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Eataly is opening a theme park for food lovers

Italian company hopes new attraction will boost tourism and food exports

The man behind the Eataly food empire is opening a massive attraction -- part permanent trade fair, part agro-food theme park -- that aims to create a showcase for excellence in Italian food.

Eataly's owner Oscar Farinetti hopes Eataly World, opening Nov. 15 in Bologna, will boost tourism and even food exports. The experience is designed to increase demand for Italian food along with brand loyalty and consumer interest in the 150 or so food businesses represented.

Eataly already has nearly 40 stores worldwide, the newest one is in Los Angeles and a Toronto location is slated to open in 2019. The company intends to list a 30% stake on the Milan stock exchange in 2018 or 2019.

Visitors to Eataly World can follow food production from field and stall right to their plates. They'll see grain growing in the fields, milled into flour, processed into pasta and served at the table. Workshops will show how to refine rice and hunt for truffles, along with cooking classes for making fresh pasta, sorbetto or pizza.

Eataly World includes 47 restaurants and bars, some 40 production areas making everything from gelato to candied fruit, 22 gardens and half a dozen stalls with cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens. The site covers more than 1 million sq. ft. in a former wholesale fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of Bologna.

Farinetti wants to do for Italian food what Milan Fashion Week has done for Italy's ready-to-wear industry: Create a global showcase for excellence that stimulates demand across the sector.

"I hope that this becomes the most important place in the world for whoever wants to study food, eat well and understand the history of food," Farinetti said during a preview this week. "In this, we need to think big, like in the fashion world."

He said his goal is to showcase "the simplicity of Italian food."

Eataly reported a loss of 11 million euros in 2016, down from a profit of 713,000 euros the year before, as revenues dipped 15% due to stronger competition and the end of a boost from the Expo 2015 world's fair. The company hopes new stores and greater efficiency will restore profitability.

Farinetti is aiming for 6 million visitors a year, half from abroad, for Eataly World. Its 150 food businesses represent the best of Italian regional food, like seafood from coastal Rimini and lamb skewers from southern Puglia. Farinetti hopes visitors will want to travel to those places to experience the origins of the food they've sampled at Eataly.

Torontonians unable to make the trek to Italy can experience the Eataly brand when it opens its first Canadian location in the city's trendy Yorkville neighbourhood in 2019.

The launch of Eataly Toronto is part of a larger transformation of the Manulife Centre, whose current tenants include William Ashley, Cinepex and Indigo. Bloor Street Market, a Loblaw-owned grocer, can also be found in the building’s lower level.

While it’s unclear what will become of the Loblaw-owned store, Eataly has partnered with Selfridges Group, which is owned by the Weston’s, and Terroni Restaurants on the new store.

The Westons and Eataly have already established a friendly working relationship. Eataly has plans to open a store within the Weston-owned Selfridges department store in London.

Its format is inspired by the European food hall concept, with massive stores stocked with tasting areas and gourmet restaurants.

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