Rob McColgan, cofounder and CEO of Modern Market Eatery, graduated from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. So when the alumnus heard the college was developing a new student center, he wanted in. And campus dining wanted Modern Market.
The partnership has been a hit with both students and campus dining, says McColgan. “We worked with Notre Dame to streamline the menu for ease of execution and to tailor it to college students,” he says. “They helped us set prices that work for the students’ meal plans and with our cost of goods. The entire campus dining team has been amazing to partner with.”
Notre Dame is self-op, so the two operators could communicate directly without involving a contract management company.
Although this is Modern Market’s first unit on a college campus, the fast casual has gone into other nontraditional locations, including airports, which provided “great learning,” says McColgan. “The footprint is flexible—900 to 1,200 square feet in an open area with mixed use seating and a smaller kitchen. The kitchen in our restaurants is two to three times larger.”
The Notre Dame space is similar to Modern Market’s location in the Denver airport, with a pared-down menu that conforms to the smaller kitchen. Sustainability and clean ingredients are still a priority, but the concept’s culinary team developed items with greater appeal for college students.
“We tested more approachable items, such as a chicken bacon ranch sandwich,” says McColgan. “This did so well that it’s now part of our regular restaurant menu.” Pizza and sandwiches are the best-sellers overall.
Modern Market’s location in Duncan Student Center is a floor below the gym, and the eatery has turned into a dining destination for athletes. “They care about transparency and health, and the football coach encourages the players to eat there during the season,” says McColgan.
The breakfast category represented the biggest change, he adds. This meal part is included in students’ dining plans, so it was expanded to include more choices. Avocado toast is one of the most popular.
Everything on the menu was screened and maximized for off-premise, which made the transition to pandemic dining restrictions a bit smoother, McColgan says. When the Notre Dame campus reopened in September 2020, Modern Market’s operating hours were more limited, but students were able to place digital orders for pickup. Come next fall, Notre Dame is committed to fully reopening.
McColgan is bullish on expanding to more colleges and “hard at work to get onto more campuses,” he says. “It’s fantastic exposure for the brand to get into the hands of college students, who can become loyal fans going forward.”