TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Actor Tyler Lepley is stepping off the big screen in Hollywood and into Tampa’s food scene with the opening of his new restaurant in Seminole Heights.
Lepley, 36, has been seen in several hit TV shows. He plays “Diamond” on the Starz hit show P-Valley, “Ian” on Amazon Prime’s Harlem and “Benny” on Tyler Perry’s the Haves and the Have Nots. The Los Angeles superstar’s story began in Philadelphia.
“There were aspects where I was always unsure of myself and just trying to figure things out,” Lepley said.
Lepley is an only child and it was mainly just him and his mother growing up. He once had dreams of playing in the NFL, but after getting injured and wanting a change, he took a risk and moved across the country.
“I’ve been without, without tangible means and without direction,” he said. “Even though I didn’t have it, I knew I needed to find a purpose or find something I could chase for a lifetime. “
When Lepley moved to Los Angeles, he was a personal trainer. A chance meeting at the gym is what led him to an acting audition.
“LA is super saturated with people in the business and one of my clients who was having a hard time with a smaller role in a movie asked me to come in and audition for it,” Lepley said. “I was super nervous, but I ended up booking it.”
Twelve years later he is on the big screen and now, he’s the owner of Lepley’s Kitchen and Lounge located at 6310 North Florida Avenue.
“In my first business venture, I wanted to make sure my heart was in it,” Lepley said. “Just like with acting, if my heart is in it you can tell.”
Plus, his role in Harlem as Chef Ian helped influence his decision to open a restaurant.
“Leaving everything he ever knew to chase something he’s never seen, going to Paris, trying to be a chef and bringing that back home,” Lepley said about his character Ian. “I did that myself. I left everything in Philly, I went and chased something I had never seen in LA and now I’m bringing it to Tampa.”
So why Tampa? Well nearly two years ago, Lepley visited Tampa to meet up with some of his business partners. That one visit is when he fell in love with the city.
“The love here is like nowhere else I’ve been. I’ve been all over the country,” he said.
With his business partner and manager, Jovi York, being from Tampa, they decided it was best to open the restaurant in Tampa. Together, they are investing in the community through Caribbean and Southern Cuisine.
“Southern comfort food is a staple here, but myself and another owner, we have Caribbean blood in us and with our head chef being from the Bahamas we felt like it was important to fuse it with some international flavor,” said Lepley.
The Executive Chef of Lepley’s Kitchen & Lounge is Leonardis Moss. Moss is from the Bahamas and the way he met Lepley is an interesting story in and of itself.
“Our head chef actually DM’d [direct messaged] me on Instagram, that’s how we met,” Lepley said. “Later on, he let me know that he’s from the Bahamas and he went to Paris like Ian did and he shared that when he watches Harlem it speaks to who he is as a human, a man and as a chef.”
Lepley said art brought the two together and now they are giving back to Tampa.
The unique menu includes jerk lambchops atop asparagus and mashed potatoes, Caribbean fried chicken served with a bottle of Moet, Salmon Rasta Pasta, Lobster Hush Puppies, Jerk Cauliflower and more. With their menu and story, Lepley’s is bringing more culture to Seminole Heights.
“It’s almost like we’re re-gentrifying the gentrified area,” Lepley said. “We are taking the block back. It’s not a hostile take over, it’s done with love and with open arms. When you’re here it’s really family and when you leave it’s the same way.”
Lepley’s Kitchen & Lounge will have a soft opening Saturday, Oct. 28 and Sunday, Oct. 29. They are accepting walk-ins Saturday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Sunday walk-ins are welcome from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. The grand opening is in December.