The popularity of the food emporium, a space that is part high-end retailer and part upscale dining, is rising across the country.
Tourists and locals alike flock to these hip gastronomic spots to shop for epicurean gadgets, grab a quick bite, and sit down to a gourmet meal.
At Chicago’s Eataly, patrons can explore an expansive 63,000-square-foot space outfitted with an Italian bakery, a gelato stand, a pizza and pasta restaurant, a microbrewery, and much more. Opened in December 2013, Eataly Chicago is the second domestic location of the Italian marketplace and one of 31 locations worldwide.
Those looking to dine in a more traditional setting make their way to Baffo, Eataly’s formal dining room. Located off of the market’s first floor, Baffo can be accessed from a separate street entrance or from within Eataly. As the sister restaurant to Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s New York City flagship Babbo, Baffo boasts high-end Italian cuisine with a modern twist.
Eataly Chicago general manager Jason Goldsmith describes Baffo as casually elegant.
“Eataly is for everybody,” Goldsmith says. “We don’t have a target audience, we don’t have a target shopper, and we don’t have a target diner. Food is something that should bring us together, not divide us, and Baffo is meant for all of us.”
The choice to place Baffo on the side of Eataly, and not within the sprawling marketplace, was a conscious one. Goldsmith notes that at Eataly’s New York City location, the fine-dining establishment is located right in the center of the store. This makes for a more chaotic dining experience that many patrons were not interested in.
“[Baffo] is really for people who like to have a more tranquil meal with a higher level of service than what’s expected in our marketplace,” Goldsmith says.
Even the décor of the 60-seat restaurant sets itself apart from the marketplace. Dark wood and dim lighting make for an intimate space with an ambiance that suggests a high-quality experience. The interior of the marketplace is much brighter with open spaces and light wood accents. Waiters within Eataly wear T-shirts and jeans, whereas in Baffo they don crisp white dress shirts and black pants.
“We wanted to make sure the visual queues were there so that when people enter Baffo, they understand they are entering a different area of the store,” Goldsmith says.
Check averages at Baffo fall in the $65 to $70 range per person. After examining credit card transactions, media communication, and interactions with guests, restaurant manager Kevin Gil has discovered a large percentage of Eataly patrons are tourists. These numbers vary with seasons and conventions, but Gil notes that the local Chicago clientele increases weekly.