From Torino to Toronto

Have you noticed how many everyday transactions used to involve people but no longer do? The first major self-serve was pumping your own gas. ATMs dispense cash and online sites accept bill payments as well as allow trades in your RRSP. Grocery and drug stores all have self-service checkouts. In Royal Bank Plaza and two other Toronto locations, new Cake Boss vending machines dispense slices or complete cakes.

Not so at Eataly, the eat, shop and learn emporium that opened this past week at Bay and Bloor Streets in Toronto. Even with the hordes that descended on the place, helpful staff was not only plentiful but also cheerful amid the chaos. The first Eataly opened in Torino in 2007 and I can’t tell you how many people over the years I’ve heard talk about their experience at an Eataly in New York, Florence, Sao Paulo, or elsewhere, and were looking forward to Toronto’s own Eataly.

I live a five-minute walk away so was able to reconnoiter wait times and plan a Friday visit accordingly. Until 5 p.m. there was no lineup standing on the sidewalk, you could walk right in. After that the chilly hopefuls waited an hour or more. (On the weekend, lineups started earlier.) Inside, you can register at the restaurant you have in mind and they text you when your table’s ready. Among the 50,000 sq ft, there’s plenty to look at while you wait: a brewery and pub on the lower level; a coffee bar on the second level; the third offers fresh fruit and vegetables in the food hall, separate lineups for pizza slices and gelato, shorter waits to buy cheeses, aged meat or fresh fish, and three restaurants. By registering before 5 p.m. at La Pizza e La Pasta, our wait for a table was 45 minutes; register at 7 p.m. and you can wait two hours. All was fresh and tasty. Prices were fine, too. There was one dish at $65 but there were also half a dozen pasta choices in the $12-$19 range.

Among the servers were some employees from established sites to help with the opening. One waiter who works in the U.S. said there was a discussion after closing on the first night. Everyone with experience in these matters thought they’d done less business than at a typical opening in the U.S. but it turned out to be the same. It just went more smoothly. “There was a nice vibe,” he said. “Americans complain all the time.” Welcome to Toronto, Eataly. Grazie mille.

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