In just over a month, the world’s first theme park devoted entirely to Italian food will open its doors—and Gastropod has the scoop! Among Eataly World’s delights will be hunt-your-own truffles, baby lambs, beach volleyball, and custom Bianchi shopping bike-carts. But there’s a bigger story, and it’s that Oscar Farinetti, the founder of the Eataly empire, has somehow managed to make money by merging two businesses—grocery stores and restaurants—that are both incredibly challenging when it comes to turning a profit. In the process, he’s transforming the way we shop for food. Join us this episode as we tell the story behind the life and death of the great American supermarket—and take a trip to Italy for a sneak peek at its future.
The supermarket is such a mainstay of daily life throughout most of the developed world that it’s hard to imagine that someone invented it. But that is exactly what Michael Cullen did when he opened King Kullen in Queens, New York, on August 4, 1930. Before that, as Michael Ruhlman, the author of Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, explained, a grocery store was simply a dry-goods store, selling boxed and canned goods. To get their hands on perishable goods like meat, produce, and dairy, Americans had to either grow their own, await delivery (remember the milkman?), or visit one of the specialist shops that started appearing in cities in the late 1800s and early 1900s—butchers, greengrocers, and creameries.