Eataly will open next weekContinue reading.
See how Eataly will be trapping you in its carby embrace this month
At Eataly, noise will be encouraged and getting lost should be considered part of the experience.
That’s the kind of place envisioned by Caolan Sleeper, construction manager of the eight-restaurant Italian food hall set to open in River North this month.
Unsurprisingly, designing a restaurant of this size — 60,000 square feet — has its challenges. For one, there’s the building, the former ESPN Zone, which was designed “like a casino,” Sleeper says. Then, there’s the stuff that goes in it. Last month, a stretch of Ohio Street was closed to get two 5,500-pound Italian-made wood-burning pizza ovens to the restaurant’s second floor.
Sleeper talked with us about designing Eataly Chicago, the second U.S. location of the massive marketplace backed in part by celebrity chefs Mario Batali, Joe Bastianich and Lidia Bastianich.
Eataly New York is all on one floor. How did you organize the Chicago location to accommodate a second?
From a retail point of view, you want to have everything on a storefront, right on the first floor. But we have the majority of our square footage on the second floor and it’s also very open. We decided that we would keep all the backup house, commissary kitchens and storage areas on the first floor closer to the loading dock. And then just have a lot of public vertical transportation to send everybody up to the second floor to do all their shopping and eating.
How are you furnishing and decorating the space?
We work with a lot of Italy-based fabricating and design companies. Eataly is a great customer for them — every order that we make is, “I need 500 tables and 1,000 chairs and 700 shelves — I need it very quickly.” It’s the same sort of design aesthetic throughout all of the stores. There’s a lot of very clean wood, almost identical to what we have in New York.
How do you organize eight restaurants in one space?
From the second that they walk in, anywhere they look, they’re going to be able to see almost all of Eataly. You’re going to see that the place is huge, but you’re not going to see how it ends, so it’s just going to continue and continue and continue. We wanted to really stress that openness, so we tried to avoid as many full-height walls as possible.
We have different color themes for each restaurant, different mosaic tiles for each restaurant that sort of brands it. The vegetable restaurant versus the fish restaurant versus our fry restaurant versus the pizza and pasta restaurant.
The open floor plan and being able to stand in one corner and look across and be able to see just how massive and amazing Eataly is — that was definitely a huge undertaking.
Sounds like it could get a little noisy.
We kind of like that hectic, frenetic pace. The restaurants that are in the more open spaces, they’re very much connected to each other and to the rest of retail space. So if you’re sitting down at the restaurant, there will be shoppers passing by your shoulder.
We do have areas of the store that are more closed-off than others. It’s connected to the rest of the store, but it’s a much more of a fine-dining experience.
Eataly’s location — 43 E. Ohio — will cater to the lunchtime business crowd. Did you do anything organizationally to help them get in and out quickly?
It’s not that Eataly doesn’t want to make it easy on the customers, but part of the experience of Eataly is exploring it. We don’t want people to sort of beeline to one thing, grab it and go. We want it to be an exploration. We want people to come in and wander around and drink a glass of wine as they’re going through the shelves, as they’re doing their grocery shopping or waiting for their table.
ABOVE: Rendering courtesy of Eataly