DOWNTOWN — When it comes to food and small business, Mayor Rahm Emanuel says he wants to see Chicago live up to its claim as “a city of neighborhoods.”
Emanuel and global chef superstar Mario Batali held a casual Chicago Ideas Week conversation on small businesses Sunday afternoon hosted by long-time Chicago journalist Bill Kurtis.
While Emanuel gave Downtown its due as a national hub for food culture and business, the mayor focused on the city’s neighborhoods as the new breeding ground for innovation.
According to Emanuel, Downtown — including River North and the South Loop — is the fastest growing downtown in America, but neighborhoods such as Bridgeport, Humboldt Park and Lincoln Park, among others, are where new businesses are making their mark as community hubs.
“That energy is all over the place and spreading quickly,” Emanuel told the audience at Morningstar, 22 W. Washington St., Sunday afternoon as part of Chicago Ideas Week’s final day. “That’s what you get authentically in our neighborhoods … we’re perfectly situated to have that experience.”
According to Batali, River North is where he will be opening his new high-end Italian food market, Eataly, this fall — a project Emanuel said he took personal interest in accelerating. The 63,000 square-foot market and restaurant, will bring 750 to 1,000 jobs to the city and embrace local foods with an Italian flare, Batali said.
Eataly, he added, will be “a great little Italian town in the middle of Chicago that has great gelato.”
In addition to a celebration of local flavor, Emanuel said an emphasis on local business spurs foot traffic and culture in the city’s neighborhoods, which he said, reduces crime.
Kurtis described this as “an answer to a rough neighborhood.”
Small business innovation “pushes the artistic and visionary stuff out of the center” and into the surrounding neighborhood enclaves, Batali said, leading to foot traffic into areas that previously weren’t as popular.
The first Eataly food hall opened in Manhattan two years ago and will open its second location at Ohio Street and Michigan Avenue, formerly the location of the ESPN Zone sports bar. Batali said he plans to expand the concept across the nation and world.
The Chicago store will be the 20th Eataly worldwide, but Emanuel chose New York as a particular comparison.
“We love competing with New York, so we will be number one and not just the Second City,” he said.
Batali said he expects Chicago to welcome Eataly and vice-versa.
"You've already planted the seeds for our garden," he said. "This is the 'First City' right now."