If you are walking on N. Central St, it is easy to miss some of the businesses that have been there awhile, quietly celebrating patrons and serving the community. The popular fondue restaurant, The Melting Pot, is one of those businesses. Celebrating 30 years of being in Knoxville and its original location, it is one of the the oldest sit-down restaurants downtown.
As I walked Old City during Big Ears in the Spring, I noticed that The Melting Pot had its doors open, and staff gave out chocolate-covered strawberries and sold glasses of wine for $5. I stopped in, had a little treat, and found out there was a new general manager, and that she was turning the restaurant back toward community events they had not been part of in recent years. This was not my first time in The Melting Pot, but admittedly, it’s been years. My husband and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary there in 2007 (enter my fondue obsession), and not long before our move to Knoxville in 2020, we went as part of a food tour in 2018. However, it slipped off my radar until earlier this year.
It took longer than I intended, but I contacted Sandy West, the new General Manager, and she was eager to tell me all the great things going on there now. Sandy had been with The Melting from 1998-2006 as front-of-house staff. She stayed in touch with John Gilpatrick, who owns the restaurant, and took the General Manager position in February of this year. She was determined to make changes and remind the community that The Melting Pot was still thriving. She is also part of an upcoming renovation for the restaurant inside and out.
As you enter the building, you notice that you must go down a flight of stairs to enter the restaurant. The deep red and black walls, floors, and décor keep the space feeling intimate but dark and dated. The Melting Pot resides in a building in the Terminal and Warehouse Historic District which received a Historic designation in 1985. Fortunately, this does allow them to make much-needed updates to the interior of the restaurant and treat the space to a new, fresh look as they enter their 30th year. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible for the restaurant to be handicapped accessible as they cannot disrupt the brick structure or make elevator access. I saw the new, brighter color scheme and the blueprints for renovations starting sometime early next year. They are adding almost 30 additional seats to the restaurant and completely redesigning the bar to be more open and modern. The exterior is getting a facelift as well.
They intend to keep up regular service during the renovation. The work will be done chiefly overnight and section by section to avoid disruption to the area. They will add artwork that depicts the history of the building and more modern art. Sandy is excited to have a brighter, more open, and more welcoming space to host guests. They will have a grand reopening sometime in 2024 with their 30th anniversary.
Once we discussed the restaurant’s logistics, I asked Sandy about her vision for the company’s impact on the community. Sandy believes putting her employees and customers first is the best way to succeed. They are participating in more local events like the Farmer’s Market, First Fridays, and others by passing out the chocolate-covered strawberries they are known for. She believes that a simple act of kindness like that can change the course of someone’s day.
She also believes in being a good neighbor and tries to support other local downtown businesses by purchasing gift cards and lunches for staff from them. When I asked her where she developed the mentality of supporting her team and community so well, she attributed it to her mother, Vada West, who has been a business owner and taught Sandy how to give big and love well.
Sandy talked about the joy it brings her and her staff to have guests come in, put their phones away, and enjoy being with their company and celebrating an event in their lives. The team enjoys decorating plates to help guests celebrate and has even competed for the best decoration. Since The Melting Pot is a hands-on fondue restaurant, she feels guests are more present with each other, creating a more memorable experience. She enjoys knowing they have contributed to making someone’s night special.
The Melting Pot franchise is turning 50 next year and will be rolling out a new menu that opens on Nov 7. The Celebration Experience will have a dry-ice feature and sparklers to make any celebration more memorable. Wednesdays are Best Friends Forever Fondue nights, and Thursdays are “ThursDate” nights. If this isn’t what you’re looking for (or doesn’t fit your budget), you can order a single chocolate fondue (or cheese) to treat yourself or a loved one with something special. You can celebrate October Fest with a special German-inspired special Mon-Thurs through Oct 26. The underlying goal for The Melting Pot staff is to create the perfect night out for each guest. Sandy hopes you will come out and let them help you have your perfect night out.
More menu updates and specials will be coming, and you can keep up with them or make reservations on their website HERE.