As he drove up and down Ray Road on one of his visits to the Valley last year, Anthony Pigliacampo realized something.
“It was nothing but one fast-food restaurant after another,” he recalled. “There was no place to get good, healthy food.”
That same realization in 2009 prompted Pigliacampo and his high school buddy Rob McColgan to start their first Modern Market restaurant in Boulder, Colorado.
Last weekend, both realizations led to the opening of their 26th Modern Market restaurant, in Ahwatukee on the southwest corner of Ray Road and 50th Street.
They opened Friday, June 2, in the same way they’ve opened their other restaurants in Colorado and Texas as well as one in Scottsdale and Washington, D.C.: with free dinners for more than 200 strangers they invited through Ahwatukee social media sites and free breakfast to countless more the next day.
The two 37-year-old Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, natives say Modern Market is on a mission to bring people quality, affordable and semi-fast food that is healthy and tasty to boot.
Pigliacampo said he has had his eye on Ahwatukee for a while – and would have opened his first Arizona restaurant here instead of Scottsdale had the Ahwatukee building not needed considerable work. They opened in Scottsdale four months ago.
“We like to go to the outer edges of big cities,” he explained. “There is a good-food culture in Phoenix, but the area is so spread out that culture tends to be in pockets, and Ahwatukee is one place where we felt our concept would be welcomed.”
Moreover, he added, he liked Ahwatukee’s mix of tight-knit residential neighborhoods and small commercial and office areas, calling them home to “active residents and workers who seek out wholesome, healthy food.”
When they opened their first restaurant eight years ago, neither he nor his partner had any involvement in the food industry – except for the fact they liked to eat good, healthy food.
Pigliacampo, who owned a company that manufactured medical and other devices, and McColgan, a Wall Street broker, traveled a lot and ate out a lot and frequently bemoaned the difficulty of finding that kind of fare.
“What’s the one thing people who travel a lot complain about? How they feel after eating so many meals on the road. We tell people that after eating here, they can go and work out,” he said.
To a large extent, Modern Market not only buys fresh, but makes fresh as well.
During the weeks that he and head chef Carla Cominiello – who relocated from Colorado just to run the Ahwatukee restaurant – were training their staff of about 40 people, the workers “got a real education in how to fix food.”
“They were amazed to see us make aioli from scratch,” Pigliacampo said. “To as much of an extent as possible, we cook from scratch.”
That’s part of Modern Market’s mission:
“As we open more locations, we enrich communities by bringing them high quality food, supporting localized, sustainable, diverse supplier networks and creating good paying jobs that teach people solid life skills such as leadership and how to cook from scratch.”
The Ahwatukee restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner – and caters anything from daytime gatherings to house parties.
Its menu changes seasonally and every item on it carries a calorie count.
It also reflects a knack for inventive fare, such as a bacon-and-corn pizza, pear waffles, Thai coconut salad, “humanely raised steak” and ginger-maple roasted veggies. Beer, wine and organic nonalcoholic beverages are available.
While patrons order at the cash register, meals are delivered by a wait staff in a brightly lit, large room where the kitchen is open to full view.
“I want this to be a place where families can come to,” said Pigliacampo, a father of two who owns a plane and flies between Arizona and his Colorado home.
Prices for most meals are under $15, reflecting another goal of the entrepreneurs.
“High-quality food is not cheap,” Pigliacampo said, adding:
“But we try to keep our prices as low as possible because we want as many people as possible to be eating fresh, healthy food.”
He said he and McColgan have “learned on the job” about the restaurant business – especially the food part.
“The food at our first restaurant when we opened wasn’t very good,” he confessed. “But we have learned a lot over time.”
Pigliacampo said he and his partner like to open restaurants in places they love to visit, and that they both like Ahwatukee.
And as far as the Valley is concerned, they aren’t finished with opening new Modern Markets.
Nor are they finished anywhere else, for that matter.
“We feel the bigger we get,” he said, “the more good we can do and the more people’s lives we can positively impact.”
Information: 4901 E. Ray Road, Ahwatukee. Modernmarket.com, 866-584-3944.