Eataly a Key Anchor to Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville Transformation [with Photos]

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Italian grocerant concept Eataly has officially opened in Toronto amid considerable hype and excitement, and will be an immediate draw for visitors from far and wide. It’s a much needed injection for Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area which is seeing an incredible transformation, though the area has seen some challenges amid construction, high commercial rents and various social issues.

Eataly is impressive and its layout will drive traffic both to Bloor Street West as well as to the Manulife Centre itself. The three-level Eataly features a Bloor Street entrance with revolving doors with prominent ’EATALY’ signage that can be seen from afar. Brass pots and pans hang from a two-storey ceiling like an art installation, beckoning those walking by to come in and sample Eataly’s vast Italian-focused food options. 

Eataly’s ground floor features the ‘Il Gran Cafe’ which sells grab-and-go food items as well as coffee and wine. The attractive space, clad in marble and brightly lit, beckons visitors from the street. Escalators from Eataly’s foyer lead upstairs to the main show, while a stairway and elevator lead downstairs to the Indie Ale House ‘tap room’ as well as a ‘Birroteca Bar’, both serving beer from the independent vendor. 

The lower level space can be accessed from the concourse level of the Manulife Centre, which should increase foot traffic to the shopping centre which saw more than $100-million invested into a renovation that included Eataly. Until quite recently, the Manulife Centre lacked critical foot traffic to serve a strong retail offering, save for visitors to the movie theatre and concourse-level grocery store and liquor store. The addition of Eataly to the Manulife Centre will almost certainly create a vibrancy not seen at the centre in years, also driving traffic to new additions to the centre that include Shoppers Drug Mart and Over the Rainbow Jeans

Retail consultancy Beauleigh conceptualized the overhauled Manulife Centre retail podium as something of a gathering place. Eataly is a key tenant and a game changer, some are saying. Beauleigh’s founding partners Jean Francois Nault and Marcelle Rademeyer, travel the world seeking ideas for unique retail concepts that will invigorate properties, and were also responsible for adding unique concepts to Manulife Centre such as Pilot Coffee and a soon-to-be-named restaurant concept that will also be a draw to the centre. Arlin Markowitz of CBRE recently informed Retail Insider that he has several retail spaces for lease at the Manulife Centre, including prominent Bloor Street-facing spaces directly across from Holt Renfrew, which is also seeing an overhaul that by next spring will include a new facade for the first time since the store’s opening in 1978. 

The overall foot traffic that Eataly will bring to Bloor-Yorkville will be welcome. Locals will no doubt frequent Eataly, and the population of Bloor-Yorkville is projected to double over the next five years. The price per square foot for new projects is said to be averaging $1,700 and units are typically small. That means that a young, upwardly mobile (and in many cases affluent) population is most likely going to be the core demographic living in the forest of high-rises that will soon occupy the two blocks directly to the north of Holt Renfrew. 

That vibrancy will no doubt provide an injection to the area as a whole. Some retailers have lamented the foot traffic has been down in Bloor-Yorkville, attributing it to a significant reduction in parking spaces amid disruptive construction. Competition is also a factor — CF Toronto Eaton Centre, which is located about 2 km south of Bloor-Yorkville, features a comprehensive roster of retailers ranging from big chains to upscale names such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom. Several kilometres to the north, the Yorkdale Shopping Centre continues to add new luxury retailers as well as housing big chains, and one-of-a-kind draws such as a Dyson showroom and Kit Kat experience centre will see Yorkdale’s annual visitor count exceed 18-million, with the possibility that the shopping centre’s annual sales per square foot could surpass $2,000 in 2020 for the first time. 

Bloor-Yorkville has added several key retailers which will help the area blossom as we approach 2020. Dior opened a 13,300 square foot flagship at 131 Bloor Street West a couple of months ago, and fashion brand Stone Island opened last week on Yorkville Avenue. They join an impressive grouping of retailers that have opened new/larger stores in Bloor-Yorkville since 2016, including names such as Hermes, Zegna, Brunello Cucinelli, Versace, Off-White, and others. Retail developments to the north of Holt Renfrew will be targeted for a variety of retail concepts, ranging from popular brands to digitally-native concepts launching brick-and-mortar retail spaces. 

