Springfield’s COVID-19 stay-at-home order hasn’t stopped Richard Bucher from opening his new restaurant concept.
Bucher calls the April 7 launch of his Panini Grill LLC “a very, very soft opening,” only serving drive thru customers at 520 N. West Bypass in the Carpenter Heights center. The city order currently prohibits dining-in at restaurants through April 24.
The menu is all made to order, Bucher said, featuring panini sandwiches, patty melts, wraps, soup, salads and sauteed pastas – priced at $5-$9.
“This is a scratch kitchen,” he said of the dozen paninis on the menu, including a Cuban and a turkey Reuben, as well as the homemade salad dressings, soups and pasta sauces. “We try to not use anything that is processed, canned or comes in a plastic jug.”
It’s not the first restaurant venture for Bucher, who has 34 years’ experience in the industry. He came to Springfield around 12 years ago after a decade of owning Al Dente’s, an Italian restaurant in Russellville, Arkansas, he said. Past hospitality industry work in Springfield has included Houlihan’s and, most recently, The Waterford at Iron Bridge retirement community, where he worked as a dietary chef.
A return to restaurant ownership was something Bucher had pondered for a few years.
“This is where my passion is. Everything I love to do is in restaurants, so I decided to open up Panini Grill,” he said, declining to disclose startup costs or his three-year lease rate with Carpenter Heights LLC.
Bucher is currently the sole employee for the roughly 1,800-square-foot eatery. But he plans to bring on staff once he can open the dining room. The space, which formerly housed Momma Mary’s Navajo Tacos, was attractive for its drive-thru component, he said. Additionally, he liked the idea of being in a high-traffic area near the intersection of West Bypass and Chestnut Expressway, which has a Burger King currently under construction.
Ariake Sushi and Robata opened; Great Southern Bancorp Inc. (Nasdaq: GSBC) opened its newest branch in Springfield; and a longtime employee with City Utilities of Springfield went into business for himself with the launch of Van Every Drafting & Design LLC.