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The New Man With a Mustache (*)

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The New Man With a Mustache  (*)
 Surely most of you know that Oscar Farinetti is a very clever businessman. To understand how clever, all you need is gather some information about the several successful stores he opened in Italy and Japan in just a few years.
But perhaps not all of you know that the person I like to call "The New Man with a Mustache" (*), is also an untiring worker and an old-school gentleman with a very modern open mind.
I have had the undeniable pleasure of witnessing, and even experiencing personally, some of the facets of his virtues, during my brief, frantic and exciting visit to the new Eataly store, on the day of its grand opening on Tuesday, August 31st , on Fifth Avenue and 23rd Street, In Manhattan.

I must admit to being biased in favor of something like Eataly coming to New York. I was born and raised in Milan, Italy, but have lived here for more than 40 years and, although things related to Italian food and wine have greatly improved since I first came, finding anything genuinely Italian still required a lot of time, patience and often expensive and disappointing trial-and-error. Until yesterday.
And so, on Tuesday, I went to the city with the same anticipation of a young child going to visit Toy Town.
I got on line early, baking in the unseasonably hot sun and, as I waited for Eataly's doors to open for the first time, Oscar Farinetti walked down the sidewalk in shirtsleeves, just like any other average NewYorker, shooting quick, but attentive glances at everything and everybody, totally at ease with making eye contact with people (possibly the one thing that gave him away as a non-native New Yorker).
A look here, another yonder,, a quick, discreet conversation on his cell phone, another quick pose for a picture for a friend with a famous chef, but amidst us common mortals in line…and then he went off, disappearing into the crowds as anonymously as he appeared and taking care to avoid the many TV cameramen who have begun their invasion of the area.

For the next few hours his business partners, the very popular Bastianich and Batali, will be virtually nailed to the same four square feet of space in the middle of the store, under siege by interminable lines of people waiting to be photographed at their side.
Meanwhile mr. Farinetti, continues his rounds in and out of the stores, constantly surveying everything and everybody, exchanging a few encouraging words with the staff or trying to catch the vibes of the people still waiting in line on the sidewalk.
His inquisitive look is always there and so is his latent half-smile, always ready to suddenly explode into a sincere laughter void of any falseness, while he shakes hands, hugs an acquaintance, or discreetly squeezes the arm of one of the store associates, always without pretense and easily camouflaging as part of the hundreds of people that continue to flood the stores in waves.

Aside from a short rest to enjoy a gigantic and wonderful beer (Borgo ReAle) and a tasty San Daniele prosciutto sandwich, by 7 pm, I had been going for three hours around shelves, counters and glass cases full of all kinds of goodies, watching people sitting at tables , eating with a gusto not often seen in this town where, much too often, eating is a vice or a necessity, not a pleasure. And I had been lugging around my loot in two "made-in-Italy" shopping bags given to me by Chiara and Susanna (very cool, but hardly as practical as one of the cute shopping carts provided by the store).
So I took another brake and, allowing myself a heavenly "bicerìn", much too warm a treat on a hot day, but still a treat (and a bargain at $ 1) and suddenly mr. Farinetti once again materialized out of nowhere and just one arm length away from where I stood.
For a moment it looked as if he was ready to toss in the towel too: this area of the store was a bit warm and he wiped the sweat from his face with a kerchief, while he read his own article, written on Turin's paper, "La Stampa", on one of the three i-pads generously made available to customers.

This seemed to be an unique opportunity for me and I impulsively seized it, silencing both my shyness and the voice of my conscience telling me "Give the man a break!"
I extend my hand, introduce myself and mr. Farinetti, without any hesitation shakes my hand energetically and under the mustache out comes again that smile that does not resemble at all the smile of a salesman or politician, its inquisitiveness rather reminds you that of a former schoolmate with whom you had lost touch for years.
"Congratulations and forgive my presumption - I proffer - but, just based on your instincts and vibes, how do you think that EatalyNY compares to the other locations, so far?". He allows himself a brief pause, just the time need for a quick glance around, as if to reassure himself that nothing different has taken place in the last 197 seconds, and then, looking at me straight in the eye, he answers: "Well, I would say that - yes - it seems to be going OK, right? But, you know, we expected it from New York and it looks as it will not disappoint us - and you? What do YOU think?" And he stands there, actually patiently waiting for my answer, which honestly I don't exactly recall; I might have blabbered "Fantastic" or something equally inane and inconsequential.
Because suddenly I was thrown offside, as it dawned on me that I had faced a man who, behind a modest, friendly and democratic personality, void of any pretense, hides an exceptional intellect and acumen, as well as an uncommon nobility of soul (or is there some real blue blood too? I wonder).
"Very well, I am glad. It was a pleasure" he says, as he takes leave, adding another centimeter to the curve of his smile and one last penetrating glance, anonymously merging with the crowd once again within seconds.

As I recover from my bafflement, I call myself an idiot, because, among other things, I even forgot to say at least "Thank you" to The New Man with a Moustache.(*)
So, I am trying to do just that, now, with these notes.

PS: some (hopefully constructive) criticism:
⁃ Particularly when the store is crowded, as we hope it will often be, the entrances should be watched by at least two people. It's impossible for one person alone to control the traffic. An alternate solution could be to make the entrances "one-way" only. But, PLEASE do not fence in the store as if it were Fort Knox.
⁃ An Eataly.USA or Eataly.NYC website is a MUST. And should be set up A.S.A.P., in at least two languages (after all: this is New York!)
⁃ It wouldn't be a bad idea to also have public access wi-fi in the store. If you are afraid of the "Starbuck syndrome" do not provide electrical outlets and keep parassites away with courteous but firm signs (you know how to do that!)
⁃ And (I know, I'm getting pushy) why not make yourselves heard also on twitter?

Now I've got to go in the kitchen and get busy with the loot I got yesterday.

(*) "The New Man with a Mustache" is an unabashed reference to "L'ometto coi baffi", a very popular character that for half a century has adorned a very famous and successful Italian coffee pot. I wish mr. Farinetti equal or better success.
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