But it took The Melting Pot restaurants, with headquarters in Tampa and more than 145 locations in 37 states, to turn that simple concept into a culinary sensation that appeals to 21st-century tastes.
Lori and Jerod Hagen discovered The Melting Pot while vacationing in Florida in the late 1990s, unaware that Louisville had a franchise at 2045 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy.
â€œWe instantly fell in love with the concept,â€ said Lori, who paid for her education at the University of Kentucky by serving and bartending in the hospitality industry. â€œI never dreamed we would own not one but two restaurants ten years later. We opened the Lexington location in June of 2008, and bought the existing Louisville one six months later from the previous franchisee.â€
Sharing Switzerlandâ€™s national dish from a single vessel creates a phenomenon that Jerod and Lori call â€œthe fondue effect,â€ during which conversation becomes effortless, even for couples on first dates.
Unlike those hardy Swiss of old, diners at The Melting Pot can savor fondue that stars beef filet, buffalo chicken or lobster all accompanied by fine wine.
Dessert fondues include assorted flavors of chocolate into which fresh fruits, cake and other morsels can be dipped and savored.
From the beginning, the Hagens have looked for ways to make eating at their restaurants a special treat for their patrons â€” placing roses on the table before a couple arrives on their anniversary, celebrating the life of a cancer survivor during a girlsâ€™ night out filled with pink balloons, and helping a soldier just back from duty surprise his girlfriend with an engagement ring tucked into a flower made of strawberries.
All of that, and more, took place on a single evening.
Lori and Jerodâ€™s concern for others has also led them to be partners with St. Jude Childrenâ€™s Research Hospital and other non-profits; since 2008, they have helped raised over $75,000 at both restaurants.
â€œWe have hope that there will be a cure for childhood cancer soon,â€ Lori said. â€œWe believe itâ€™s our duty to give to others before we give to ourselves. Helping our team members be part of something much bigger is such a rewarding experience to watch. Our team is passionate about giving back, as well as passionate about pleasing everyone who dines in our restaurants.â€
A sign in the kitchen is a reminder of that goal: â€œOur guests expect a good night out, they want a great night out, but will always remember a perfect night out.â€
Like many other restaurants, the Hagensâ€™ Melting Pot locations have faced economic challenges, but report a recent increase in sales.
â€œThere are lifetime members of our Club Fondue who not only crave their favorite fondue, but also need a place where they can still celebrate and enjoy each otherâ€™s company,â€ Lori said.
â€œThey may not order the four-course fondue like before, but they crave the creamy cheese and chocolate fondue along with their favorite wine. Weâ€™re grateful to our guests for continuing to support us even when the economy hasnâ€™t been so supportive. We have faith that weâ€™ll be able to continue to serve lasting memories for a lifetime.â€
The Melting Pot is at 2045 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. and is open Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, 4 p.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, 4 p.m.-9 p.m. For information, visit www.meltingpot.com or phone 502.491.3125.