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Leon Brunson Will Launch His Latest Culinary Adventure On Lake Ella's Shores

Smiling man with arms crossed standing in front of a stone building
Ryan Rossy
with permission
Leon Brunson stands proudly before the former K.B.'s Kitchen where he will soon open "Leon."

He says the experience will be a fusion of many flavors prepared by a best friend who also happens to be a master chef.

The coronavirus pandemic has especially been brutal on the restaurant business. But a Tallahassee chef plans to stake his culinary claim in his former employer's stone cabin on the shores of Lake Ella.

Leon Brunson insists he didn't start out wanting to become a master chef.

"I was never around food until I worked at Waffle House. And when I started working at Waffle House, I realized it was kind of like a game; how quickly could you put things together and assemble them delicately and make the people happy? So I had a lot of appeal from Waffle House from it being an open kitchen so you could interact with the guests and you had regulars."

Years later, Brunson would build those elements into his own restaurant vision. But first, he needed some "fine dining" experience. Which he found at a popular eatery in Panama City. Somewhere along the way he also went to culinary school.

"Firefly is one of the nicer restaurants in town and I went to their back door asking for an application and they kind of laughed at me. Eventually, they gave me a job. And I learned through Firefly and culinary school just how much I loved to cook. I was around food all the time, the classical aspects at culinary school and at Firefly, and I was also back at Waffle House. So from 2014 until 2017 I worked 3 jobs."

And then, said Brunson, it was time to make a move.

"The reason I'm here in Tallahassee is because my dad had a brain aneurysm. He's completely fine now, but I wanted to switch majors. I was dating a woman at the time and I was looking towards the future. So I switched to neuroscience and moved here to go to Florida State. And that's when I started working at Kool Beanz (Cafe) and that was the perfect place for me! I was in an open kitchen, you made all the food yourself, you were around different cultures...I was inspired every day I went to work!"

Brunson became close with Kool Beanz owner Keith Baxter, who also owned the little K.B. Kitchen in one of the original stone cabins at Tallahassee's Lake Ella.

"Keith had joked with me, 'Hey! Do you want to buy a restaurant?' This was in March of 2020. And before this, I had plans to move to Seattle, so I had no plans to stay here, really."

That was the month a lot of things happened in quick succession. The pandemic exploded. Baxter found another prospective buyer for K.B. Kitchen. And Brunson's Seattle sojourn was derailed. Not long after, he regretted that he hadn't snapped up Baxter's original offer to sell.

"I needed to expand and that place would have been perfect for that. So it just happened I was talking to my friend and I said, 'If it were still for sale...' and he said, 'It is!' and I went, 'Oh! That's where we're at now!'"

And that's where Brunson will be at before long. He's calling his re-invention of the little eatery, appropriately enough, "Leon."

"And one of the things I want to bring to Leon is I want that personal connection with the guest. That's why I want to do these cooking classes and intimate dinners along with a 'fast casual' service. The more people that's accessible to it. Because now I'm a relatable face to a lot of people."

What kind of cuisine will Leon feature? He says it will be hard to pigeonhole and, similar to Kool Beanz, the menu will be very much a moveable feast. Brunson is similarly cagey when it comes to projecting a grand opening date.

"Ideally, I'd like a little more room for ambiguity to account for problems that might wind up on my end. And that's why I say the end of the year, 2021, just to cover for that."

As that time draws near, watch the little stone cottage at Lake Ella for a "Grand Opening" sign as Leon Brunson prepares to launch his very own restaurant.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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