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How Eataly Became an Italian Food Superpower

A brief history of the trailblazing Italian megamarket

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Wonho Frank Lee

Italian mega-market Eataly opens its first West Coast location this week, bestowing 67,000 square feet of everything that's Italian and edible on Los Angeles. For the uninitiated, Eataly is a totally bananas marketplace that features everything that would be found at a typical fancy grocery store — cheese, meat, and seafood purveyors, an on-site bakery, a vast wine selection, an espresso bar, etc. — and much more, from a fresh pasta counter and a cannoli bar to a microbrewery, full-service restaurants, a Nutella bar, and a cooking school headed up by Italian cooking queen Lidia Bastianich.

The newest Eataly outpost marks just its fifth store in the U.S., but it has nearly three dozen worldwide with locations spanning from Japan to Brazil — not too shabby for a company that’s only a decade old. With hundreds of employees needed to keep each location’s many departments running, every store opening is a massive undertaking, but Eataly is about to launch its biggest project yet: a massive culinary theme park called Eataly World, slated to hit Bologna, Italy in mid-November with dozens of restaurants, its own herd of cows for on-site cheesemaking, and yes, its very own pack of truffle-hunting dogs.

Credit also must be given to Eataly for blazing the trail for the food hall trend that’s currently sweeping across the U.S. While such multifaceted marketplaces combining grocery shopping with restaurants and communal dining spaces have long been popular in Europe, for many Americans, eating dinner at the same place they buy dried pasta and lettuce is a relatively new phenomenon.

Here now, a brief history of the world’s biggest Italian food superstore and a look at its plans for continued world domination.

A Brief History of Eataly

January 2007: Entrepreneur Oscar Farinetti turns an old vermouth factory in Turin, Italy into the very first Eataly location. His goal is "to make high quality Italian foods available to everyone, at fair prices and in an environment where people can shop, taste and learn." Farinetti has been involved with the Slow Food movement for years, enabling him to make connections with small-scale food producers and artisans.

2008: Eataly enters Japan with an outlet inside a department store in Tokyo, just further evidence of the nation’s long-running culinary love affair with Italy.

Eataly Chicago
Marc Much

August 2010: Eataly makes its entrance into the U.S. in partnership with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s hospitality group, opening a 50,000 square foot location on NYC’s Fifth Avenue (just its second outside Italy). In addition to the usual suspects it includes seven mini-restaurants, hyperlocal produce, a gelateria, a vegetable "butcher," a separate wine store, and wood-fired pizza and bread ovens. The store brings in $70 million in its first year, smashing initial expectations.

October 2010: Then-New York Times critic Sam Sifton skips his weekly restaurant review to instead write about Eataly, offering a handy guide on how best to navigate the gigantic new market and all its offerings.

June 2012: Eataly opens its 15th location — and its largest to date — inside a defunct rail station in Rome. It spans four stories and 170,000 square feet (approximately the equivalent of three football fields) and includes 18 restaurants, a brewery, a coffee roaster, and strangely enough, a travel agency.

August 2012: The 10th Eataly location opens in Yokohama, Japan; the relatively pint-sized location is just 2,500 square feet, housing a cafe, pizzeria, and market.

November 2013: The largest Eataly in the U.S. opens in Chicago. Clocking in at 63,000 square feet, the two-story behemoth wisely offers walking tours for visitors who are overwhelmed by the store’s size and scope.

Nutella bar inside Eataly Dubai
Eataly Arabia/Facebook

November 2013: Eataly opens its first Dubai location inside the high-end Dubai Mall, one of the world’s largest shopping malls. The store later adds an all-truffle restaurant.

February 2014: Eataly announces its intentions to open a theme park in Bologna, Italy. Described as the "Disneyland of food," the relatively diminutive 20-acre project will have restaurants, workshops, and markets, but probably not rollercoasters. It’s estimated to open in mid-2017.

March 2014: Eataly NY is ordered to halt wine sales for six months due to a liquor license dispute. The company turns the situation around by temporarily transforming the wine area into a Nutella bar serving crepes, toast, doughnuts and more. Long lines form as New Yorkers predictably go (hazel)nuts for it. Said Nutella Bar later becomes a permanent fixture.

May 2014: Massimo Bottura, the Italian chef considered by many to run the best restaurant in the world, opens a restaurant inside Eataly Istanbul.

May 2015: Eataly opens its first location south of the Equator in São Paulo, Brazil; in appropriately Brazilian fashion, it features a roast meat counter.

Inside Eataly in Munich, Germany
Eataly Munich

November 2015: Eataly expands into Germany with a Munich store.

June 2016: Eataly announces it will open on the Las Vegas Strip as part of a $450 million revamp of the Monte Carlo hotel and casino; it’s slated for a late 2018 debut. Food carts outside the front entrance will lure tourists even if they don't go inside, and outdoor benches will allow for al fresco dining.

March 2016: Dubai gets its second Eataly with a location inside the Dubai Festival City Mall. The company intends to expand into Saudi Arabia and Qatar soon.

August 2016: New York City gets its second Eataly with the opening of a sprawling location at downtown Manhattan’s WTC complex. (Nevermind the fact that Batali once told Eater NY, "I think one Eataly is enough for NYC.") In addition to the usual massive selection of imported goods, fresh pastas, gelato and espresso bars, and multiple restaurants, it also features a global bread program with monthly residencies by bakers from all over the world.

November 2016: Eataly's East Coast invasion continues with a location at Boston's Prudential Center that spans 45,000 square feet over three floors. Several restaurants of both the full-service and fast-casual varieties serve pasta, pizza, seafood, wood-grilled meats, and more.

September 2017: Eataly rolls out grab-and-go food options at its original NYC location under the name Eataly Pronto, with the goal of catering to lunchtime customers who are in a hurry. Rather than waiting in line for panini or salads to be made to order, patrons can simply grab the prepackaged items, such as caprese salad or a Genoa salami sandwich, from a refrigerator and take them to a register. If this venture is successful, it could eventually be rolled out to other Eataly locations.

November 2017: Eataly expands to the West Coast with its long-awaited debut slated for November 3 at Los Angeles's Westfield Century City, a massive indoor/outdoor shopping center. The super-sized outpost encompasses nearly 70,000 square feet, and includes a cooking school run by Lidia Bastianich. A quick-service counter near the butcher cases will play host to a rotation of LA chefs slinging their own takes on Italian cuisine.

November 2017: Eataly's biggest project yet, a 20-acre, $106 million culinary theme park known as Eataly World, is scheduled to open in Bologna, Italy on November 15. Sure to be a massive draw for food-obsessed tourists, the park will include 40 restaurants and food/beverage stations, including three outposts of Michelin-starred restaurants. An on-site herd of cows will produce cheese and yogurt, and visitors will be able to watch truffle-hunting dogs hunt for the prized fungi in an area of the park called "Truffle Land." A 100,000 square foot market will hawk Italian goods, and visitors can even ship their purchases home via the park's very own post office.

The future: Brace for Eataly’s continued global expansion as it prepares to expand to a number of other cities: Toronto is on the horizon for 2017, and London, Hong Kong, Moscow, and Paris are all said to be in the works.

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