While rumors have swirled since last February that Eataly might come to Chicago and possibly take over the former ESPN Zone in River North, co-owner Joe Bastianich confirmed Monday that he and partner Mario Batali will, in fact, open a Chicago location of their mega food emporium.
Eater spoke with Bastianich this morning from New Jersey after flying back from Chicago late last night. He confirmed they'll sign the lease on 43 E. Ohio today and that work will begin on the project "as soon as we ink this deal," Bastianich said. Eataly Chicago, the second U.S. location and the 20th overall, is targeting a September 2013 opening, will comprise 60,000 square feet and cost about $20 million to build out. But what will it have?
"The concept of Eataly is to bring the best of Italy and embrace the best of what's local," Bastianich said. "[Right now] it's very much a blank slate and we'll adapt to what's in the local markets. It's an evolving concept. We'll have things in Chicago that we don't have in New York."
To achieve that, Bastianich said they plan to work with local restaurant experts, but haven't firmed up anything yet. They'll also work with partners from Italy to ensure Eataly has a perfect mix of products from pastas and meats to cheese and salumi. And sausages. "There's this whole Eastern European immigrant culture of sausage and beer in Chicago and celebrating that would be a good thing." He added they'll bring a couple of successful concepts from Eataly Roma to Chicago, including a friggitoria for fried fish, vegetables and more, and a piadineria for flatbread topped with ingredients like prosciutto and cheese.
Once word came that Eataly might open in Chicago, locals said they wanted it to be in an accessible neighborhood with ample parking. While the River North spot is great for tourists and daytime foot traffic, it should also accommodate people driving in. "We have a pretty big parking announcement coming up so we'll have an amazing parking situation," Bastianich said. "It's not firmed up, but yet the location comes with abundant and generous parking."
Bastianich said that culinary education—cooking classes, demonstrations and the like—will be a big part of Eataly Chicago. He added that the market will encompass more than just the original ESPN Zone space and that it will expand to the second floor as well as wrap around the corner. He couldn't confirm specifics on what current retailers, if any, might be displaced. And while Eataly NY has a year-round rooftop birreria, Bastianich said, "there's some talk, but nothing is confirmed in the first phase. We'd love to have something on the roof."
While its opening is a year off, Eataly will bring about 500 new jobs to the city, Bastianich said. "People are so excited about us being there and we're excited to be there," he said. "It's a very open marketplace based on what I know about the restaurants that exist there and how people celebrate the city. It's a perfect match."
· Are Bastianich & Batali Bringing Eataly to Chicago? [~EChi~]
· Eataly Rumormongering [~EChi~]
· Eataly Coming to Chicago [NYT]