Business

Fresh Chef, launched in 2014, could employ 200 by year end

Mel Funk and Brad Blumer are the owners of Fresh Chef

By Dave Vieser.  Mel Funk and Brad Blumer, co-owners of the Fresh Chef restaurants, seem to have hit their stride with a restaurant concept that features fresh entrees for the casual diner. What started out in a single storefront in a strip mall is tripling in total size this year, with several new locations on the menu by the end of the summer, not to mention a new breakfast concept in Cornelius.

Funk started out in 1981 working as a dishwasher at Steak and Ale in Roanoke, Va. “I guess you could say I caught the restaurant bug back then watching how they doled out steaks, lobster, wine and beer to their loyal customers, and I knew right then owning and operating a restaurant  was going to be in my future.”

Funk is more the front of the house guy, while Blumer works his magic behind the scenes of a notoriously complex and challenging business.

The pair landed on their precise formula after honing their skills at places like 131 Main. “We’ve got plenty of fine restaurants in the region, but many people feel obligated to get dressed up a bit to go there,” Funk said. .

By the end of the year, there will be seven locations—up from one four and a half years ago.

The dining duo is also taking over the location of another restaurant in Denver this spring. With 4,200 square feet, it will be the largest Fresh Chef.

The new Cornelius Fresh Chef is 3,800 square feet, nearly triple the size of the original location. They also plan to convert the original Fresh Chef location into a breakfast spot to be called Fresh Egg.

We caught up with Funk and Blumer at a food show:

Q. How large are your other existing locations?

A. In general, they all are between 2,800 and 3,200 square feet, and they seat between 80 and 120 customers.

Q. It seems like your formula is to take over a location and renovate it into the Fresh Chef style.

A. “For the most part, yes, that’s what we’ve done. I’ve had some great opportunities literally drop in my lap. However, we are now building a brand-new eatery in Conover, and hope to have it open by the end of May.”

Q. How many locations will you have by years’ end?

A. “Seven all together: Cornelius, Mooresville, Charlotte, Matthews, Denver, Conover, as well as Fresh Egg in Cornelius.”

Q. Hiring and keeping good help is a major challenge in the restaurant industry today. How do you address this?

A.  “Basically, we pay well and we treat our employees with respect. As a result, we have an extremely low turnover rate for a restaurant. Some of our people have been with us for 6-7 years and that says something in itself.”

Q. How many employees will you have by years’ end?

A. “We should have about 200, including both part-time and full-time.

Q. Are you planning a corporate office?

A.  “Not really, I work out of our various locations, and also do quite a bit of work from home. It’s the most economic way.”

Discussion

5 Responses to “Fresh Chef, launched in 2014, could employ 200 by year end”

  1. Mel and Martha Funk are genuinely great people. I met them by chance at a Carolina Panthers game sitting next to them. I happen to live near their Mooresville location. I have since been several times and introduced my girlfriend their. We’re both fans of Fresh Chef. “Great food, great people at a casual price!”
    (Feel free to use my quote Mel! Lol)

    Posted by Ray Suarez | March 5, 2019, 7:09 pm
  2. Best restaurant in Charlotte period!

    Posted by Corey K | March 5, 2019, 7:54 pm
  3. Love Fresh Chef. It was my favorite restaurant when I lived in Mooresville. Always a must do when I return to visit. Hey, Mel, consider bringing FC to the Murrells Inlet/Pawley’s Island area of South Carolina.

    Posted by Debby Peters | March 6, 2019, 10:38 am
  4. I personally know 3 different former employees from FC. Forced tip share is not a good way to treat employees. Nor is expecting employees to cover several positions without acknowledgment or compensation. Fresh Chef is over priced and do not treat employees with respect.

    Posted by Lake Resident | March 10, 2019, 10:30 am
  5. I love the food and atmosphere at Cornelius. Happy they will be opening soon in Denver!

    Posted by Michelld | May 29, 2019, 4:48 pm

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