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How a Goldman Sachs Wealth Manager Founded a Fast-Casual Disruptor in Modern Market

Rob McColgan brings a “modern” perspective to the fast-casual and franchise industry.

Rob McColgan is the co-founder and president of Modern Market Eatery, the 30-plus-unit, fast-casual franchise under the Modern Restaurant Concepts umbrella. With a background in finance and trading at Goldman Sachs, McColgan's journey isn’t the typical restaurant franchisor story. But his has resulted in one of the most unique and exciting franchise concepts on the market today.

Charting a New Path

McColgan graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Notre Dame in 2002 with degrees in finance and film and then spent six years in New York City with investment banking firm Goldman Sachs. There he worked as an equities trader on the New York Stock Exchange and as a wealth advisor in the private wealth management sector.

In 2005, he received his Chartered Financial Analyst designation. As a vice president in private wealth management, he worked with sophisticated institutions, individuals and family offices to help them meet their investment goals. In addition, he oversaw and managed the trading responsibilities for one of the largest and most active wealth management teams in the firm.

So, what inspired McColgan to leave Wall Street in 2008 to co-found Modern Market Eatery? 

"During my career in finance, I maintained close contact with my high school best friend, Anthony Pigliacampo, who was engaged in engineering work in California,” said McColgan. “We had always talked about collaborating on a project together, but it had to be something we were personally passionate about. He consulted for major restaurant companies, and we often discussed the stark contrast between the U.S. fast-food culture and dining experiences abroad. Overseas, we frequently dined at local, healthy bistros and cafes, leading us to ponder: What would our ideal everyday restaurant look like?"

This vision, shared with his best friend and co-founder, led to the establishment of Modern Market in Boulder, Colorado, in 2009, marking the birth of a brand dedicated to redefining fast food.

“We don’t come from traditional restaurant experience, which has allowed us to reinvent the concept from the ground up,” McColgan said. 

A New Type of Fast-Casual 

Modern Market stands out in the “better-for-you” fast-casual segment with its chef-inspired menu, extensive range of offerings, innovative kitchen operations and a commitment to sustainability and quality. 

“With our busy schedules, we craved a dining option that was healthy and made with clean ingredients, and one that made us feel good post-meal,” McColgan said. “As athletes, we viewed food as fuel, necessitating both exceptional taste and a diverse menu. This philosophy shaped our initial offerings, which included an array of choices from pizzas to salads."

McColgan also takes pride in the brand's double-sided production line, which has set a new standard for efficiency in the fast-casual segment. 

"Our kitchen design and operational model allow us to deliver a diverse menu with exceptional speed and quality, even enabling us to introduce a drive-thru format, a rarity in our category," he said. “It also keeps our operating and build-out costs down.”

Every job in the restaurant can be done by hourly employees who have basic training and with minimal runway, he said.

The brand's adaptability extends to its real estate strategy, thriving in spaces as compact as 2,000 square feet. This flexibility, combined with a focus on digital and off-premise channels, underscores Modern Market's innovative approach to modern dining.

Under McColgan's leadership, Modern Market navigated the turbulent waters of the COVID-19 pandemic, emerging with a refined focus on delivery, digital ordering and a reinvigorated growth strategy. 

"The pandemic highlighted the resilience of our model and the untapped potential of franchising. It was an opportunity to distill what worked best and how to scale it effectively," McColgan said. 

Armed with this experience, Modern Market launched its franchising program in 2021, signing its first franchise agreement for 41 units with Thrive Restaurant Group, who happen to be major Applebee’s operators. 

A New Passion: Franchising

The introduction of franchising has become a cornerstone of Modern Market's expansion, leveraging the strengths of local operators to bring the brand's unique offerings to new markets. Now, McColgan says he is tapping into his unique experience and background to approach franchising from a distinct angle.

“We’re inviting others to help us disrupt the fast-casual industry,” said McColgan. “In terms of our broader strategy, we aim to fully embrace the franchise model, collaborating with exceptional operators who have expertise in their local markets to expand Modern Market's presence nationwide.”

Today, Modern Market Eatery has grown to over 31 locations around the country. Looking ahead, McColgan is ambitious yet strategic, aiming to open between 7 and 10 restaurants this year, with a long-term goal of nationwide expansion through franchising. 

"Our focus isn't just on geographical growth but on finding the right partners — experienced operators passionate about the brand and the quality we stand for," McColgan said. “Times are changing and we are a ‘modern’ franchise. With the help of passionate and qualified franchisees, Modern Market is ready to usher in a whole new era of fast casual dining.”

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