At the same time, several retail spaces on the stretch of Bloor Street West between Yonge Street and Avenue Road are either for lease, or for sublease. Some in the industry say that landlords may be asking for too much rent as the retail industry shifts, and competition ensues from retail nodes both downtown and in shopping centres such as Yorkdale. Some retailers have also lamented that social issues such as homelessness and drug-related activities have become an issue in Bloor-Yorkville, with some attributing it partly to a drug respite centre located at 21 Park Road. Over the summer, one notable broker from another city observed that the area was far from the ‘retail Disneyland’ that one might expect for such an area — despite attractive granite sidewalks along the ‘Mink Mile’, some retail facades and signage appear shabby, while sidewalks are at times cluttered with litter. 

Eataly will no doubt add the ‘Disneyland effect’ to Bloor-Yorkville with an impressive presence on the street as well as exciting offerings. Eataly itself is an attractive space with walls of glass overlooking the Mink Mile as well as Bay Street and Balmuto Street. In the summer months, a wall of glass facing Bay Street can be opened to create an outdoor terrace-like situation — the idea came from the Eataly location at Westfield Century City in Los Angeles, which will no doubt have its glass windows open for more months of the year than in chilly Toronto. 

A stroll through the second floor of Eataly is like walking into a culinary paradise. A grocery section features a range of goods from Italy and elsewhere, as well as local produce and other goods from vendors in the area. Prices for many items are aimed to be affordable, though some luxury items such a $2,500 bottle of 100-year-old balsamic vinegar are available. 

The highly experiential Eataly includes a cooking school called ’La Scuola de Eataly’ where visitors can learn and watch demonstrations. Nearby, pizza, bakery items and pasta beckon — fresh pasta is available for purchase, and there’s also a restaurant area where a pasta dish costs $12. The bakery at Eataly uses a wood-fired stove with production ongoing 24/7. 

Pizza is a draw for those visiting Eataly, with various options available throughout the premises. Other areas of the retail space include chocolate and other sweets, as well as a bar serving gelato and cannoli. An impressive cheese area includes local and imported varieties, and a ‘mozzarella lab’ acts as a focal point on the floor. A fishmonger section sits next to a restaurant that offers a range of seafood — seating can be found throughout Eataly, which can sit a total of 378 guests on the upper level in various restaurant areas. 

Meat is also a draw, with a butcher area along with a variety of Italian delicacies. Nearby is a bar called ‘La Piazza’ (with a wall of glass facing Bay Street that can be opened on warmer days) and another yet-to-be-named restaurant concept will open in several months. At the top of the escalators leading to the street entrance is a ‘multicultural mural’ by photographer Oliviero Toscani — thousands of faces reflect the diversity of Toronto, which some say is the most multicultural city in the world. Mr. Toscani spoke last month at an Italian event hosted in Toronto called IT@CA, where he also talked about his days as a photographer for campaigns for retailer United Colours of Benetton. At the same event, Eataly founder Oscar Farinetti spoke about why he chose Toronto for an Eataly location, officially dedicating the city’s Eataly to the idea that multiculturalism is the future, and that Toronto is at the forefront. 

Eataly is almost certain to be a hit with the city of Toronto, and will also likely result in a slight boost in tourism as visitors come to check out the new grocerant. The overall atmosphere, including high-quality and bright interiors and a plethora of food and beverage offerings, is conducive to multiple visits. The atmosphere is also democratic — prices on many items will be affordable to many, while the overall look and feel will be a draw for the affluent as well. Eataly is one of the best things to come to Toronto in years, and was made possible through a partnership with Eataly and Toronto-based Wittington Investments, which owns a slight majority share of Eataly Toronto through the Selfridges Group

