With their upscale Colorado specialty food stores, the Marczyk Brothers are redefining the neighborhood grocer
As the Marczyk Fine Foods story goes, back in 2002 Pete Marczyk ’84 was fed up with having to drive all over Denver to find the quality ingredients he demanded for his favorite dishes. So he raised the money, hired the staff, and opened the neighborhood grocery store he had always wished for. Here was sustainably raised meat from family farms, specialty foods imported from Italy, exceptional charcuterie and cheeses, milk in glass bottles, local products from Colorado, and so much more. His wife, Barbara Macfarlane, a marketing and public relations pro, helped spread the word. A year and a half later, Pete’s younger brother, Paul ’89, joined the team as manager of operations.
The brothers opened a second Denver location in 2011, and are currently expanding to two more stores. Meanwhile, Marczyk Fine Foods consistently receives raves on Yelp and other social media, specifically for the quality of their sandwiches, meats, cheeses, and selection. They continue to innovate in their offerings, adding an in-house bakery, developing new selections of prepared foods, and putting on a range of community-building special events and celebrations.
But before all this, the brothers were Easthampton kids. When Pete didn’t fit in at the public high school, a teacher suggested Williston—and it “changed my life,” Pete says. An avid swimmer, he soared on the swim team, joined the Caterwaulers, and forced himself to take Williston’s most challenging courses—all while holding down part-time jobs to help pay for tuition, including selling eggs from his family’s chickens, mowing lawns, and washing dishes in Williston’s kitchen.
“Growing up where I did,” he says, “if you painted or sang or cooked, you were called names that would be frowned upon today. But Williston broadened my view of what was cool. There was a level of permission that I got intellectually and psychologically about doing what really mattered to me. And I was exposed to a lot of new things in terms of foods, and not just from the dining hall. I had good relationships with the faculty. I got to interact with the teachers on a more intimate and personal level. I would mow their lawns and have lunch with them. It was exposure, and it opened my eyes to what was out there in the world.”
Their Pioneer Valley upbringing continues to influence the Marczyk’s business decisions. “In Easthampton, we had chickens and rabbits,” Pete explains. “I grew up with flavors and tastes that were very special and specific to me. When I moved to Denver, there was no food culture. It was very clear to me that there was something missing in the soul. We source incredible ingredients to sell to our neighbors. Paul makes the most incredible four-ingredient baguettes you’ve ever had in your life. Flour, water, yeast, and salt. You couldn’t find a better baguette in Paris.”
Paul’s journey from Williston Wildcat to Colorado merchant is a bit more circuitous. In 1992, he moved to Denver and began brewing beer, a profession he would master over the next 12 years, helping to spark the local craft-beer industry. He opened new breweries in Las Vegas and Colombia before joining his brother as manager of operations at Marczyk’s. His previous skill and craft at brewing, he says, eased his move into the artisan bread world.
“Bread is that vehicle that lets you take a once-a-week customer to a four-times-a-week customer, especially if you’re making a high-quality product,” he says. “So we went back to Vermont for a one-week King Arthur baking class, and I came back to work and everything I learned from brewing instantly became bread. We became bakers overnight.”
Paul also bakes bread at home, with his wife, Cheriese, and two sons, his way of sharing “simple meals that are delicious that everyone will eat. Both my wife and I work, probably too much, and we make sure we sit down as a family three to four times a week and have dinner together.”
That balancing act between work and family is a constant reality for the Marczyks as small-business owners, but they thrive on testing themselves, just as they did in school. “We take our jobs as neighborhood grocers very seriously,” says Pete. “It truly is an interesting business, and it’s just as hard as everyone says it is to make a nickel. Paul and I have a history of having to work hard and enjoying it. We knew it would be difficult and we take a lot of pride in the fact that it’s as hard as it is. At Williston, I always tried to take the hardest classes I could handle, not the easiest. Swimming is a notoriously hard sport. So our path has always been one of taking on challenges. Williston certainly prepared us for that.”