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Posted: August 01, 2011

Small biz: Modmarket owners cater to their own taste

Mike Taylor

Anthony Pigliacampo and Rob McColgan are triathletes with an environmental conscience who confess to being obsessed with nutrition. So when they set out to create a quick-serve restaurant where they'd want to eat every day and never get tired of it, it's not surprising the result was Modmarket.

Serving pizzas, salads, soups and sandwiches made from scratch with locally sourced ingredients (when available), Modmarket opened in Boulder in 2009. The fast-casual eatery where the nutritional content is printed on the receipts needed little time to become profitable.

A second restaurant opened in January in Glendale and far outpaced what the Boulder location did in its first six months. A third restaurant is slated to open in the Denver Tech Center this fall.

Best friends since high school in Harrisburg, Pa., Pigliacampo and McColgan, both 31, left successful careers to strike out on their own. Pigliacampo, who studied mechanical engineering at CU, had his own mechanical design firm, creating everything from medical-device components to outdoor recreational equipment, before he sold the company. McColgan, a finance major at Notre Dame, worked in private wealth management at Goldman Sachs in New York when the two decided to join forces on a restaurant venture, choosing Boulder as the launch site.

"There's a lot of competition in Colorado," Pigliacampo
says. "We figured if we could make it work here, we could make it work anywhere."

Surprisingly, aside from McColgan working at a french-fry stand one summer in high school, the two had never worked at a restaurant - much less owned one - until Modmarket.

But Pigliacampo shrugs that off. "I'm relatively creation-agnostic," he says. "I don't really care if I'm designing a bike water bottle, a coffee press or a restaurant. I think it's the same process. You have a list of constraints, and you're creating within that box to achieve a goal. It's actually much easier to be creative with a business like a restaurant because you can change things very rapidly, whereas if you're designing a medical device, you get to a certain point and, from that point forward, change becomes very, very expensive."

They spend little on advertising - about $100 per month to maintain an email service for about 12,000 recipients and another $200 per month on coupons. Beyond that, they run a booth at the Boulder Farmer's Market; they've held cooking classes; and they're heavily into Facebook, Twitter and blogging on their website,  www.modmarket.com.

Their blogs can be amusing as well as informative. For example, earlier this year they chronicled the efforts of the "McRunner," a Chicago man named Joe D'Amico who set out to run the Los Angeles Marathon after eating nothing but McDonald's food for 30 days. When D'Amico not only finished the race but achieved a personal best fueled solely on McDonald's fare, Pigliacampo gave him grudging kudos: "Though we may not agree with his methods, he raised $29,000 for charity, and we think that's worth a little culinary suffering."

Their blog entries, Pigliacampo says, are just
extensions of the conversations he and McColgan have every day. McColgan adds that while a lot of businesses try to use social media to promote products and services, "We've always believed it's more of an avenue to help connect with that audience and really bring the Modmarket brand full-circle."

Their social-media approach and execution hasn't gone unnoticed. In early July, Modmarket was named one of 10 finalists out of 11,000 entrants in the "Facebook Big Break for Small Business" contest co-sponsored by American Express. A video crew traveled to Boulder to make a video detailing Modmarket's story (posted at www.modmarket.com). Five winners based on website vote totals were slated to be announced in late July with winners receiving a $20,000 cash prize and a two-day business makeover.

"The interesting thing about Modmarket is that they got a strong following so quickly, which is a part of their story," says Julie Fajgenbaum, vice president of branding at American Express OPEN. "We think that makes them ripe for doing great things in social media. Because people feel passionate about food and sustainability and about sourcing locally, Modmarket has a lot to talk about with their customer base."
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Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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