Italy sets up a smor­gas­bord akin to Dis­ney theme parks

Step into the “Dis­ney­land for food­ies”


A gas­tro­nomic theme park de­signed as a cel­e­bra­tion of Italy’s field-to-fork food cul­ture opened this month, with back­ers aim­ing to pull in six mil­lion vis­i­tors a year.

Dubbed a “Dis­ney­land for food­ies” and billed as the big­gest ven­ture of its kind in the world, FICO Eataly World is lo­cated on the out­skirts of Bologna. It is the brain­child of Os­car Farinetti, the entrepreneur be­hind Eataly, a global network of up­mar­ket Ital­ian food halls that has taken New York and a string of other ma­jor cities around the world by storm in re­cent years.

Spread over 10 hectares, the park, which will op­er­ate as a con­fer­ence venue as well as a tourist at­trac­tion, will be run by a part­ner­ship of Eataly and Ital­ian re­tail group Coop. The venue has been fi­nanced by a con­sor­tium of pri­vate in­vestors and the lo­cal author­i­ties in a city famed for its rich cui­sine but off Italy’s main tourist track.

The FICO of the park’s name comes from the acro­nym for Fab­brica Ital­iana Con­tad­ina (Ital­ian Farm­ing Fac­tory). Fico is also the Ital­ian word for “fig,” and a pop­u­lar slang term for “cool.” The mul­ti­ple mean­ing is in keep­ing with Farinetti’s multi-faceted vi­sion of a venue that will al­low vis­i­tors to take part in ac­tiv­ity work­shops rang­ing from food pho­tog­ra­phy to ge­lato-mak­ing via the ba­sics of truf­fle-hunt­ing.

“To­tal panic”

A fifth of the park, as­sem­bled in what was the city’s whole­sale fruit and veg­etable mar­ket, is out­doors, with some 200 an­i­mals and 2,000 species of plant life due to be on show.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is fun­da­men­tal to the whole thing. But it is also about hav­ing fun, eat­ing, shop­ping,” Farinetti said in an in­ter­view ahead of FICO’s open­ing.

The park is also about cel­e­brat­ing the culi­nary and farm­ing crafts that lie be­hind many of Italy’s most fa­mous gas­tro­nomic prod­ucts, and the bio-diver­sity of a coun­try that stretches from Mediter­ranean is­lands within sight of Africa to snow-capped Alpine peaks.

Vis­i­tors can ex­plore that diver­sity via more than 40 eater­ies and a sim­i­lar num­ber of learn-

how-its-done dis­plays by spe­cial­ist pro­duc­ers of ev­ery­thing, from rare-breed beef to licorice sweets.

As the open­ing date nears, Farinetti says he is caught be­tween ram­pant en­thu­si­asm at see­ing a dream re­al­ized, and “to­tal panic.” “This for me is quite nor­mal. I’m ter­ri­fied that peo­ple won’t come in the num­bers we ex­pect. You can’t help but feel pan­icked when you start some­thing like this.”

Park CEO Tiziana Pri­mori said the tar­get was to draw six mil­lion vis­i­tors a year by 2020, with the busi­ness plan en­vis­ag­ing a third com­ing from the lo­cal area, a third from the rest of Italy, and a fi­nal tranche of around two mil­lion from abroad.

Bet­ting on suc­cess

Asked if that tar­get is re­al­is­tic, Farinetti re­sponds with a broad smile. “No, it’s utopian, but ev­ery project I have been in­volved with has been utopian. The whole world is re­al­is­tic; I pre­fer utopia. I don’t know if we will make it but we’ll give it our all.”

Un­der­pin­ning that ebul­lience is the suc­cess en­joyed by al­most all of the Eataly stores that have been opened from Copen­hagen to Sao Paolo. “At the mo­ment, there is an ab­so­lutely crazy in­ter­est in Ital­ian food from the cit­i­zens of the world, for pasta, for pizza, for our sim­ple cui­sine,” said Farinetti.

That, he says, is down to the ease in which dishes tasted in Italy or in restau­rants can be re­pro­duced in do­mes­tic kitchens. “You can buy half a kilo of pasta, some ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, and San Marzano toma­toes, and go home and make what you had. And it is very di­gestible and light.”

Among those back­ing Farinetti’s vi­sion is An­to­nio Ca­paldo, owner of the Feudi San Gre­go­rio wine com­pany and one of dozens of en­trepreneurs in­volved in the project. Ca­paldo has teamed up with a seafood whole­saler to cre­ate a fish-based fast-food eatery at the park, which will show­case his ex­pand­ing com­pany’s white and sparkling wines.

“We know all the com­pli­ca­tions, but there is a great thirst for Ital­ian cul­ture around the world, and that, com­bined with Os­car’s track record, is why we are bet­ting on this be­ing a suc­cess,” he said.

“Ed­u­ca­tion is fun­da­men­tal to the whole thing. But it is also about hav­ing fun, eat­ing, shop­ping.”

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