourselves in an effort to save money. Opening day arrived, and my college wardrobe of
jeans and T-shirts wasn't appropriate. The night before, I borrowed a
dress from my mom. Since then, we expanded the first location three
times and then moved to our current location. A free-standing building that we purchased and moved there in 2000.
When you got
involved with the Melting Pot in the early 1980s, it was probably an
entirely new cuisine for most people. How'd you deal with that?
we first opened, we had a waiting list of guests who heard we were
opening and were familiar with existing locations in Tallahassee, Tampa,
and Gainesville. They were thrilled to see us in Miami. They told two
friends, and they told two friends. This brought an awareness that
fondue is a new choice for dining. I also believe that society today is
craving the emotional connection provided by our restaurant. We are all
so busy and more isolated than ever. Technology has allowed us to
communicate without leaving our desks or our homes. Email, Facebook, and
other social networking still leaves us "hungry" (pardon the pun) for
an intimate connection to the people we care about. Fondue provides a
communal experience. It brings people together.
Then came a
time -- about the mid-'90s? -- where everyone got a fondue pot as a
wedding gift. That had to hurt business, right?
fondue pots didn't hurt business at all! I think it helped educate
people on what we are and brought in more guests.
When a lot
of people think fondue, they think of a 1970s party: bell-bottom pants,
fish bowl for the keys, and a fondue pot of cheese on the kitchen
counter. Does that connotation bug you at all?
bother me at all that fondue originated in the '70s. It's been very
interesting to see the evolution of fondue over the years. Starting as a
fun '70s fad all the way to today. It is now an upscale, trendy dining
experience. We are a destination for all reasons to celebrate. Our
guests have dated, proposed, and celebrated their anniversaries with us.
They enjoy their birthdays, promotions, proms, and births of their babies
with us. They bring their out-of-town guests, their children, and
their parents to experience fondue. Those vacationing seek us out. I am
so proud that our guests have a strong connection to us.
days, South Floridians have access to such an amazing array of ethnic
foods, from Salvadoran to Vietnamese. How do you keep fondue relevant
I believe fondue is relevant because it is all about the
experience. We create the perfect night out for our guests every time
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they dine with us. I believe my restaurant satisfies a need we all have: to connect on an emotional level with the people we care about. The
food is great, and the atmosphere inspires guests to appreciate the
people they have chosen to spend time with. We also offer limited-time
menus every six months to keep things fresh.