Eataly, the chain of luxury grocery and restaurant complexes devoted to Italian cuisine, is expected to open its first Canadian location this fall after years of planning and construction.
The 50,000-square-foot Toronto flagship — which will have three levels and include a grocery store, a fresh market, four restaurants and half a dozen bars, counters and coffee shops — is the first step in what Eataly’s executive president, Andrea Guerra, sees as a legitimate expansion into Canada, one that could eventually see locations added in Montreal and/or Vancouver.
The Financial Post’s Jake Edmiston spoke to Guerra — over the phone from the tiny Italian island of Ponza — about the company’s plans. The following has been edited and condensed for space.
Q:The concept of Eataly can be a little bit nebulous. How would you explain it?
A: It’s an experience. This is what you need to think about. It’s a bit like going to a theatre, where you’re not observing a play but you’re enjoying it, you’re part of it. If you really want a specific comparison, I would go for the traditional open-air food markets in Italy where you have people sitting down in a bar, you have people buying fresh food and there would be a little place where you can have some food and drink some wine. This is what we are. We’re not a supermarket, we’re not a restaurant, we’re not a food hall, we’re not a food court.
Q: You’re basically opening a dozen restaurants, bars and supermarkets at once. Running one of those well is hard enough — how do you manage all of them?
A: We’ve gotten used to this. First of all, it’s the amount and the scale you’re able to (achieve) in one single place. The volume Eataly is able to get weekly is much bigger than a single restaurant or two restaurants can achieve because we are not just attracting people for one place.
Q: What’s the biggest revenue generator? Dining or the retail side?
A: I would say, normally, when we have a flagship, it’s 50-50. In Toronto, we expect 50-50. We expect the market to be large. We really think people will do their weekly shopping inside Eataly.
Q: If Toronto is such a slam dunk for you, why did it take you opening nearly 40 locations — in Italy, the U.S., Turkey, Germany — before you came here?
A: You know, when you’re a small company, I think it’s very, very important to be focused and to do one step at a time. So in North America, we had this big objective to really build a huge pillar in the United States, which is what we have done. And now we’re ready to move into all of North America and Canada has been the first place to go, before other places in Central America. And I think that Canada will allow us to have more than one spot.
Q: Where would you go next?
A: First of all, Toronto probably — being the largest city — could host a second Eataly. And then, between Montreal and Vancouver, there could be another Eataly. I really think Canada can be a big place for us. The basic culture of Canada is much closer to Europe than to the United States.
Q: The celebrity chef Mario Batali helped put Eataly on the map on the U.S. How has his separation from the company (following a allegations of sexual misconduct) affected your business?
A: I would say that there has been no impact. It’s many years now that we don’t have any operational relationship with Mr. Batali. And we are in the process of buying his very minority shares in our U.S. subsidiary. So he is not an Eataly shareholder. He was a very small shareholder of our American subsidiary. Nothing to do with Canada. Canada is directly linked to Eataly holding in Italy. (Eataly announced it had purchased Batali’s shares in its U.S. subsidiary after this interview was conducted.)
Q:In addition to partnering with Selfridges — the luxury retailing group controlled by the Weston family — you received some help from the owners of the Terroni restaurant chain as part of your move into Canada. Why?
A: We had a really fantastic project and journey with the Terroni family, which is now over — because we wanted to learn what a great entrepreneurial family had done in Toronto in the food and beverage area. We talked about menus, we talked about suppliers, we talked about flavours, we discussed dishes, we have seen their different venues, how the food and beverage industry was moving from restaurant to casual.
Q: Do you think people in Toronto understand what Eataly is?
A: No doubt. I think Toronto is an Italian city. For sure Toronto will get it.
• Email: email@example.com | Twitter: jakeedmiston
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