retail news in context, analysis with attitude


This commentary is available as both text and video; enjoy both or either ... they are similar, but not exactly the same. To see past FaceTime commentaries, go to the MNB Channel on YouTube.

Hi, Kevin Coupe here and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy, coming to you this week from Eataly in Chicago.

I'm a big fan of Eataly, though I'd concede that this is a very specific format that wouldn't work everywhere. But in the right place - it is gangbusters, a celebration of Italian food and culture that skillfully mixes grocery and restaurants; it is the kind of place where it seems perfectly normal to see someone perusing the mammoth pasta section while sipping on a glass of red wine. In other words, my kind of place.

I've always liked the Chicago version of Eataly more than the New York edition, probably because in New York, it always feels like there is 10 pounds of pasta jammed into a five pound bag, and it seems like more of a tourist attraction than an actual market. Here in Chicago. there is more room to breathe, and people do seem to be doing some actual shopping and the variety of sections that feature fresh produce, meat and seafood, baked goods and almost too many other specialty items to name.

A little while ago, I met up with my son David - the actor/writer who lives here - and we enjoyed some arancini, while essentially is risotto balls. One variety was made with squid ink risotto and poached seafood, and the other of tomato risotto, crispy salumi, caramelized onion and cacio de roma. Fantastic! And we washed it down not with wine, but with beer - beer they actually make here on the premises. In this case, a dark lager called Duncan's Dunkel by Birreria. Fantastic!

My point is this. Thew Chicago Eataly is dedicated to writer Ernest Hemingway, and there are numerous signs posted about that offer lines he used in various books about food and wine. There are many. But the Hemingway quote I love best is not so much about food, but about writing - that ""Good writing is good conversation, only more so."

And while that may not refer to food, it does refer to Eataly. Because I think the true magic of this place is not the arancini (though it was amazing), but the fact that it actually is a living, breathing conversation about food, and it serves to stimulate such conversations among its customers.

Not every retailer can do that to the extent Eataly does, but I do think it can be a noble goal. Through products that nobody else has, through sights and smells and tastes, food stores can engage customers in this kind of conversation in a way that can create loyalty and profits and people who eat better and drink better and live better.

That's what Eataly does. Only more so.

That's what is on my mind this Thursday morning. As always, I want t0 hear what is on your mind.

KC's View: