Amid Arizona’s third wave of the pandemic, The Copper Courier is highlighting some of the mobile food and beverage options available to residents around the Valley to grab meals on the go.
Aioli Burger/Modern Tortilla/Oakwood Fire Pizza
Founded in 2013, Aioli Burger started as one food truck and has since grown into a network of trucks, a catering company, and several brick-and-mortar restaurants throughout the Valley.
Two of the founders, Kyle Hollenbeck and Chef Tommy D’Ambrosio, went to high school together in Phoenix. The childhood friends can now count three food trucks as part of their roster: Aioli Burger, Modern Tortilla, and Oakwood Fire Pizza.
D’Ambrosio would go on to win the 2018 “Tacos and Tequila” episode of the Food Network’s “Chopped,” which pits four chefs against one another in a series of cooking challenges that incorporate mystery ingredients. As a result of D’Ambrosio’s recognition on the episode, Hollenbeck says you can’t go wrong with Modern Tortilla’s skirt steak or tinga chicken tacos with a side of elote, traditional Mexican street corn.
The most popular item on Aioli Burger menu is the burger with which the restaurant shares its name, but Hollenbeck also recommends the Italiano, which comes with fresh mozzarella, tomato, fresh basil, and a balsamic reduction. He describes it as a “caprese salad on a burger.”
Brick-and-mortar locations for both Aioli Burger and Modern Tortilla were able to open up inside Litchfield Park’s Fry’s Marketplace during the pandemic: Aioli Burger at the start of the pandemic, with Modern Tortilla following earlier this year.
While grocery stores saw no shortage of customers during the pandemic, Hollenbeck said the process of opening a restaurant inside a Fry’s was akin to “reinventing the wheel.”
“People are there to shop for the week. They might not be thinking about lunch or dinner that evening,” he said.
But there are some benefits, too. “We are inside of a grocery store where people are going to keep going,” he said. “People are going to be coming in. There’s always going to be new faces.”
Aioli Burger also opened another location in September of last year, near Seventh Street and Bell Road, in the space formerly occupied by Caveman Burgers. The company adapted and pivoted its business model amid the pandemic, including starting a meal-prep company that delivers fully cooked meals to people’s homes.
Hollenbeck says the partners also closed on a 14,000-square-foot commercial kitchen to grow their businesses on March 15 of last year—just two weeks before Gov. Doug Ducey issued a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Another major priority over the last year was to keep all of the restaurant’s employees working. “We always replaced every position,” Hollenbeck said. “We didn’t ever cut down our staff.”
Now, despite it being the hotter, slower season for restaurants, Hollenbeck says he’s grateful that his businesses and employees made it through the pandemic.