The North End might not be Boston’s only Italian food hub for long.
Celebrity chef Mario Batali and his partners are close to signing a deal to open an Eataly, a galleria of Italian gastronomy, at the Prudential Center next year.
If the deal goes through, diners would be able to pick up freshly made pasta at a vast gourmet marketplace, nibble on prosciutto with a glass of chianti classico, or sit down for a gourmet meal made with local ingredients at a rooftop grill — all within a three-floor food emporium that would cover an acre of space.
“I describe it as the perfect place to go to see and understand all of the delightful food of the Italian culture, taste some, but mostly take a lot home to cook,” Batali said in an interview. His team chose the Pru, he said, because it has the potential to attract a large and varied group of patrons, from neighborhood residents to tourists to Back Bay office workers.
Eataly will be Batali’s second foray into the Boston food scene. He opened Babbo Pizzeria e Enoteca in the Seaport District earlier this week.
Eataly is a retail and restaurant hybrid of fresh produce and grocery stands, food counters, and restaurants — from a pizzeria to a truffle bar — designed to recreate the high-energy feeling of an Italian piazza. Boston would be Eataly’s fourth US location and would feature some 15,000 products.
Early plans call for the marketplace to take over the existing food court at the Shops at Prudential Center. Eataly would add a ground-level entrance on Boylston Street with a cafe, leading to the marketplace and connecting to a new building that’s under construction on the Pru property. A restaurant and brewery, seating up to 300 people with a patio and retractable roof, would be added above the food court.
Alex Saper, Eataly’s chief operating officer, said the design details won’t be finalized until the company signs a lease with Boston Properties Inc., the owner of the Prudential Center office and retail complex. He said that Eataly hopes to open in mid- to late 2016.
Batali said that Eataly is designed with a retail outlet in front of each restaurant. A fish stand, for example, is set before a seafood restaurant and a butcher shop in front of a meat-centric eatery.
Eataly was introduced in Turin, Italy, in 2007 by businessman Oscar Farinetti. He partnered with Batali’s B&B Hospitality Group and brothers Alex and Adam Saper to bring the megastore to Manhattan in 2010. That Eataly attracts about 10,000 visitors daily.
A second US marketplace opened in Chicago in 2013, and the partners plan to open a third at the World Trade Center in New York by early 2016. There are 27 Eatalys around the world.
Batali said the marketplaces use local products and work with local vendors and chefs. Batali said he hopes to serve an Italian take on New England clam chowder.
The modern, high-end marketplace would mark a radical change for the Pru from a low-cost food court with a Regina Pizzeria and Panda Express, said Ani Collum, a partner at Retail Concepts in Norwell. While the Eataly concept has proven successful in New York and Chicago, it has never replaced the food court in a traditional US mall, however.
“Typically, the mall is the driver and the food court is secondary,” Collum said. “This will turn that entire format on its head.”
If the Boston Eataly is similar to the New York location, though, patrons might have trouble walking into the crowded market to grab a sandwich on a 30-minute lunch break, said Michael Tesler, a retail professor at Bentley University in Waltham.
At the same time, long lines might end up pushing customers to nearby establishments and boost business at the mall.
Tesler said it will also be important for Eataly to continue to maintain the same quality as its original US location.
“They have to deliver to Boston like they delivered to New York,” Tesler said.