7 questions for Eataly USA CEO Nicola Farinetti

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As the brand expands to Las Vegas, Eataly USA's CEO tells Sean Czarnecki how the Italian marketplace's story starts in-store and ends with quality cuisine.

What does Eataly stand for?
Eataly is a simple idea. We want to put together under one roof three experiences: eat, shop, and learn. We want to bring quality to people in a casual environment. Today, that might sound normal. But back in 2002, when my father [Oscar] started designing Eataly, it wasn’t at all. Quality food was thought too upscale, too posh. There were few cultural companies with 100% their own ingredients. People must understand that what goes inside their body is more important than what stays on the outside. Whether they shop at Eataly or somewhere else, they should care. You should never settle on quality. Ever. Amid all these social media, photos, and food porn, the aesthetics of a dish, we’re saying "go deeper."

How do you source ingredients?
Our mentor was the founder of the Slow Food movement in Italy, Carlo Petrini, who was a close friend of my father. His motto on food was: good, clean, and fair, the last of which, I hope, will be the next trend in food. That involves how we treat and pay vendors, for example. That’s our philosophy on food. The stores are like siblings. They share the same values, but develop their own personalities. We apply those three rules locally, offering different meat, fish, and so on. The community understands we’re working with them and bring value to the table. It’s fun because you get to know people, which is what life is all about.

What percentage of ingredients do you import?
More than 70% of what we buy is local, including meat, fish, and veggies. We import a lot of Italian products we believe are worth importing, because of our company’s diversity, people, history, know-how, dialects, and location. They actually represent a city, village, entire region, dialect. We mix and match so people get incredible Italian cuisine with Italian and American ingredients.

Do you partner with local chefs or restaurants?
We’ve partnered with Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in U.S. media. This is how we grow, to be truly local, not just as a marketing point. We do joint ventures to get to know customers better. In Toronto, for example, we partner with Terroni, which has restaurants in the area. We partner with a local Brazilian retail company in São Paulo. We try to let the producers and ingredients speak, so we don’t have any influencer partnerships.

How do you promote Eataly locally when you open a new site?
In Boston, we partner with local chef Barbara Lynch, who has about six restaurants. We work with her to understand the Bostonian consumer. We find someone who can take our value and translate it to a specific market. Our communications is much more based on events than things such as signage. An incredible amount happens within our walls, our stores, and this is where we communicate. We have 25 different wine producers willing to talk with you. Once you’re there, we try to trap you, tell you all about quality, how it’s important to you, and move our relationship from there.

Do you work with outside agencies for PR, marketing, or advertising?
We partner with local agencies, usually for openings [such as Wagstaff Worldwide in New York and Chicago, and CTP in Boston]. But we are a retailer. It’s buying something from some other guy and selling it to you for more because it’s given to you. So you need to add value and do something to earn that value. Eataly’s value is storytelling, showcasing producers, making sure you learn something new. It’s important all those functions are within the company. We always ask for help, but it’s important we do it first ourselves.

With declining brick-and-mortar foot traffic, how do you compete with e-commerce?
Simply opening and putting up four walls with shelves and product isn’t what the customer is looking for any longer. You can experience exactly the same online. The job is changing. I’m terrified of a future where people don’t go out and don’t meet other people. The people component in the retail industry is essential.

This story first appeared in PR Week.