Zachary L. Powers
The minute the hurried Corby Kummer leaves the premises, a serpentine line winds up Fifth Avenue for at least a hundred yards and then turns a corner on 24th Street. And it won't go away for many hours. The frenzy will not go away either. And, for all the principals and partners involved in the Eataly enterprise, neither will a subtle anxiety just one step short of a real panic attack.
At 4:00 p.m. sharp, after a fast-paced and tense countdown, Adam Saper, one of the Eataly partners, officially and very emotionally opens the doors on Fifth Avenue while Oscar Farinetti, the founder, ushers in guests on 23rd Street. With a spontaneous thunder of applause, hundreds of eager New Yorkers start flowing through the opened floodgates of the Lavazza Café—one of the two entrances of the Italian super food store cum restaurants.
Donna Esposito, the first customer ever to pick a couple of packs of Lavazza beans off our Eataly shelves (and, for that achievement, immediately awarded a photo-op with Giuseppe Lavazza himself), has come all the way from Florida just to be part of the opening of Eataly, the ultimate foodie ceremony. Like her, many hundreds more—hundreds and hundreds—just keep coming and coming, an endless stream of happy wanderers ready for a taste of almost anything. The recent iPad launch in the city? A walk in the park compared to this.
Products—fresh, canned, packed, sliced—are flying off the shelves. The crowds are being held at the door to allow for a simulacrum of orderly access to the store—an almost impossible mission, but one that the visitors and the staff are taking in stride and, for the most part, with a big smile on their faces.
The eating areas, too, are being assaulted. Literally every single corner of the store is filled with wave after wave of poised gourmands, ordinary shoppers, and excited tourists, rapidly turning the Eataly main "piazza" into the very center of the world, at least for all good things Italian. It's one third feast, one third celebration, one third shopping spree. The partners in this unprecedented venture—Oscar Farinetti, Mario Batali (manning the pizza station!), Joe Bastianich, brothers Adam and Alex Saper—are busy greeting the visitors while Lidia Bastianich, stationed at the entrance, is suavely chatting with and entertaining throngs of her ecstatic admirers and devotees. She's a true queen of Italian cuisine, and couldn't look any more dignified.
At 7:30, when we finally sit down at the Manzo restaurant (manzo, Italian for beef), the situation hasn't changed much: security is still policing people's access to the store—and a very long line of people at that; the aisles are just as busy as when we left them two hours ago, if not busier; the Lavazza Cafe's registers have rung up 220 tickets in those two hours; ice-cream poundage sold is at 600; cured meats and salami plates are going out like there's no mañana; and the white-tablecloth Manzo (full menu from the very first night, a remarkable feat) is, predictably, "fully committed" until closing time.
The evening's atmosphere noisily pulses on with the addition of a great number of casual strollers carrying the aisles with their long-stemmed glasses of vino. Oh, Italy at Eataly, what a great addition to the greatest city in the world! As Lemon Andersen memorably raps (admittedly, about Brooklyn): "If you're not in it, then you're just in the way."