Markets are ripe for disruption, which is why Modern Market is testing its first ghost kitchen in Tempe, Arizona, to supplement three stores located in the Greater Phoenix area. Pigliacampo explains the ghost kitchen is an experiment to see how the brand performs in a pure virtual environment. It also hopes to learn how Modern Market fits into 200 square feet from a production standpoint.
"Our culinary team and operations team spent a lot of time designing the kitchen equipment so that we could fit in that small format and still produce our food,” Pigliacampo says. “And I think that we've learned a ton from doing that. That will inform future restaurant designs. Also it takes advantage of this major investment we made in digital and having this web presence and ability to drive traffic to our website in areas that we don't have a physical location. But if we can—for a low cost of capital—put a virtual location there, that gives us a lot of opportunity to expand the brand going forward.”
Modern Market’s other virtual investment comes in the form of Honest Pizza, a delivery-only brand operating out of the Broomfield, Colorado location. The menu features unique handmade pizzas such as New Mexico, which features green chili, organic mozzarella, fresh jalapeño, Berkshire pulled pork, cilantro, cotija, and lime, or Backyard BBQ Sweet Potato, which is topped with Lillie’s Smoky Barbeque sauce, organic mozzarella, roasted corn, sweet potato, red onion, fresh jalapeño, and smoky crema.
Pigliacampo says Honest Pizza was a pre-pandemic idea to build toward the company’s goal of becoming a digital-first brand. Modern Market looked at its kitchens and realized it had a lot of capacity with pizza that wasn’t being leveraged. The restaurant also had a significant amount of research and development around pizza that, for a variety of reasons, had not been rolled out under the Modern Market umbrella. Pigliacampo says the team thought it would be fun to see what happens if the concept ran with all of that innovation and ideation to a different brand.
The CEO notes that the virtual brand’s name comes from Modern Market’s desire to sell a clean pizza.
“I don't think most people would sit around and say that pizza's good for you necessarily,” Pigliacampo says. “But our view is that you can have an indulgent food, but the ingredients could still be incredibly high quality and better for you, so that really was the idea. I think it's the cleanest supreme pizza you'll ever have. The ingredients are all super high quality. And I like to say that the great thing about this is it's just pizza. There's no artificial anything. There's no preservatives, there's nothing.”
As of now, an overwhelming majority of Modern Market’s dining rooms are closed. But Pigliacampo says the chain has seen this movie before and operators have become proficient without them. He adds that the loss of dine-in customers hasn’t been as tough as he once thought as digital channels have absorbed the lack of indoor availability. To him, the biggest challenge is continuing to keep employees safe as COVID cases rise across the country.
Positive sales despite closed dining rooms and office buildings bodes well for post-pandemic results, Pigliacampo says. He’s confident that Modern Market will look back at this era and view it as a momentous turning point in its history.
“As painful and challenging as this year was, I wouldn't trade it,” Pigliacampo says. “I think that it forced us to be super innovative as a business and has really caused us to rapidly move in a direction that will make the business more successful in a post-pandemic world.”