About 2.5 years ago, Drake Tillman walked into 300 E. Commercial Street and got to envision a restaurant of his own for the first time.
Now, the wait for its opening is inching toward a close. The 4,356-square-foot-space is on track to debut to the public in spring 2021 as Emilia Bar & Trattoria.
"I've always been drawn to Italian food and culture," Tillman says. "My dad was adopted, but his father was supposed to have been Sicilian… Since I was a kid, I wanted to go to Italy, and then I got to for three months in 2015 and travel through most of the country."
Originally, Tillman wanted to open a new American bar and restaurant, The Elkhart and The Robberson, in the space. But after closing his permanent pop up, Margot, amid the COVID-19 shutdown, he used his downtime to revisit his plans.
"I realized how many people weren't catching onto the idea of The Elkhart and The Robberson," Tillman says. "Instead of something that's a new American restaurant, I wanted to do something that is more familiar. Through Italian food, I can do the kind of stuff I like to do, but it's at least in a more common setting."
The site had garnered much attention in 2017 when contractors discovered a forgotten underground room. The building's owner, Joe Hosmer, received a recommendation to connect with Tillman for a possible partnership after plans for another business to occupy the space fell through.
With such a significant blueprint, Tillman has plans to utilize each space to its fullest. During the day, the street-level floor will offer an espresso-forward café menu with Italian pastries and sandwiches. During the night, it will function as a bar.
The basement will house the restaurant with an open kitchen. Guests can expect traditional, seasonal Italian fare with from-scratch pasta and risotto, meat dishes and desserts. In the underground cellar, Tillman plans to offer overflow seating in an intimate setting as well as private dinners.
Tillman says he wants the price point to be approachable, but he will not sacrifice livable employee wages to meet this goal. "I'm much less concerned with accolades for cooking than I am for having a positive workplace where I pay people what they should be paid," he says.
Emilia Bar & Trattoria, 300 E. Commercial St., Springfield, Missouri, emiliasgf.com