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Monica and Nicola Gilardi plan to open Nicola's, a second location of his Gilardi's Ristorante, in the site of the former Tuscan Grill & Bar, 3631 E. Sunshine St.
Monica and Nicola Gilardi plan to open Nicola's, a second location of his Gilardi's Ristorante, in the site of the former Tuscan Grill & Bar, 3631 E. Sunshine St.

Gilardi to serve up pasta on east side

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Italian restaurateur Nicola Gilardi is expanding to the east.

Gilardi’s Inc. on July 1 took over the space at 3631 E. Sunshine St., the day after longtime Springfield restaurateur Jay Parrino shut down his four-year-old Tuscan Grill & Bar.

Gilardi bought Parrino’s equipment for an undisclosed price and plans to reopen by September as Nicola’s, he said.

“I think I have a lot of my customers on the east side of town and why not?” said Gilardi, who’s built a loyal clientele at his 820 E. Walnut St. Gilardi’s Ristorante. “It’s good to have two different locations.”

Gilardi is leasing the 4,375-square-foot Sunshine Street space for undisclosed terms from building owner Mark Gardner.

The deal with Parrino was a year in the making.

“Nicola and I have been talking,” Parrino said. “This past May, we both got serious.”

Parrino opened J. Parrino’s Pasta House & Bar in The Galleria at 1550 E. Battlefield Road 27 years ago. Though he sold J. Parrino’s Pasta House in 2000, ironically, it, too, closed on June 30.

J. Parrino’s Pasta House owner Kenneth Rigby ceased operations due to sluggish sales. “It’s the end of an era,” said Rigby, who purchased J. Parrino’s Pasta House from its namesake in 2000 after working there nine years as a waiter. “I just can’t fight this economy any longer.”

Parrino said he left his options open, noting at least one regular customer has set a timeline for when Parrino would return to the restaurant business.

“I don’t have anything in the works right now, nothing in the near future, but who’s to say? I’m going to start a business journal,” Parrino quipped.

Parrino worked in Italian restaurants in The Hill in St. Louis since he was 13 years old, and he brought that experience and style of food to Springfield.

“I went to a restaurant and saw baked mostaccioli on the menu,” he said, adding that the dish that wasn’t served in Springfield before his arrival.  “We’ve trained a lot of people in the business.”

Parrino also previously owned Pasta Pronto and Pasta Express, two Springfield express Italian restaurants.

He operated Pasta Pronto on South National Avenue, while franchisees Frank and Cindy Stevens and Roger Evans ran a second location on West Republic Road before both closed. Parrino sold his share of Pasta Express in 1999.

“We’ve done a lot of different things,” Parrino said, also recalling his work helping Fred Coco open Metropolitan Grill. “For the most part, you know, the restaurant business has been very good. It’s just another step – it’s not that I’m abandoning anything.”

Parrino said the restaurant climate in Springfield has changed dramatically since he first entered the scene in 1983.

“As more people moved into Springfield, tastes certainly changed, competition did get stiffer,” he said, citing the express stores as one way he was able to carve a niche in the tougher market.

Parrino insists on one thing – no matter how much he might have influenced Springfield restaurants, he isn’t a chef.

“I don’t have any kind of credentials that say I am,” Parrino said. “I cook all the time, but I’m not a chef. When we opened up J. Parrino’s, we did introduce a different style of food to the area traditional to the St. Louis market.”

Gilardi said staff members at Tuscan Grill would have the opportunity to retain their jobs.

“I don’t want anybody to lose their job just because of a change of business,” said Gilardi, who opened his restaurant in October 1998. “I want to provide a job for existing staff of Tuscan Grill to come to work at Gilardi for training purposes, while they’re doing remodeling.”

Bowman Construction Inc. is renovating the 156-seat Tuscan Grill space.
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