The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
More than 30 years ago, a young Pete Marczyk moved West to make a name for himself. This year—as his namesake local food market celebrates 20 years in Denver and prepares to open a third retail location—it seems he’s done exactly that. Marczyk Fine Foods has grown and evolved over the last two decades, but at its core, the grocery store has stayed true to Marczyk’s early vision of creating a friendly neighborhood market with products from around the world. “I want people to come into our store and say, ‘Wow, this is really cool, I haven’t seen this since I was traveling in Italy,’ or, ‘I never see this anymore, I wonder where they got that,” says Marczyk, who co-owns the business with his wife, Barbara Macfarlane, and his brother, Paul.
Marczyk’s journey to the grocery business started in 1991, when the then-23-year-old moved to Denver from the East Coast for a fresh start. He wanted to learn how to ski, but he also wanted to forge his own path in the Centennial State. Marczyk grew up in western Massachusetts, where generations of families have lived for decades and everyone seems to know everyone else, he says. “In the northeast, if you apply for a job, you may end up being interviewed by someone who knew your grandfather or your aunt or your second cousin, and if they like them, fine, but if they don’t, you aren’t getting the job,” Marczyk says. “I just wanted to go someplace where I could plant my own flag.”
After spending nearly 10 years as a stockbroker in Denver, learning some of the ins and outs of finance first-hand, Marczyk decided it was time to strike out on his own. And so, along with his wife and business partner Macfarlane, he began planning for what would eventually become Marczyk Fine Foods. Marczyk grew up in a family that cooked and gardened and, as an adult, he spent much of his free time seeking interesting foods, so he was surprised by the dearth of local grocery stores and markets in Colorado. “There was a need in Denver,” he says. “There was very little in the way of homegrown retail food and certainly not right in Denver proper.”
The first Marczyk grocery store opened in spring 2002 in Denver’s Uptown neighborhood, where it still stands today. The first two years were a struggle, and when the husband-and-wife team finally got their burgeoning store on somewhat stable financial footing, Marczyk realized he needed some help. He turned to his younger brother, Paul, who had separately moved to Denver and embarked on a successful career as a brewer. “He’s a very process-oriented guy, very operationally oriented—I was more of an arm-waver and a big talker and he was more like, ‘Yeah, how about we put that on paper and figure out how we can actually do it,’” Marczyk says. “Paul really solidified the business and turned it into something we had envisioned.”
With Paul’s operational chops, the grocery business began to thrive. They retrofitted the Uptown store with a tiny “MacGyver kitchen,” Marczyk says, and, for the first time, began making soups, salads, sandwiches, and other prepared foods. Then, in 2011, they opened a second store on the border of the Mayfair and Park Hill neighborhoods. It was there that they began baking the fresh baguettes that Marczyk is so well-known for today. “The bread was so successful and so popular that we’ve made baguettes practically every day since we started 10 years ago,” Marczyk says.
In 2020, the team completed renovations on a 10,000-square-foot Park Hill building and made it the store’s commissary kitchen, where they now make all of the bread and savory prepared foods sold in the stores (it also serves as the company headquarters). And, sometime within the next year, the Marczyk grocery empire will be expanding once again: It is working with the City of Westminster to open a retail store in the new Downtown Westminster development.
What has—and will likely continue to—set Marczyk Fine Foods apart is its carefully curated selection of products, which range from private label olive oil imported from Spain to seafood flown in daily by Seattle Fish Co. to center-of-the-plate pork, lamb, and beef cuts from Westminster-based Niman Ranch. Marczyk has just 3,000 unique products, whereas a typical big-box grocery store has between 30,000 and 60,000. That careful editing, as Marczyk calls it, ensures shoppers can find exactly what they’re looking for without any distractions. “I always wanted to have a place where it’s not everything, it’s just everything you need,” he says. “If you look at the New York Times recipe of the day, it is rare that we don’t have an ingredient in there.
And though Marczyk began offering touchless curbside pickup during the pandemic, the company is also doubling-down on customer service basics like greeting shoppers, carrying their bags to the car, and helpfully answering questions. “The feedback we get from people is that our staff blows them away, day in and day out,” Paul says. “That’s the differentiator. That’s why people come back to us. People say, ‘I just want to go somewhere where someone’s going to answer my question and tell me how to cook this,’ and the further other stores get away from that, it does open the door for us.”
Marczyk Fine Foods is celebrating its 20th anniversary with events the weekend of May 13–15: burger night and a job fair at the Colfax store from 5–7 p.m. on May 13; vendor demos from 10 a.m.–p.m. at the 17th Avenue store on May 14; and vendor demos at the Colfax store on May 15.