Like We Were Saying, Eataly to Open in ESPN Zone Space

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Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

You read it in Grub Street Chicago last May, the rest of the world reads it in a little rag called the New York Times in October: Eataly, the massive Italian supermarket/food court of the gods, which started in Turin, took New York by storm and is coming to Chicago next year, will go in the former ESPN Zone space at Grand and Ohio. To be honest, though our info was solid at the time, we had begun to believe that with the desire for more space (and the deal's failure to be finalized), Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich et al. had probably chosen some other spot. But the Times reports that they're set to sign on the property today and look to open in just under a year in September 2013.

The question of just how big Eataly Chicago will be remains baffling, as every source quoted has a different figure. While ESPN Zone is said to be 35,000 square feet, well shy of New York's 50,000 and barely half the 60,000 square feet they've talked about, it may be that some reconfiguration of the space could yield more room; the Times calls ESPN Zone a 60,000 square foot space (possibly confusing what they want with what they have) and a spokesman for the leasing company apparently told Crain's some time back that the space could offer as much as 90,000 square feet though perhaps only after buying some other tenant out.

And what will Eataly Chicago offer that New York doesn't have? The Times quotes Joe Bastianich:

Eataly will expand its sausage inventory in Chicago and is likely to offer a grill restaurant in homage to the Eastern European tradition of sausage in Chicago, Mr. Bastianich said.

They probably didn't mean it that way, but we love the image that immediately prompts, of thickly dressed, walrus-mustached Chicagoans who know cevapcici but are uncertain about these other exotic specialties "pizza" and "spaghetti." Yes, New York, we have Italian restaurants too, and in fact the average Chicagoan is far more likely to know them than he is German or Polish food. That said, if they're going to make fresh sausage as good as the cured sausages they have, we won't object.

The choice of the near-Magnificent Mile location makes one thing clear they expect lunch and dinner diners to be the drivers of their business, far more than shoppers. This meshes with what we observed in New York, that the lunch counters were drawing lines but there wasn't that much traffic checking out with groceries. The location is obviously a tough one for shoppers in cars, but ideally suited for drawing diners from a densely-populated neighborhood of office workers.

Eataly Coming to Chicago [NYT]