Erin Willis (Photo by Kathy Tran)

Erin Willis (Photo by Kathy Tran)

The Lakeridge Village space that once housed Offshore’s Nextdoor could be Lake Highland’s next date-night spot.

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Owner and Lake Highlands resident Erin Willis gutted the entire building and re-imagined it as RM 12:20 Bistro. The quaint European-style restaurant, slated to open this fall, is similar to what’s offered in Preston Hollow or Highland Park, Willis says. A bocce ball court gives customers space to linger; the bar features unconventional cocktails. Cell phone use is discouraged, and asking for a kids menu is out of the question.

The dinner menu, which Willis considers rustic French with a Southern flair, rotates four times per year.

“French is just sexier,” she says. “It’s so fun, and people love it. We’re bringing date night back to the neighborhood … It’s the elegance of it, really.”

Willis’ name may sound familiar to longtime Lake Highlands residents. Even though RM 12:20 is her first venture into restaurant ownership, she has extensive experience in the business, including High Hill Farm and the Meadows Museum, where she cooked for King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia at the inauguration of the museum’s new building in 2001. She has hosted Backyard Dinners at her home and runs a catering business, Dinner is Done.

“It’s very hard work being in the restaurant business, but it’s totally made me who I am today,” she says.

Opening a restaurant seems like the natural progression in Willis’ career, but the decision was impulsive. Willis wanted to expand Dinner is Done but needed additional space. She reached out to CBRE leasing broker Darrell Hernandez, who gave her a tour of the vacant Offshore’s Nextdoor. Instead of focusing on catering, Willis dove into developing a business plan and concocting menu items.

RM 12:20’s vibe is “one step below fine dining,” Willis says, and she’s focused on farm-to-table ingredients. Most products are being sourced from East Texas.

“Other than my faith, which is very important to me, the thing that gives me affirmation is people who tell me, ‘This is the best meal I ever had,’” she says.

How she got her start: Erin Willis has plenty of experience in the culinary field, but her bachelor’s degree is in English Literature.  After she graduated college, she landed a gig in radio but turned it down. By the time she realized she wanted to go to culinary school, she didn’t have the financial resources. So a chef at Patrizio’s in Highland Park offered to teach her, but it wasn’t a  glamorous start. “I lived in the basement [of Patrizio’s] for two years,” she says. “All I did was chop tomatoes and onions and make lasagna.”

Did You Know:  Erin Willis named RM 12:20 Bistro after a Bible passage from the book of Romans: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.” 

RM 12:20 Bistro
upscale bistro
Price Range: $30-$45
9660 Audelia Road
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