As you walk down East Ohio Street in Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast district you pass by many upscale shops, boutiques, and restaurants. A relative newcomer to this neighborhood is Eataly, But how should I label this store? Perhaps a hint is in the first point of the company’s own 10 part Manifesto. We’re in love with food. We love high quality food and drink. We love the stories about it, the people who produce it, the places it comes from. Somehow a one word descriptive does not really do justice. Reading that the company wants to ‘offer the best food and drink as well as the best environment in which to discover and expand your tastes” only intrigues me more to try and understand what proposition is on offer.
Upon entering the store through the double doors, similar to a department store entryway, you are greeted by the bright open concept space. There is a guest relations desk to direct you and answer any questions you might have, if like me you are a little overwhelmed by the many options of where to begin or simply stuck in the throngs of people that always make this store a challenging place to navigate.
On the first floor there is a Panini station, a coffee bar, a gelato and nutella stand, and pastry section that feel like mini shops within a shop. There are areas with books, housewares, and beauty products alongside grocery offerings such as fruits and vegetables and sweets. Venture up the stairs, escalator or elevator to the second floor and, if possible, it feels even busier. On this floor you will find numerous themed restaurants, a working brewery, the largest selection of pasta I have ever seen, and a cheese lovers dream counter with possibly every conceivable cheese displayed. As you can imagine, the smells are intoxicating and it is hard not to let your taste buds get just a little bit excited.
However, if those offerings not sufficient to entice you to visit then the store also offers a cooking school, areas where you can watch fresh mozzarella being made or a fishmonger preparing a lobster for a guest’s dinner party, and also a private events space that can be booked in advance.
The stores design has an eclectic mix of seating arrangements. Scattered around the main sections you will find regular tables and chairs, high tables designed for leaning against, and some sections like the Salumi and Formaggi area with counter height bar stools nestled up to the counter that has a glass divide between you and the chef preparing the food. Some of the restaurants require a host to seat you (and usually have a wait time as no advance reservations are taken) while others you can simply grab any available free chair or find a spot to lean against. It seems that every inch of space has been maximized to accommodate the many visitors.
The store is an ideal place for people watching, enjoyed alongside a chilled or hot beverage, depending on Chicago’s weather extremes, while escaping the hustle of the Chicago streets. The stores guests appear to be an eclectic mix of tourists wandering around, local residents enjoying a pizza or bowl of fresh pasta, or office workers appreciating a glass of wine or two after a long days works.
Similarly, the dress code is relaxed and informal although there is a separate section with a restaurant called Baffo that is described as fine dining, accepts reservations, and appears to be a little more upmarket than the other restaurants. Prices are certainly not cheap so one would expect the clientele that frequents this store to be reasonably affluent. The many staff working at the store ensures the continued high turnover of the tables, although I did not feel especially rushed when I have eaten here.
From doing a little research, I discovered that the company began business in Italy, where it has 11 stores. There are also stores in Dubai, Japan, and Istanbul and thus far one other US location, in New York. The company promotes itself as a ‘marketplace’ store where consumers can – be active participants in an innovative food and beverage experience where they shop, taste and savor high quality traditional Italian food products and beverages along with local produce and artisanal products. By diversifying their product offering like this they are reaching a wider audience of consumers. Longevity is their aim and their target audience, according to their own Manifesto, is everyone. I feel this store has the right mix of offerings to ensure that I will return on many future occasions.