Article originally posted by atasteofaz.com.
What do you get when you combine four friends, a couple of rounds of margaritas, and the opening guitar riff from Guns and Roses’ Paradise City? According to two of the friends, Elissa Seitz and Kris DeMarco, this was the inspiration for their new “upscale supercool food store” called Air Guitar. The long-time Valley residents Kris and Elissa, along with Craig DeMarco and Eric Seitz, spent four years creating this gathering place in the community of Gilbert, AZ. Air Guitar combines the ease of a convenience store with the modern and healthy choices of an upscale market.
Kris and Craig DeMarco opened Postino Winecafé in the historic Arcadia Post Office twenty years ago, followed by La Grande Orange Grocery, Chelsea’s Kitchen, Windsor, Federal Pizza, Joyride, and Churn, merging their talents for hospitality, design, and architecture. Enter Elissa—a Texas transplant whose family was in the restaurant industry—and Eric—whose company Bro Retail Group operates 21 Chevron stations statewide—the group found a shared passion for community and creativity. Kris explains, “We were intrigued by the convenience store business, and they were intrigued by the hospitality business. We wondered, what would happen if we blended these two [businesses] and did something that has never been done before?”
Moving away from the gas station model, Elissa emphasized they felt keeping the new concept small, with self-service, was key. The four partners imagined a spot where kids and parents alike could get what they want, whether it was a kombucha, an ice cream bar, a healthy grab-and-go salad, a bag of Cheetos, or Siete Chips. “We felt confident that it was going to work, that there was a need for it,” says Kris.
In picking a location in Gilbert, one of the fastest-growing municipalities for young families, the team turned to Joe and Cindy Johnston. They secured a corner lot in Gilbert at The Epicenter at Agritopia, a development of 320 apartment units and 10 retail and restaurant concepts slated for opening in the spring of 2022. Says Elissa, “I have met people that are waiting to move in and are excited to walk across the parking lot and get groceries.”
For the next step—the design of the 5,000 square-foot building—picking an architect who could bring their vision to life was crucial. Jack DeBartolo and Jeff Kershaw of the award-winning Debartolo Architects understood what the team was trying to accomplish, which was to create a user-friendly and spacious central shopping area, with welcoming patios. Elissa describes, “We definitely wanted outdoor spaces. We wanted to have shade, and that is why the [patio] canopy is so enormous.”
Inspired by the lively planning sessions, Debartolo designed an energy portal within the store. Yes, there is a tube in the ceiling where, at certain times of day, the sun shines through the portal to create a small circle. Kris says with a large grin, “so you can stand in the portal and get energy from the universe.”
Aside from energy portals, Air Guitar offers products you expect to see in a typical convenience store–think salty snacks, sodas, and beer–while embracing the idea of quality food and beverage. In one corner, you can pick up house-made pizza by the slice next to the full-service coffee bar serving Intelligentsia coffee, or you can purchase a lottery ticket, then pick up some fresh flowers and local produce. Air Guitar even offers Nitro slushies (the nitrogen creates a thicker, more velvety-smooth texture than traditional slushies).
An ice cream bar featuring 10 hand-scooped ice cream flavors and a cotton candy burrito often see long lines after school pick up. Dreamed up by Eric, the “sugar tooth” of the group, the cotton candy burrito is a sheet of three cotton candy flavors flattened out like a tortilla, filled with three scoops of bubble gum ice cream, rolled into a burrito, and topped with sprinkles. Kris says, “People are intrigued by it; I mean what is better than cotton candy and ice cream?”
With an extensive selection of wine, beer, hard seltzer, and hard kombucha, it is easy to see why you may want to linger (consuming alcohol on site is permitted). The team handpicks a selection of 180 wines, 90 red and 90 white wines, offered at price points of $15, $25, and $40. Says Kris, “because when you go into a store, you already know what you want to spend.” For those who care to spend more, there’s a “Bonus Round” of wine–that includes Silver Oak–in a cooler whose sign is playfully reminiscent of a Super Mario Brothers video game.
The Air Guitar team is also deeply committed to supporting the local community and Arizona. The local craft beer section includes AZ favorites such as Tower Station, Church Music, Four Peaks, San Tan, and Huss (to name a few). There is Wild Tonic Kombucha on tap from Cottonwood, Arizona, and Kettle Heroes gourmet popcorn. They even partnered with Teresa Wilson of Camelback Flowershop to provide fresh flower bouquets at $15, $25, and $40 options.
There are 30 meals-to-go curated by Michael DeMaria of M Culinary Concepts. Many will remember DeMaria’s former concept, Michael’s at The Citadel, and will be delighted with selections such as cauliflower and chickpea bowls, sushi stacks, and turkey and Havarti sandwiches. Recently, Air Guitar partnered with another long-time valley favorite, Eliot Wexler of Nocawich, and now closed Noca, to supply their fresh pastries, including pumpkin muffins, brownies, cookies, and rice crispy treats. Visitors will also find produce from Billy Itule of Bird Dog Produce, like their innovative and wildly popular guacamole and salsa kit.
At the heart of Air Guitar, it is the energy created by bringing a community together that appeals to the group. “It’s bringing a new concept to life…and seeing how people are reacting to it,” explains Kris. Elissa adds, “Air Guitar is a feeling, a vibe. Overall, it’s about how you feel when you play air guitar to your favorite song.”
Written by Marci Symington
Photography by Marci Symington