Here's Why 15,000 People Lined Up at Eataly Last Week
At noon on Thursday, Aug. 11, the line outside Eataly NYC Downtown stretched a thousand people long, down three floors and out into the street.
Day One of the 45,000-square-foot, $39 million project on the third floor of 4 World Trade Center could have been more popular only if Olympic gymnast Simone Biles had somersaulted in. I arrived around 2 p.m. (partner Alex Saper estimated that I was somewhere around the 5,000th customer), grabbed a map from the woman who was handing them out fast and furiously at the entrance, and walked around.
Some 10,000 products are on offer at Eataly Downtown, the newest of 31 locations worldwide, from Chicago to Seoul to Dubai, of the Italian mega food emporium. I became focused on one: the Roman Pizza.
If you haven’t heard, the theme of this particular Eataly is bread. (It’s a unifying food, and so forth.) The team has brought in elite Italian baker Fulvio Marino—who’s also got the title of expert miller—to oversee production. Dominating the display case at the vast bakery counter are Marino’s Roman pizzas, aka pizza alla pala: large, chewy rectangles of pizza dough with a multitude of colorful toppings. They’re chewy, because, unlike pizza napoletana, which is charred and crisp from baking in a super-hot wood-fired oven, Roman pizza is cooked at a lower temperature, until the bottom is crisp while the top stays doughy. (Sometimes, wacky Roman chefs even cook them upside down.)
My first piece of Roman pizza was the Tricolore, a wedge topped with a pile of prosciutto, stracciatella, arugula, and tomatoes; the green, white, and red combo brings to mind the colors of the Italian flag. My second Roman pizza was more decadent, with five cheeses that included mozzarella, gorgonzola, and fontina melting all over it. I stopped there. Among the choices awaiting me next time from the menu of 10 pizzas are summer squash with dollops of ricotta and sweet Italian sausage with slices of sautéed peppers. The most expensive one costs $7.90 for a generous slice. (Unlike in Rome, you don't order these pizzas by the centimeter.)
It turns out that I’m not the only one ordering Roman Pizza.
It’s one of the new location's breakout items, where customers are going through about 1,800 slices a day. (The straight up Margherita is the most popular.) Anything with the word "pizza" in it is going to sell well at Eataly. But unlike the Neapolitan pies on the other side of the store, which require a wait, the Roman pizzas are ready for instant consumption. And that’s one of the things that Eataly Downtown is banking on.
If Eataly’s flagship in Manhattan’s Flatiron gained fame as one of the city’s top tourist destinations, the downtown location is attuned to feeding the Financial District crowd, which wants fast service. The place is implementing several clever methods to do that.
In the coming months, Eataly will introduce an app so the hyper-busy downtown business crew, which isn't sticking around to watch the mozzarella-making and pasta-shaping mini demos, can dash in to pick up preordered panini, the counter for which is purposefully located right near the entrance. Also close to the entrance are the Juice Bar, the Espresso counter (which doubles as a wine bar), and the Bakery. Deeper in the store are areas dedicated to ingredients that invite lingering, such as pasta, meat, and cheese, along with five full-service restaurants.
Eataly is also emphasizing breakfast as a meal for the downtown neighborhood that gets an early start: The store opens at 7 a.m. and has introduced a series of breakfast panini such as the Parma, which is stuffed with two eggs, prosciutto, and fontina. Judging from the lines so far, it's another winning innovation.
Speaking with Italianfood.net, Andrea Guerra, a former senior adviser to Italy's prime minister, Matteo Renzi, and Eataly’s executive president, characterized Eataly's strategy as particularly North America-focused, with stores in the works for Boston, Los Angeles, and Toronto out of 10 additional locations on the drawing board. There's also a 20-acre foodie theme park dubbed Eataly World under-construction outside Bologna, Italy.
“The U.S. currently accounts for 25 percent of sales. The U.S. and Italy together will represent 75 percent of revenues by the end of the next year,” he said. “This year, we close with something above €400 million ($451 million) [of revenues].”
Eataly will go public on the Milan stock exchange as early as the end of 2017, according to founder Oscar Farinetti. No word yet on when it might list in the U.S., but Bloomberg Intelligence’s Michael Halen told me that sales figures indicate there could be viable interest. “It’s unique, which investors like,” he said.