Don’t Call It a Food Hall

While some say it’s the “original” food hall, that’s not how Italian marketplace Eataly sees itself at all. Instead, this successful concept that’s disrupting the retail food segment prefers to think of itself as a market where you can also eat, boasting high-quality food for everyone. Equal parts retail and restaurant, Eataly showcases Italian food and drink while giving a nod to local culture. Welcome to foodie paradise.

By Erin M. Loewe

Few retailers in America exemplify la dolce vita better than Eataly. Originally launched in 2007 in Turin, Italy, by Oscar Farinetti, the Italian marketplace aims to showcase fresh, delicious food to be enjoyed on-site at its restaurants or to be purchased and cooked at home. Its latest locations—in New York’s World Trade Center and Boston’s Prudential Center—fuse the ideals of Eataly with local offerings to make each experience unique while still preserving the quintessential Eataly feel.

Nicola Farinetti, Eataly CEO and Oscar Farinetti’s son, says the notion of Eataly as the original “food hall” is not at all how the company sees itself. “We really do not like to be called a food hall; we’re a market where you can also eat,” he explains. “And for us, it’s a big distinction. There is no one at the level we do with the strong integration of retail and restaurant. Fifty percent comes from retail. We’re the only ones doing it. We offer high-quality food that’s casual and approachable.”

Since first opening its inaugural American location in New York’s Flatiron District in 2010 and another in Chicago in 2013, Eataly continues to expand in the United States and whet our collective appetites for Italian delicacies. Although most design development is done in-house, Eataly partnered with New York-based Studios Architecture to create its most recent locations.

Eataly’s third domestic location opened in New York’s Financial District in April 2016. Located on the third floor of 4 World Trade Center, the expansive 45,000-sq.-ft. space offers sit down and grab-and-go breakfast options, in addition to lunch and dinner. Like other Eataly locations, there are markets scattered within dedicated to Eataly standards like cured meats and cheese, seafood and cut meats, gelatos and pastries.

Other standards include a huge selection of fresh produce and thousands of imported Italian groceries. In addition, it features Eataly’s first salad and juice bars. A circular wine and coffee bar greets people as they enter, because every worthwhile shopping trip should start with a drink already in hand.

New York’s “theme” is bread, symbolizing the staple’s universal appeal and ability to connect people around the world. It’s apparent when you enter the store, where you are greeted with a display table piled high with artisanal breads.

Beyond the immense amount of retail items and quicker food options, there are four higher-end restaurants inside. Domenico Ponti, director of design and construction for Eataly, says the restaurants are situated around the perimeter of the main space. “There’s a sense of discovery about finding the restaurants,” he says. “If you walk around, you have to wander up hallways to find the incredible restaurants. It’s like finding gold.”

Because of Eataly’s proximity to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, Ponti says there were many rules and regulations that made design and construction challenging. However, one of the bonuses to emerge was the view through the space’s expansive windows on its west side. “You can eat your pizza and be looking at the reflecting pool,” he says. “You can’t buy a better looking view than that.”

In the Boston space, which opened in November 2016, glass also takes center stage, this time in the debut of its restaurant Terra on the third floor. The restaurant centers around a wood-burning Italian grill and looks like a lush greenhouse with its hanging plants and glass roof.

“We love natural light whenever we can find it, and here it contrasts with slightly lower ceilings and wood paneling above the fish restaurant,” says Eataly COO Alex Saper. “We want to provide a warm feeling in the restaurants.”

The Boston location celebrates the community’s seafood heritage. Its 45,000-sq.-ft. space features thousands of products from Italy and New England. The store also features Eataly’s first-ever Cannoli Cart, where chefs fill the Italian tube pastries to order. While Eataly New York has free demonstrations and tastings at its Foodiversità, Boston’s La Scuola di Eataly (by Italian kitchen design company Valcucine) offers demonstrations and cooking classes devoted to the art of Italian wine and cuisine.

A fifth U.S. Eataly in Los Angeles’ Century City is slated to open this December. Its special feature will be a rooftop Terra restaurant, and it will be interesting to see how a West Coast manifestation pans out.

As the company expands, Farinetti says Eataly will continue to evolve over time. “The first one in (Turin) was only a bar and market,” he explains. “But we wanted to make the market experience, so we added tables to the restaurant side of it. Also, products change all the time, and they depend on where we open. But what never changes is [our] main mission: high-quality food for everyone.”



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