Accountant, owner of two restaurants, and championship curler? It's hard to believe one person can pursue these different vocations, but NPX: A Neighborhood Joint and Pasta Brioni owner and chef Michael Siggins gravitates toward the unconventional. These seemingly contradictory choices hinge on three important attributes — taking risks, embracing change, and methodical planning.
Siggins' impetus to go against the norm began early.
"I enrolled at the University of Arizona to study aerospace engineering, and for extra spending cash, decided to work for the local Macaroni Grill," he says. "I did this behind my parents' back."
His interest in cooking and cuisine began in his childhood. "My dad was a meat and potatoes guy and if it didn't have four legs, he didn't want to eat it. I grew up with a very bland diet, but once I started working in restaurants at 16, my eyes opened up to all these different foods."
This interest pushed him to take cooking seriously. Siggins followed his passion and dropped out of school his freshman year after being offered the sous chef position at a Tucson Macaroni Grill. His parents weren't too happy with his choice, but at 18, Siggins moved back to Phoenix for another opportunity in the restaurant world. He became the executive chef of a Macaroni Grill in Ahwatukee.
But two years into that gig, Siggins decided to start over.
"I thought I was living the dream," he says, "and then realized when you break it down in terms of the hours and pay, this wasn't too lucrative of a job." He made the decision to return to school. This time, his parents decided they weren't going to help pay for college. To fund his economics degree, now at Arizona State University, Siggins worked as the executive chef at Starfire Golf Club in Scottsdale while attending classes full time.
By his senior year, Siggins still had no idea about what he was going to do next. He says this uncertainty didn't make him feel uncomfortable. Siggins decided to approach the CFO of the golf club and confessed to him he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. Siggins asked, "Can I run copies for you guys and just observe what it takes to run an office on my days off from school?"
The CFO gave Siggins an unexpected answer. He not only agreed to let him join the office, but assigned him to the accounting department. "That's where I decided to become an accountant and applied for graduate school," he says. While in school, he continued to work in the accounting department part time and after about a year, decided to make yet another change.
"I decided to start my own company because I realized I can do this for restaurants," he says. "I have this unique combination of time in the kitchen and experience in accounting." At 23, he established his own accounting firm with a focus on restaurants. "I was just a young man searching for my place in the world and trying to figure out what to do."
His first accounting client was Pasta Brioni, but admits it wasn't easy managing restaurant clientele. "I found it difficult to make headway in the industry. Many of the restaurant owners didn't want to listen to a young kid."
But that didn't dissuade him pushing forward and sitting for the CPA exam. In 2006, he transitioned his accounting firm into a tax firm and bought a 5 percent interest in Pasta Brioni.
"Finally, my foot was in the door and I was the owner of a restaurant," he says.
This allowed him to be actively involved in the kitchen, and the transitions didn't scare him. He says there were moments when it felt like the floor was melting away underneath him, but he'd look two steps ahead and calculate what it would take to maintain his finances and lifestyle.
For a period of time, his primary focus was his tax firm and cultivating it into a successful business. But, as we've learned in this story, Siggins couldn't pass up diversifying. In 2012, Pasta Brioni took a downturn financially and he saw this as an opportunity to purchase the restaurant. For one year, he managed his tax firm and Pasta Brioni, but realized this work dynamic wasn't necessarily the best for his health.
"I started having heart issues and saw a cardiologist," he says. "He told me the sleepless nights and the ton of coffee I was drinking wasn't healthy."
Therefore, another change had to come.
In 2014, he made the leap to sell his tax firm so he could oversee the restaurant exclusively. This took some faith in his abilities and support from his wife, he says. But within a year, Pasta Brioni was profitable again. Part of this success is attributed to Siggins' planning, which included a menu change. "I always keep a 20-page, ongoing word document listing different foods that I want to try and eventually introduce into my restaurants."
After a while, Siggins noticed a couple of themes that kept appearing in his notes — sports-centric, unique American food. It reminded him of his mid-20s watching football, visiting sports bars, and eating food. In the last few years, he's wanted to merge his love of sports, food, and family.
"I remember growing up and my sister and parents lived in opposite corners of the Valley, but we would meet at Desert Ridge because it was in the middle for everybody," he says. In the area around Tatum Boulevard and Bell Road, Siggins saw an opportunity to create a place where families just like his could meet.
As many living and working in the north Valley know, there are plenty of chain restaurants, but very few are independently operated. Therefore, NPX: A Neighborhood Joint was established in summer 2018.
With NPX (meaning north Phoenix), Siggins saw the opportunity to create a neighborhood atmosphere to support families and unique sports bar concepts. He's made good on those promises. "I partner with local schools and feed the football teams for Horizon and Pinnacle [high schools]. Five times a week, I am feeding 60 teenagers," he says.
Siggins says he doesn't mind because he wants NPX to have a reputation of being "the spot where you run into your neighbors, feel at home, and have a good time." That's why he incorporates stories behind his menu items. For instance, Ray's Root Beer Pot Roast is a dish named after his father, who passed away a couple of years ago, as it's a dish he would likely enjoy. His wife, Ashley, was the inspiration for the biscuit chili — aptly named Ashley's Biscuit Chili.
If managing two restaurants, hanging out with family, and coming up with new menu items doesn't sound like a full plate, Siggins reveals that in his downtime, he travels to Minnesota to curl competitively. Just a little release, it sounds like.
What's next for Siggins is an open question, but he offers sound advice to others who want to move through transitions, or would like to make a career change. He admits first that it's tough.
"You got to have supportive people around you," he says. "If you have an entrepreneurial mindset and if you are prepared and it's worth doing, you should go for it. Expect failures, but also plan for contingencies."
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.