There was a time when Kelly Cooper wasn’t even sure he would graduate from high school. He wasn’t exactly committed to his studies. He did have an inherent love for his country, so he decided that the United States Marine Corps would be a natural next step for him – a career path he could commit to.
He served for four years in the Marines, rising to the rank of Corporal (E4). His specialty was anti-tank and demolition in the Infantry. While he was stationed at Camp Lejeune, he travelled around the globe, serving in Cuba, South America, South Korea and Okinawa, Japan. It was an amazing experience for Cooper, but he was looking to be “more settled” in life.
He returned to the States to continue his education at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois. It was there that he bartended and managed at TGI Fridays and discovered his love for the restaurant business. He then embarked on a career in restaurant management, first at Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano and later at Rock Bottom Brewery before landing at The Melting Pot in 2005.
He started as an assistant manager at The Melting Pot in Phoenix, learning a lot and honing his skills in a short period of time. After gaining key experience and knowledge, he was promoted to General Manager after only three to four months. After a year, he moved to Scottsdale and served as their General Manager for a few years. When an Area Manager position became available, he took advantage of the opportunity for even greater responsibility with the brand. Finally in 2010, he realized his dream of ownership.
Over the past seven years, he became partners with Dan Arndt and Mark Rosenthal in the Scottsdale, Phoenix and Glendale locations and franchisee of the Tucson Melting Pot. Cooper was mentored and encouraged by Dan and Mark from the beginning and credits them with making his dreams of ownership possible.
He also credits the Marine Corps with putting him on the right path. He could have easily lost his way after high school, but found the structure of the military to be even more beneficial than college in some ways. Many of the skills he learned in the military translated into restaurant management and ownership. The military framework and leadership skills learned while serving in the infantry lend themselves well to franchising.
“You are essentially following someone else’s system. Implementing someone’s plan and making it successful – just like in the military,” said Cooper. “Attention to detail is important in the Marines. You need the same level of detail in franchising. It [the Marines] really changed my life, gave me practical training and put me in a position to be a successful franchisee.”
Cooper agrees that The Melting Pot is a great place for veterans to utilize the skills they gain from military service. And, the veteran incentive is definitely a bonus. The brand offers 20 percent off the initial franchise fee of $45,000 for veterans through the VetFran program. This discount applies to the first franchise and requires the individual qualifying for the discount to be the majority owner.
In addition to incentives that franchises provide veterans, Cooper also suggests that veterans consider the training and support that a franchise can provide.
“The real estate and location are critical. Veterans need a franchise that can provide assistance with this and more,” added Cooper. “As a franchisee, you are buying into a system and process. We need access to people and resources that help us grow our business. I feel really good about the support we get at The Melting Pot.”
The support he receives also allows him to spend more time outdoors and on the lake, as well as with his wife, Erin, and their children Kennedy (3 years old) and Mason (2 years old). He also carves out time to learn more about running a business, as he wants to build a legacy for his family and would love for his kids to join him in business if they have a passion for the restaurant industry. But, at the end of the day, he just wants his kids to be happy and enjoy what they do. Just like he does.