You might not expect chef Pino Spatola to celebrate the arrival of Eataly, the Italian culinary juggernaut, in the Bay Area.
After all, his own restaurant, Paesano, is just five miles away in San Jose’s Little Italy.
But there he was at Valley Fair on Eataly’s opening day, sipping wine and sampling focaccia and handmade pasta – announcing this commercial hub full of restaurants, takeaways and a massive marketplace.
“It’s great to promote the whole culture so people can learn about our quality food,” said Spatola, noting that the emphasis on Eataly will help emphasize the fact that Italian cuisine is much more than ” Meatballs and Sausage”.
Will others also see Eataly as a cultural asset rather than a competitive threat? That question has been asked over the past few days as Northern California shoppers have flocked to the Santa Clara mall and bravely waited up to 90 minutes for their first taste of this foodie phenomenon. The three-story hall combines the pride of Italy—Prosciutto di Parma, Parmigiano Reggiano, Aceto Balsamico di Modena, San Marzano tomatoes—with fresh California produce, dairy, and seafood.
East Bay and Peninsula chef and restaurateur Donato Scotti sees Eataly as a “huge win” and likens the evolution of Italian cuisine to technology: “Just like your TV, your phone, your car — they’re all evolving, you everyone gets better.”
Scotti runs Donato & Co. in Berkeley, Donato Enoteca and Cru Wine Bar in Redwood City, as well as an online store that sells the type of imported, upscale products found at Eataly. But he posits that “what you gain in customer knowledge is greater than what you could lose in sales.”
Dana Zuccarello, president of South Bay’s Italian American Heritage Foundation, whose members have been very supportive of locally owned restaurants, disagreed with Eataly.
“I’m glad they’re here. Look how many jobs they’ve provided,” she said. However, she wonders, “How will this affect mom and pop restaurants? Will everyone flock to Eataly because it’s new, or will they stick with the mom and pop restaurants they frequent?”
That also applies to customers in local markets, she said. “Will they still go to Zanotto or Lunardi?” Or will they buy more of their Italian groceries at the mall to get “the whole Eataly experience”?
IAHF members have made a tradition of their love of local restaurants in the South Bay. For years, the group has hosted “cena fuori” (dinner out) events, where 30 to 40 members meet each month at a different restaurant, deli, bakery, or other grocery store to have dinner and socialize.
Ken Borelli, the group’s vice president who curates the dinners, estimates they supported 50 companies. He doesn’t see Eataly as competition for the local corner and deli “because it’s more ‘haute cuisine'” – and he expects to hold a Cena at Eataly in the near future.
Local business owner Al Vallorz agrees. Vallorz, who runs Tony & Alba’s Pizza & Pasta in San Jose with his wife Diana, believes there’s room for both Eataly and his restaurant style.
“We are an old-school restaurant. As owners, we know our customers, their family, their history, what they like to eat, which team they support,” he said. “We feel like it’s starting to come full circle on the respect of family restaurants that make you feel like a Paesano.”
Like Spatola, the founders of the Little Italy heritage district, who initially hoped to lure Eataly to their Julian Street neighborhood, are thrilled that Eataly has found a home nearby.
“It’s an explosion of Italian culture. That’s a good thing,” said Joshua DeVincenzi Melander, who has previously spoken to Eataly executives about an ongoing relationship, especially when the Little Italy Cultural Center and Museum opens in 2023. He believes the center could be used as a secondary space for Eataly’s courses and seminars.
“We tell them, ‘Hey, you can use Little Italy as a marketplace for Eataly. We are reachable. We are in the best place.” ”
Eataly executives say they would love to work with these communities.
Dino Borri, Eataly’s global vice president, says wherever they go, they come into contact with two groups of Italians – the immigrants and expats like him who have come to the United States in the last 10 to 15 years, leaving Italians second and third generation with deep roots in the local community.
Collaborations in other cities range from organizing in-store tours for groups to promoting Italian festivals through Eataly. Once they have the Silicon Valley trading center fully operational, he said, they’ll be happy to make suggestions here.
“We are Italians,” said Borri. “We are here to work together.”