The addition of Eataly to Bloor-Yorkville will create competition for both grocery retailers and restaurants in Bloor-Yorkville. Within two blocks of Eataly are two upscale grocery stores — Pusateri’s Fine Foods and McEwan — which could both see a hit as Eataly draws in crowds including locals and visitors. Pusateri’s operates a smaller-format grocery store at the southwest corner of Yorkville Avenue and Bay Street, and has a loyal shopping base in the area. Pusateri’s president and CEO Frank Luchetta said that he does’t expect Eataly will eat into Pusateri’s sales, though that remains to be seen. The McEwan grocery store at 1 Bloor Street East, owned by celebrity chef Mark McEwan, appears quiet at times despite its location next to the busiest subway station in Canada. The success of McEwan is uncertain amid competition from other nearby grocery stores that include Whole Foods at Yorkville Village, Longo’s at the Hudson’s Bay Centre, and a recently renovated Loblaw Independent City Market on the concourse level of the Manulife Centre. 

Restaurants in Bloor-Yorkville will also see competition from Eataly, which offers a casual dining environment which is increasingly popular with many. Recent reports have indicated that many prefer to have a meal in a grocery store-like environment, which is one of the reasons so many grocery stores are adding sit-down options — at one time that was rare. Bloor-Yorkville has a thriving restaurant scene that will continue to grow with several soon-to-be-announced concepts, and Eataly might even benefit these restaurants if Eataly itself becomes too busy. 

Mr. Farinetti said that he expects Toronto’s Eataly to be extremely busy for at least the first two months after opening, which means it may be challenging to get a seat at certain times of the day. When the Chicago Eataly opened in 2013, it had to close early because it completely sold out of food. There’s a possibility that something similar could happen in Toronto, though one industry expert is skeptical. 

In an opinion piece for the Globe & Mail, Dalhousie University director Sylvain Charlebois questioned if Toronto was “too downmarket” for Eataly. He noted that in general, residents of the Greater Toronto Area lean towards buying value-priced groceries, spending an average of 7% of a household budget on food. That compares to 13% in both Quebec and British Columbia. While the numbers may be accurate, he is likely incorrect in his assertion that Eataly in Toronto could struggle. One only has to look to the culinary scene in Toronto over the past several years, which has vastly improved with the addition of world-class restaurant concepts. Toronto is also home to a surprisingly high number of affluent households with discretionary income to spend at places such as Eataly — and as the population seeks out experiences, Eataly is sure to deliver. 

Ultimately, the addition of Eataly to Bloor-Yorkville, along with the clustering of fine restaurants and retailers, will result in a world-class high-end urban destination in the years to come. Several months ago we reported on a study by JLL showing tremendous optimism for the area which is undergoing an incredible transformation. Despite competition from the downtown core and Yorkdale, Bloor-Yorkville will likely find its place as a centre of experiences with a wide-range of offerings including restaurants, shopping, nightlife, aesthetic services, museums, and hotels. While Yorkdale offers a clustering of brands targeted to shoppers, Bloor-Yorkville is finding its place as a lifestyle centre for those seeking an urban experience, and Eataly will enhance that in the years to come. 

Editor’s Note: Curious to learn more about how Eataly found its place at Manulife Centre? There’s still time to register for next week’s Retail Council of Canada’s Brick-and-Mortar Forum, being held in the downtown Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge Street, north of Bloor) on the morning of Tuesday, November 19th. Speakers will include:

  • Marcelle Rademeyer, President & CEO of Beauleigh, and Jean-Francois Nault, Partner and COO of Beauleigh. (including a discussion of their role in assisting with Eataly coming to Toronto),

  • Craig Patterson, Editor-in-Chief, Retail Insider (Author of the Retail Council of Canada Shopping Centre Study),

  • Nick Iozzo, Sr. Director Retail Innovation and Lead Generation, Oxford Properties Group,

  • Claire Santamaria, VP Yorkdale Shopping Centre, Oxford Properties

  • Mark Palazzo, Senior Director, Leasing, Cadillac Fairview Corp.

  • John Crombie, Executive Managing Director, Retail Services, Canada, Cushman & Wakefield

  • Chris Chan, Head of Retail Industry, Google Canada, and

  • Tracy Smith, Senior Vice-President, Marketing & Innovation Retail, Ivanhoé Cambridge

[More information/register here]

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Anatomy of a Leader: Teresa Spinelli, Owner of Alberta-Based Italian Centre Shop Ltd.

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