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Eataly, planned Prudential Center food court replacement, draws mixed reactions

The Prudential Center will open a new Eataly location in place of the old food court that closed in June. PHOTO BY MAE DAVIS/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF
The Prudential Center will open a new Eataly location in place of the old food court that closed in June. PHOTO BY MAE DAVIS/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF

As Bostonians, visitors, students and workers breeze through the kiosk-filled hallway of the Shops at Prudential Center, one classic piece is missing — the building’s food court. Now shuttered with temporary white walls and a Star Market stand, the previous cluster of neighboring fast-food chains closed in late June, and while some hungry shoppers may not be happy about the newly limited food options, sit-down restaurant owners are happy to welcome the additional business.

“We’ve had a significant increase since the food court closed,” said Rob Miller, the assistant general manager at California Pizza Kitchen. “Typically, we were doing about $90,000 a week here. Now, we’re doing an average of $110,000 to $115,000 a week.”

For three restaurants in the Prudential Center — California Pizza Kitchen, 5 Napkin Burger and P.F. Chang’s — the food court’s closure has led to an increase in sales and many new customers walking through their doors, store managers said.

“We’re just all working right now to do the best we can, when people do come in, to engage them … just to gain new customer loyalty,” said Benjamin Lorenc, a manager at 5 Napkin Burger.

Lorenc knows he may lose some of the new customer base he has been thriving on when something new opens in the place of the former food court. However, he chooses to focus on the present.

“The name of the game right now is retaining the guests,” he said.

In fact, that something new has already been named. Eataly, the Mario Batali brainchild and Italian food emporium that’s already made a name for itself across the globe and in two U.S. cities, New York and Chicago, will bring full-service eateries, a cafe, a wine bar and a marketplace to the 52-story building, owned by Boston Properties.

“Eataly does an incredible job providing a worldwide selection of exceptional food and service under one roof as the world’s best food emporium,” said Bryan Koop, Boston Properties’ senior vice president and regional manager, in a statement in May. “Shopping and dining at Eataly is truly a unique experience and will attract customers and visitors from throughout New England.”

In the statement, Boston’s chief of economic development John Barros praised the incoming market for its potential.

“With approximately 500 employees needed at the Prudential Center location, Eataly is committed to Boston and will be a welcome addition to the city’s culinary job growth projections,” he said.

But not everyone is so enthralled by the idea.

One customer who swiftly navigated the Star Market kiosk boasted about its convenience — a characteristic not always guaranteed at larger supermarkets nearby.

“It’s easier for me … instead of having to go to Shaw’s, which is usually packed,” said Morgan Sugar-Butter, a 31-year-old Boston resident.

When it comes to the premiere of Eataly in the place of the kiosks, Sugar-Butter said that it “doesn’t matter.”

A Star Market kiosk employee said that when most customers are told what’s coming to the mostly vacant area, they seem uninterested.

“When I tell them [about Eataly], they go ‘Oh wow,’” said 18-year-old employee Ashley Benjamin enthusiastically. She mimicked an apathetic head nod, forecasting how Boston’s hungry crowds may end up greeting the change.

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