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New concept Modern Market fights ‘terrible’ food syndrome


Co-CEO Anthony Pigliacampo, left, and Renee Israel are rolling out Modern Market Eatery as a franchise after 10 years of concept development. Israel, chief franchise officer, is the co-founder of Doc Popcorn and lends franchising expertise to the rollout.

Anthony Pigliacampo, co-CEO and founder of Modern Market Eatery, was traveling to a conference last November and had to grab a bite. “The food I had in the airport was terrible,” and he knew he’d feel “crappy” all day, he said.

That common complaint of the road warrior is the impetus behind franchising Modern Market. “Our idea was better food everywhere,” he said.

A 10-year journey to fine-tune Modern Market Eatery—including 30 corporate stores in five markets and an infusion of capital from Butterfly Equity in 2018—has led to the launch of a franchise program.

Pigliacampo believes all that effort means the concept has legs as a franchise. “Very few companies have figured out how to scale high-quality food,” he said. “I don’t think the business would be as solid” without a decade of tinkering.

“It’s through a finely engineered kitchen,” said the mechanical engineer by training. “We’ve been reinventing the concept from the kitchen out.” Range of investment is $755,000 to $1.44 million. Average unit volumes for mature corporate stores are $2 million. Square footage ranges from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet.

The concept has plenty of competition, of course, from peers such as CoreLife Eatery, especially, plus Corner Bakery Café and Panera, he said, calling Modern Market the “evolution of the bakery-café concept.” Add to that quick-service concepts from Freshii to Vitality Bowls to Juice It Up and many, many more offering healthy options at a lower price point than Modern Market’s $11 to $12 entrees.

Renee Israel, co-founder of Doc Popcorn, which she and her husband and co-founder Rob Israel sold to the parent of Dippin’ Dots five years ago, is chief franchise officer of the venture. She stayed at Doc Popcorn for four years after the sale; then she and Rob took their family to live in Spain for a year.

Modern Market Eatery

A grass-fed steak plate with rosemary sweet potato mash from Modern Market Eatery.

Why didn’t she stay there? “I thought about it,” she said with a laugh. “I am by nature a driven, type A person. Retiring forever was not my speed,” when she was just 50.

She and Pigliacampo are neighbors in Denver whose decision to work together was sealed in a typical way for the outdoorsy state: “We started talking about it on the ski lift,” and then got more in-depth on a mountain bike ride.

Rob Israel has returned to real estate investing and is helping a friend build a medical robotics company. Since the sale of Doc Popcorn, she said, she’s at peace with the brand’s direction, especially its co-branding with Dippin’ Dots franchises, a good pairing.

“There’s that founder feeling. You’re on 100 percent of the time,” when you own a company rather than work for someone else’s. “As a founder we had it all covered but we didn’t know franchising,” and she mentioned Michael Haith, formerly with Maui Wowi, Franchise Sherpas, Teriyaki Madness and more, as a mentor who taught her the ropes. “I feel like I can be that partner for Modern Market Eatery.”

Besides, she said, “I love my franchise family. I didn’t want to leave it.”

Butterfly Equity of Los Angeles, which bought Modern Market in 2018 and then paired it with a second brand under its umbrella, Lemonade, invests in “transformational food businesses,” Pigliacampo said, and uses the tag line “seed to fork.” Holdings include Pacifico Aquaculture, a sea bass farm, Bolthouse Farms, the largest carrot farm in the United States, along with the restaurants.

Lemonade is described as a chef-driven, seasonal cafeteria that “encapsulates California cuisine in a really small box, 1,200 square feet.” Israel said plans are to begin franchising Lemonade in 2021.

As for typical fast food joints, Pigliacampo’s not impressed. So many franchisees in the restaurant business, he said, “they don’t let their kids eat the food from their businesses, and I think that’s a big problem.”

He wants Modern Market Eatery to be their alternative. “We want to attract mission-focused people. There’s a demand for it. Let’s be part of it.”

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