- Age: 28
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Financial Manager at Deloitte
- Restaurant Concept: Meltworks
Eric Powell has been starting businesses and learning new things since he was a kid. His father is a judge, and his grandfather was a Republican congressman during the Nixon/Ford years. Powell's mother is still holding out hope that Eric will attend law school, but for now, Powell is directing his creative juices elsewhere. The restaurant business is appealing to Powell because it combines many of his passions - food, finance, design, music - and it allows him to create an experience that he can share. Though Powell is an outsider to the business, he's studied it inside and out, which allows him a unique perspective. Meltworks has been Powell's obsession for the past several years, and it would be crushing to him if it didn't exist beyond the pages of his business plan. Powell's plan of attack came during a drunken brainstorm with best friends, to liberate them from corporate misery. They decided on a concept based around the simple idea of the grown-up grilled cheese sandwich. Instead of wonder bread and Kraft singles, Meltworks features the use of top-notch ingredients like Gruyere, fresh veggies, all-natural meats and freshly baked breads.
- Exit Interview:
What inspired your fast casual restaurant concept?
I've always been an entrepreneur at heart and, at the time I started working on Meltworks, I was working in a corporate environment where I was decidedly not an entrepreneur. I needed an outlet to satisfy those entrepreneurial urges and started looking for an idea.
In all honesty, my love of Chipotle was a big part of the initial inspiration behind the Meltworks concept. I loved the elegant simplicity of what they do and wanted to find another avenue to create something along those lines. I had always been a grilled cheese fanatic and saw that as a perfect way to create something that was simple, yet allowed many different ways to explore different flavors. So, me and a friend went straight to the kitchen and started working on sandwich ideas for the concept. That was four-plus years ago now, so it's been quite a journey and yet it still feels like it's just beginning.
What was it like to make it to the Top 10 and compete on the show?
Making the top 10 was an amazing feeling, but also a tremendous relief. I have poured so much effort into this concept over the years that reaching the top 10 felt like a bit of validation after quite a few years of rejection and slowly creeping self-doubt. I was also incredibly excited to have access to some of the greatest minds in the restaurant business, especially Steve Ells, who is a true innovator.
What moment or moments on the show were most surprising to you?
I was NOT expecting to be asked to make as many grilled cheese sandwiches as I possibly could in a very short amount of time. That was a lot of fun for me though.
What was the best part of your experience? Has the experience changed you?
Getting to know an amazing group of talented and creative people, from the crew of the show, to the other contestants, to the judges - all of them inspired me every day. That said, there is no better feeling than simply feeding people and having them enjoy it.
Did you make any lasting friendships and/or business relationships on the show? With whom?
I certainly hope so. I keep in touch regularly with several members of the cast and I can't wait to spend time with them again, especially Suds and Steph. We all forged a bond around going after the same goal, and while we might be competitors in one sense, we're teammates in another. I'm looking forward to seeing many of them find success in this business and sharing our knowledge with one another as we move forward with our respective concepts.
Do you think you should have been eliminated? Did you agree with the investors' decision?
I certainly don't think I should have been eliminated, but I understand that different investors will have different tastes and preferences. It's my failure that I wasn't able to persuade them to invest in Meltworks, but I still believe that my concept has broad appeal and that it will be the right choice for another group of investors.
Are you going to continue to pursue your restaurant concept?
Absolutely. Being a part of the show re-invigorated me and made me believe in my concept even more. While my concept may not have ultimately been the correct fit for this group of investors, I was enlivened by the enthusiasm that the patrons of the various challenges showed for Meltworks. While I have had my moments of doubt in the past, I was sure that I could succeed in this business after winning the first challenge.
Which one of your competitors' restaurants would you eat at regularly?
Of the top 10, both Stephenie and Sudhir have concepts that I personally would love to eat at regularly, and would be my choice from an investment perspective as well. I also liked several concepts that didn't make the top 10. Winn's chopped sandwiches were incredible, and I think that that Tran could be onto something with a Vietnamese fast casual restaurant.
What have you been doing since being on the show?
First and foremost, I now have a daughter! Avery Quinn has been an amazing addition to my life and her arrival certainly capped a very eventful year for me. I started another business in the downtime following the show, a menswear line called Ratio Clothing, and I also went back to my pre-show job at Deloitte. Now that the show has aired, I'm leaving my full time job at Deloitte to focus on Meltworks, Ratio Clothing, and my new family.
What has the experience of being on the show taught you?
So many things. How to properly use a chef's knife, for one. More than anything, I learned the importance of both trusting your gut and listening to people who are smarter than you. Knowing when to choose one of those paths over the other is the key to success.