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Exclusive: Eataly talks Toronto plans with Canadian Grocer

The Italian food market's CFO dishes on why Eataly is coming to Toronto

It hasn’t signed a deal yet, but Italian food emporium Eataly aims to open a store in Toronto in the next couple of years.

In an exclusive interview with Canadian Grocer this week, Eataly managing partner and CFO, Adam Saper, said his company is eager to find real estate as soon as possible and confirmed he’s working with Loblaw’s Weston family to find that space.

“We would love to open in Toronto. We absolutely are very much looking.”

Saper said Eataly is drawn to the city because of its impressive culinary scene–especially Italian. “I think the Italian food in Toronto is really, really sophisticated. I'm amazed at the amount of Italian influence in Toronto.”

In its existing locations, which include the original store in Turin, Italy as well as in Japan, Dubai, New York and Chicago, Eataly offers upscale Italian food in an environment that invites customers to eat, shop and learn. Restaurants, classrooms and tasting stations are all housed under one roof.

Saper said the search for a Toronto location–Eataly’s first in Canada–includes the Yorkville shopping district and surrounding area, as well as spots further downtown.

“We’re very opportunity-driven and it’s difficult to find a large space; you can’t always just choose exactly the location you want,” adding that the ideal size of an Eataly is 30,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet.

Could there be any truth to talk that Eataly will open within Yorkville’s Holt Renfrew department store or even open in a Loblaws?

Those are possibilities, Saper said. “We are looking at all opportunities, so probably every rumour you’ve heard, it’s both half true and half false. We are trying to find what the right fit is for us.”

Lending a hand in the Toronto site search is the Weston family, which controls both Loblaw and Holt Renfrew.

The Westons and Eataly are already friendly in the U.K. Eataly plans to open within the Weston-owned Selfridges department store in London.

“We have a natural relationship with leading over to Canada,” Saper said. “They have been helping us source locations.”

Eataly is looking for buildings in Toronto with history and character. “The most important thing for us is to make every Eataly unique.” That, he admits, is not always easy. “Believe me, there were days when I wish we had a cookie-cutter concept that we could replicate. But it's not as fun.”

But Saper noted that the store’s format could also work in a newer building. The Eataly that opened in São Paulo, Brazil last month was the first built from the ground up. “And we don’t try to hide the fact that it's modern,” Saper said. “I think when you try, that often times it becomes fake.”

Saper said his company could sign a deal for space as early as this summer and an Eataly could be open for business in Toronto “in the next couple of years.”

In the meantime, Eataly will look for product suppliers. Saper said his team has started to have conversations with potential suppliers for the Toronto store, but nothing will be signed until a space has been chosen.

As for what kinds of suppliers Eataly is looking for, Saper said the company aims for niche brands and that Eataly is keen to find products from small Canadian producers.

Eataly generally imports items such as olive oil and pasta from Italy. (Thirty per cent of its revenue comes from imported goods.) But the company looks for local flour and egg suppliers to make fresh pasta and a local milk supplier to make gelato in-store.

There’s also an opportunity for suppliers to get on Eataly’s shelves in Toronto if they make a local specialty. Eataly’s head buyer, Dino Borri, is starting to research for such products now.

For food lovers and food makers itching to know if Eataly has plans to open more Canadian locations besides the one in Toronto, Saper said the company “never rules out anything.”

“There’s always a possibility, but right now we’re really focused only on Toronto,” he said.

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