Eataly – The triumph of slow food in fast moving world

A flagbearer of the worldwide Slow Food Movement, Eataly has turned the discovery of authentic Italian food into a comprehensive cultural experience. In today’s hyper-digitalized world’s terms, the success story of the company could be described as one that has ‘gone viral.’

Tasting the unique flavours of Italian cuisine at any convenient time, even in one’s dining room, while living thousands of kilometers away from Italy, has been thought to be impossible for a long while. The general belief was that exquisite Italian food could be served only on Italian soil. Or, exceptionally, in some fine, but very expensive Italian restaurants. Well, that may had been true until the Eataly chain of food stores and restaurants emerged. In less than a decade, the brand proved to be a remarkable success story in a world where ‘civilised’ people eat – more or less aware of the crimes they commit against their health and happiness – tasteless, industrially processed, high-calorie and low-nutrient food products.

Founded in 2004 by Italian businessman Oscar Farinetti, former owner of Unieuro (IT, electronics and household appliances retail giant with a $1 billion annual turnover), Eataly does not simply sell food made by traditional farmers, but ingredients that make up a balanced and happy life.

The company offers an unequalled abundance of choice (countless sortiments of pasta & grain, olive oil & vinegar, chocolate & sweets, sauces & pantry, meat, coffee & beverages and so on), while clients are promised to get the best products at the lowest possible prices. And everything is sold by sharing stories about who the producers are, where a food item is made, why it is different from the brand next to it, and how it should be cooked in a truly Italian manner.

A daring business model

From the very beginning, Eataly aimed at becoming a booming global brand, not not just a beloved grocery store in an affluent neighbourhood. Thus, in January 2007, Farinetti entered the high-end food market by opening a ‘megastore’ in the Lingotto district of Torino.

Built by converting a closed vermouth factory, this first Eataly outlet didn’t look like other luxury food stores: rather small, sophisticated, exclusivist. Resembling a big city open market, it belittled rival stores by sheer size and vowed to offer memorable experiences akin to the attendance of a cultural event. It was not just a food shopping mall, but a place where to taste and buy authentic food, where people could soak themselves in the cultural significations associated with a good meal, share their enjoyment, and generally take their time celebrating life.

Farinetti took a big gamble. Turin, though the first capital of modern Italy (1861), rarely ranks among the first 7-8 most visited Italian cities being no match for Rome, Milan or Florence. Nor is Lingotto a standard touristic attraction, though it is a bustling commercial area where once stood an immense Fiat factory (1923-1982). Anyway, the keen businessman was right: by the end of the decade, Eataly’s first store attracted some 2.5 million visitors per year.

If things worked out so well in Turin, there was no possibility of failure in Manhattan, near Madison Square Park. This is where, in late August 2010, Eataly began the conquest of America with a huge 6,000 sqm store placed right across the iconic Flatiron skyscraper build in 1902.

Farinetti partnered with three worldwide known celebrity chefs of American-Italian origin – Lidia Bastianich, her son Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali – and boasted himself. with the intention of turning that first American Eataly store into “the most important place for Italian food anywhere in the world.” Two years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers that sparked the global economic crisis, a new enterprise ‘too big to fail’ was born in Manhattan – a $ 25 million giant food store including seven independent restaurants totaling 600 seats where the best things edible in Italy could be admired, smelled, touched, merely tasted or voluptuously eaten, bought and taken home.

The place described by Farinetti as a ‘taste factory’ had been projected to attract millions in a city of 8.4 million inhabitants visited by an ever growing number of tourists (from 49 million in 2010 to an all time record of 54 million in 2013). According to Joe Bastianich, an average of 8,000 people per day (sometimes even 12,000) visits Eataly in New York City. “It’s way beyond what we expected. It’s like we went viral,” Bastianch once declared.

Temples of good taste

If it were just the food, customers could order it online, as Eataly provides such a service, yet missing a day out there would be as silly as missing a travel by teleportation to Italy. Once inside, one feels like entering a vivid Italian piazza where a popular festival is just being held and artisants and sellers lure mesmerized visitors.

Where should one look first? To the ‘pizzaioli’ (pizzamakers) pulling pizzas from Italian-designed owens? To the ‘pasticceria’ (pastry shop), the ‘panetteria’ (bakery), ‘paninoteca’ (sandwich shop), ‘macelleria’ (butcher shop), ‘rosticceria’ (freshly roasted meat store) or to the ‘gelateria’ (ice cream shop)? Those tired of so many choices could stop directly at the Caffé Lavazza selling genuine Italian coffees. Finally, to make the whole visit to Eataly worthwhile, nobody should skip a visit to La Scuola, where you are taught how to cook the ingredients you buy.

Unlike in other supermarkets, customers can move from one department to the other while sipping from a glass of wine or from a glass of unfiltered and unpasteurized beer produced at the inhouse La Birreria. Tasting, asking for culinary pieces of advice, laughing, watching and learning, making new friends or spending quality time with old pals – all are free.

Building on experiences like the one in New York City, Eataly keeps opening such temples of good taste one after another, one of the latest being the 5,000 sqm store in Piazza XXV Aprile in Milan inaugurated on March 18, 2014. There are now 27 high-end Eataly stores: 10 in Italy, 13 in Japan, 2 in the USA, one in Dubai and one in Istanbul.

An old saying advises everyone that “when in Rome, do as the Romans do,” but these days it could be rephrased as when you’re nearby (that meaning even some 50 kilometers away) an Eataly outlet, don’t refuse yourself the chance of becoming an ‘Eatalian.’