The sweeping motion made by the cheesemonger hand stretching the milky, soft mozzarella is relaxing and hypnotic. It’s a welcome contrast to the frenzied scene outside. It’s also lunchtime in the city and as pedestrian volume increases at one of Toronto’s busiest intersections, the rain starts pelting down. It’s a bit of a mess.
With the grand opening of its first Canadian location only two weeks away, one expects an equal amount of chaos behind the street-level hoarding surrounding portions of the Eataly Toronto storefront. But the shelves are stocked, local brand partners have been chosen, the restaurant tables are set, cannoli is filled and staff is in place at Eataly’s three-storey, 55,000-sq.-ft. space in the city’s trendy, upscale Yorkville neighbourhood. (Finishing touches need to be made to the main-floor cafe and to the in-house craft brewery in the basement, but executives at Eataly are confident both these areas will be complete before the Nov. 13 opening.)
“We were born into a country that is considered one of the most beautiful country’s in the world. Our job is to go around the world and try to tell this story, to convince you to focus more on food and then eventually, hopefully convince you to come to Italy and get to know our country more,” Nicola Farinetti, CEO of Eataly North America told members of the media during a store tour he and his colleagues hosted on Wednesday.“We can’t wait to do this here in Toronto, our 40th location.”
Located within the Manulife Centre at Bay and Bloor and with a staff of more than 400, Eataly Toronto will feature seven food counters, four full-service restaurants, three bars and a cooking school that offers hands-on pasta-making classes and wine tastings.
Education is key at Eataly. In addition to its La Scuola di Eataly with Ernestomeda cooking school where shoppers can learn how to shape gnocchi, for example, more than 500 signs have been placed throughout the store detailing product history and explaining how that product fits in modern Italian cuisine.
“The more you know the more you enjoy, as everything in life, and also to be honest if you come to our restaurants and you eat something you like and you realize Italian food is so simple that maybe you can make it yourself so you go in our market and you shop those products,” said Farinetti. “Then you go home and realize maybe you need a class to better understand, you take a class and you’re a foodie and we’ve got you forever and you’re going to be our customer for the end of history.”
Eataly will carry more than 10,000 products, 1,000 of which have never been available in Canada and more than 350 Canadian products, according to Farinetti. Sheldon Creek Dairy from Loretto, Ont., Toronto’s Greenhouse Juice Co. and Jewels Under the Kilt from Fergus, Ont. were among the brands sampling products during the media tour.
The produce department will house seasonal fruits and vegetables sourced from local farmers through a partnership with Toronto’s 100KM Foods. In addition to cured meats and cheeses from Italy, the store will offer salumi and formaggi from such Canadian companies as Seed to Sausage in Newmarket, Ont. and Montreal’s Aux Terroirs.
Unique to the Toronto store is a prepared food section called Pronto. Here, time-strapped shoppers can pick up ready-to-eat options such as grazing trays, salads, paninis and desserts. (Coincidentally, Longo’s recently opened Pronto Eats down the street—a 1,000 square foot convenience-based grocery store that focuses on ready-to-eat and semi-prepared meal options. This speaks to the growing number of consumers who view convenience as the ultimate currency.)
A pasta station boasts handmade noodles, prepared daily and served in the store’s restaurants or can be purchased in the market to take home. Shoppers can pick up ingredients to make Eataly’s pasta pomodoro—made with tomatoes, spaghetti, olive oil and basil—at home or order it from the menu at the La Pizza & La Pasta restaurant on the second floor.
At $12, the pasta dish is priced so everyone can enjoy it, said Farinetti. Eataly does, after all, make the second best pasta in the world (because everyone knows the very best pasta is the one made by your mama, joked Farinetti.) Dry pasta, pesto and sauces are sold directly across from the balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oils, of which there are more than 100 varieties.
Along the escalator connecting the main entrance to the second floor is an art installation entitled “multicultural mural” by Italian photographer Oliviero Toscani.
During a presentation at IT@CA—a full-day conference held in in Toronto Oct. 25 to highlight the cultural and commercial connections between Italy and Canada—Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti said Toronto’s ethnic diversity was a definite drawing card when deciding which city to invest in next.
“When I walk in this city I hear many different languages, see many different colours,” said Farinetti. “The future is integration.”