Employees at Eataly Chicago generally have one thing on their minds.

“And if there's one mantra more than anything else that we discuss internally at Eataly we hope comes across to our visitors, is that we are obsessive about quality. Sometimes we even question ourselves if it’s too much. But it’s been our overriding philosophy,” general manager Jason Goldsmith said at the United Fresh Retail Produce Marketing & Merchandising Conference in Chicago last month.

Opened in December 2013, the Chicago store is the 24th Eataly location (there are now 27 worldwide) and the second in the U.S. after New York. Across two floors, it combines a European-style market with 23 restaurants, a wine shop and cooking school.

Eataly certainly isn’t the first to mix foodservice and retail, Goldsmith acknowledged.

“But one of the things that we think makes us very different is this educational element, that when you bring all these people in, when you bring in someone who is an expert on fruit and vegetables and put them next to an expert bread baker and put them next to someone who is crazy about cheese and salumi, and you get all these people under the same roof, it’s inspiring and it’s really an area where you can cross pollinate,” he said.

“And if you share all that information with your consumers, they get it and they understand it and they are somehow a little more inspired than they might be otherwise.”

In each area of the store, Eataly partners with experts in their respective fields — such as Baldor Specialty Foods for produce or Pat LaFrieda for meat — while also hiring and training passionate employees, to address customer questions.

For example, if a customer asks why a particular produce item isn’t organic, an employee will be able to explain that some fruits and vegetables are only grown conventionally, or that it would be financially prohibitive for the farmer to get the USDA certification but he grows his crops using the same high standards, said produce manager Dan MacPherson.

“But unlike a large supermarket, we have that time to talk to our customers, as well as we also have this breadth of people upstairs [in the restaurants] talking about the same product to their guests that are sitting for pizza or pasta or especially Verdure [Eataly’s vegetarian restaurant].”

Eataly also takes the time to show visitors how food ends up on their plates. The restaurants have open kitchens, and customers can watch experts make products like fresh mozzarella, pasta and sausage.

“Our fishmonger breaks down all the fish right there at the fish station. We could do it in a prep kitchen. It’d be a lot easier, probably more efficient and cleaner, but we want people to see that we're fileting the fish right there in front of them,” said Goldsmith.

The produce department employs a “vegetable butcher” who will chop up any item on request.

“You don’t know how to attack those weird veggies? You don’t know how to clean those mushrooms? Hand it over to the vegetable butcher. Completely free of charge we will do all the prep work to get the vegetable ready for you,” said Goldsmith.