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Posted at 02:08 PM ET, 09/15/2011

Eataly in D.C.? It’s not looking good.

Hiding their cheese? Are Batali and company ditching plans to bring Eataly to the District? (Tim Carman/The Washington Post)
While in New York City on assignment yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down with Mario Batali, the restaurateur whose empire is only slightly smaller than the chef himself. (Chill, folks, I’m talking about his outsized personality, not his girth, a joke as tired as Charlie Sheen’s shtick.)

I asked Batali about his plans for an Eataly in Washington, and he talked big about the project, an extension of the 40,000-square-foot Italian gastronomic playland at 200 Fifth Avenue in New York.

“I don’t know what anyone is telling you, but I think to go and do it right in D.C., it has to be the same size,” Batali said. “I don’t want to do it smaller. Smaller? That’s like a little outpost. It’s like a remainder store.”

It’d be like an airport outlet, I offered.

Batali laughed and said, “Exactly. That’s not what I’m going to do. We’re going to bring the full [thing] when we go down. Five restaurants and the bookstore and the Birreria and the whole thing.”

He also mentioned that he and his partners hadn’t signed a lease yet, which got me worried. So I made a few calls today to commercial real estate brokers, who all spoke anonymously since the search for an Eataly space apparently continues.

“As I understand it, they’re not coming,” one broker told me. “I specifically spoke with somebody involved with them…They came down and took a look around and didn’t see anything they like.”

The problem is trying to find a specific space that meets all the requirements for Eataly: more than 30,000 square feet for retail, restaurants and markets — all on one grand floor, not multiple floors — as well as another 8,000 or so square feet for a rooftop beer garden. Those kind of spaces are in short supply in Washington, unless the Smithsonian starts leasing space on the Mall.

“I think it’s a challenge for them to recreate what they’ve created in New York,” said a second commercial real estate broker. “I don’t know if they’ve seen anything that really gets them excited.”

More as we know it.

By  |  02:08 PM ET, 09/15/2011

Categories:  Restaurants

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