Boston could be getting its own version of Eataly, celebrity chef Mario Batali’s wildly popular Manhattan food emporium that combines restaurants and a vast gourmet market to recreate the bustling experience of an Italian piazza.
The Eataly concept was introduced in Turin six years ago by businessman Oscar Farinetti, who partnered with Batali and others to bring a 50,000-square-foot megastore to New York in 2010. About seven million people visited the Manhattan marketplace in its second year of operation, an Eataly spokeswoman said.
The partners, who are slated to open the even larger Eataly Chicago this month, say they’ve been scoping out Boston real estate for more than a year in search of another potential home for the Italian market.
“We think Boston would be a great city for Eataly,” said Adam Saper, a managing partner who handles development and finance for the operation. “We’d love to do it sooner than later, but it’s a matter of fitting it in and wanting to do it the right way.”
Saper said his team has shown interest in Faneuil Hall Marketplace — Quincy Market in particular — but is also looking at buildings in the Back Bay and other areas of the city. No agreements have been made, which means the marketplace could not open until at least 2015.
In Boston, as in most other cities, the difficulty is finding a large enough building near the city’s center for the massive market, Saper said.
Eataly New York, near the Flatiron Building, features seven restaurants, two coffeehouses, a wine shop, a bakery, and a gourmet grocery market that includes butcher, fish, and cheese counters, among other fare. Patrons can purchase anything from a cup of gelato to freshly made pasta, or sit down for a white-tablecloth dinner at the market’s steakhouse.
The Manhattan megastore cost $20 million to build and pulled in more than $150 million in revenue in its first two years, company officials said.
The Chicago marketplace is even bigger, covering more than 60,000 square feet on two floors with eight restaurants. The new store will include new features, such as a Nutella bar and a wine and cocktail spot.
An Eataly in Boston would require at least 30,000 square feet of mixed indoor and outdoor space and would include many of the same features as the two other US locations, Saper said.
“We try to create a central marketplace kind of atmosphere,” he said.
“Even though Boston is smaller than a number of other cities, it’s more concentrated in the downtown area. There are also some great older buildings in Boston that don’t exist in other cities.”
The New York food hall and grocery hybrid has thrived on foot traffic, and Saper said that many parts of Boston being walkable heightens the appeal.
Mike Tesler, the president of Retail Concepts, a Norwell consulting group, called the potential Quincy Market location not just a home run but a “Big Papi grand slam” for Faneuil Hall, a shopping area that has lost its luster over the years.
Quincy Market is roughly 27,000 square feet, and the building is occupied by a mix of restaurants and retailers. Tesler said it would require creative thinking or significant changes to house an Eataly in the nearly 200-year-old building.
“This could make the area more attractive and drive some of the cachet back,” he said.
“For people who work in nearby towers, this would add a whole new element for lunch. It would bring the people in from the suburbs because it is such an interesting, unique, and exciting experience.”
A new Eataly would not be Batali’s first experience trying to get a restaurant off the ground in Boston. His plan to open a Babbo Pizzeria and Enoteca in South Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood fell through in August after he could not reach an agreement on a lease. The popular Italian restaurant is one of several eateries owned by B&B Hospitality Group, in which he is a partner with celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich and her son Joe.