Joe Bastianich opened his first restaurant, Becco, in the early ’90s in New York with his mother, Lidia, before teaming up with Mario Batali to open dozens of restaurants worldwide, including Babbo at Fan Pier in 2015. The Boston College alum is also a partner in Eataly Boston, and before the Nov. 29th opening, he dished about the Pru’s 45,000-square-foot newcomer, which features a retail space with a number of local purveyors as well as restaurants, a coffee shop and take-out counters.
What will make Eataly Boston different from other Eataly locations? We try to insert so much of the local culture. It’s going to be dedicated to seafood and fishermen. I had a boat I ran for many years out of Chatham; we had an all-species permit and fished for giant bluefin tuna. I had a captain named Pete, who was the son of a whaler. Just that sort of connection with local fishermen, and all the fish will be sourced locally.
A lot of out-of-town chefs have been one-and-done. But Eataly will be the second spot in Boston from you guys. What’s been the key? Boston is kind of a second hometown for us. I spent my whole life summering on the Cape, and I ran my boat out of Hyannis for 20 years. I lived there, went to college there and did post-college there. We kind of feel at home there. And it’s close enough that you can get in the car and you’re there in three hours.
What do you remember about the Boston food scene from college? I remember in freshman year, 1984, they took us to No Name Restaurant. And we had three cases of beer under the table, and that was my first dining experience in Boston. … I worked as a bartender at Mary Ann’s in Cleveland Circle and other places on Comm. Ave. in the BC area. So I had some food-and-drink experience in Boston early on. I remember Souper Salad in Newton. We used to go to that. An early-on concept salad bar for the granola-eating Deadhead set that we were. I remember going to Locke-Ober for lunch when I was working at Merrill Lynch. It was the late ’80s and it felt like such a place out of time. It kind of blew my mind. Even coming from New York. Boston always has a little more of that old world feel than New York does. It’s a little bit more historical.
Before you opened Babbo did you reach out to anyone here? Sure, we reached out to a lot of people. We have a lot of good friends. Michael Schlow is like family. Obviously Barbara Lynch, and she’s going to collaborate. Michael Schlow—although that’s not official yet. We wanted to bring in some of the hometown players. First, make sure everyone was on board with what we were doing, and then collaborate with as many people as possible.
What’s been the best thing about partnering with your mom through the years? It’s been a great experience. Not many people get to have businesses that are truly trans-generational. Getting to work with your family in a business that you love and making a living is a great and lucky thing to have.
Did you always have an inkling you’d be in the restaurant industry? Well, in the ’80s, I thought anybody who was rich worked in finance. I was always afraid of being poor, so I wanted to make money. I think I was born in it and it was second nature to me. It was more of the entrepreneur in me that brought me to restaurants. It was a way I could be an entrepreneur at 22 years old when I opened my first restaurant, Becco, in New York.
How much will Eataly Boston be split between retail and restaurant? We always try to achieve 50/50. Or 60/40. With the kind of density and wealth of that area, hopefully retail will be 50 percent of it. I think that the restaurant element is more of an obvious play. But I think that the kind of shopping experience that Eataly can offer will be unique in Boston, and hopefully well received.