Chris Delusky and the Complexity of Simplicity

Chris Delusky dishes on what it takes to make Eataly’s extraordinary build-outs possible across the United States

Eataly’s Manhattan location is one of its busiest, and Chris Delusky’s team was able to pull off an impressive redesign of the coffee bar in just a few short months.

Chris Delusky’s arrival as the vice president of construction and design at Eataly was fortuitous. The massive Italian marketplace, where shoppers can find restaurants, beverage counters, bakeries and cafés, retail items, and even a cooking school, was still discussing an “aggressive rollout plan” for its flagship stores throughout the nation.

His start date timed out perfectly with the conversations of expansion, giving the VP time to become acquainted with the company’s philosophy as well as the design team and its vendors. He developed relationships with these partners to identify solutions for complex construction issues, enabling the challenging build-outs that would become part of Eataly’s evolution.

“We are extremely proud of our work with Chris and the team at Eataly,” says Gary Reed, Structure Tone Southwest account executive. “With STO’s experience at multiple Eataly locations, we’re able to collaborate and share lessons learned to make sure each new project benefits from that insight.”

Delusky sat down with American Builders Quarterly to share more about these experiences during his tenure with Eataly.

Eataly is known for designing each of its locations with a unique vision that pertains to a respective city. How do you and your team approach this way of thinking?

Each store is dedicated to a different aspect [of the community]. We very much take the city and the people who live in it into consideration when determining the theme. We think about what we’d like to pay homage to and how it connects to our values and offerings.

Does Eataly have a general vision that you adhere to when designing, building, and renovating the locations?

[Eataly’s “simple is better” motto] is the mind-set we have for everything we do. We have four-ingredient dishes that completely amaze our guests in terms of the simplicity, elevated taste, and affordable value. In terms of design and construction, simplicity is not always achievable, but authenticity is. Our primary goal is to create the canvas where our operations team can create their art. First and foremost, in terms of the physical spaces, is to provide our guests with an authentic Italian experience.

How do you marry design to authenticity?

For Eataly USA, we put forth a tremendous amount of effort in achieving a cost-effective design that never, ever compromises on authenticity. It begins with [acknowledging the concept] that it’s difficult to be simple. But, when someone sees how difficult achieving an authentic experience in any concept can become during the design and construction period, the challenge in resisting an opportunity to compromise becomes the single most important concept we address during both the early design and value engineering.

What sorts of challenges come up when you’re renovating a location while staying true to the brand and its authenticity?

Our concepts need to remain relevant, and our chefs are always innovating and maintaining immensely high standards. Our job in the design and construction department is to give those amazing operation teams the place to create the fantastic dishes and provide our customers with an authentic experience like none other.

More often than not, many of our remodels can be categorized as a “refresh.” In the restaurant business, furniture and décor have short lifespans, so our team always takes the opportunity to reimagine material choices and improve seating design. We have spent the better part of the last year redesigning our banquette seating to allow for flexibility and aesthetics, while providing an enormously comfortable place to enjoy a meal.

Eataly’s Toronto location was developed with the vision of multiculturalism to reflect the city’s extremely diverse population, while still offering the trusted favorites you can find at any location—luxurious cheese, for instance!

Was there a time when you needed to handle an upgrade quickly at a high-traffic location?

The Flatiron flagship coffee bar at the entrance of Eataly’s 5th Avenue location is at the entrance of one of our busiest locations. The team had a very short window to close the space, demolish the old bar, refinish the concrete floors, and install a very unique cappuccino experience designed in conjunction with our partners from Lavazza. The team managed to start the design process in October 2019 and reopened the space [shortly thereafter] in January 2020.

How does your team work together to plan for a space physically to accommodate new concepts?

The concepts for our flagships originate with our hugely talented team in Italy led by Thomas Bartoli. Once they have refined [the vision for] a particular store layout, we begin a series of design workshops between the Italian team and our design management team here in New York, preparing the conceptual design package for eventual release to our technical architecture team based here in the US.

We then go through another round of discussions at each design phase with our operations, retail, and chef teams to really refine and define the offering of each square foot inside the store.

From start to finish, we find the process of delivering a flagship Eataly to last between 24 and 27 months once we have selected a site in the US. Not only does our team have fantastic “bedside manner” but they are a patient group of talented people that develop our stores into what is one of the most unique experiential retail concepts in the world.

What inspired you to launch your Three Sides of Construction podcast?

In this business, we call the informal group that convenes during a project the OAC: Owner, Architect, Contractor. When I started looking inside that [OAC] triangle, I realized the huge group of dedicated and talented professionals not only had amazing stories of their experiences but are wonderful people to talk to. Because I became really interested in the way this OAC triangle affects my favorite industry—retail construction—it became an opportunity to hear the voices of those people who are at the forefront. At the same time, some people who are not considered “thought leaders” still have a valuable voice in this space. Plus, their stories are great. The value that a podcast has to their career and legacy is important enough for me to get a larger audience to hear their stories.

Editor’s Note: At time of press, Chris Delusky was no longer with Eataly.