From busboy to business owner
Kepler says he’s made mistakes and will make more as boss of restaurant
At nearly 28 years old, Kepler Martin has spent half his life in the restaurant business, working his way up from busboy to server and eventually managing restaurants in the Delta and in Tyler, Texas.
This spring, his dream of owning a restaurant by the time he was 30 became a reality with the April opening of Kepler’s Italian Grill in Greenville.
“Greenville needed a family restaurant you could go in after the game in shorts and a t-shirt or a couple could come in for dinner dressed to the 9s,” he said.
That’s what he’s created with the restaurant that serves homemade pizza, salads, seafood, pasta and even steaks.
“Being in the Delta, everyone orders a steak,” he said. “We didn’t intend on being a steakhouse, but they’re really good.”
The restaurant’s fried olives — stuffed with blue cheese, battered and fried and served with a remoulade — are popular, as is the homemade lasagna and shrimp and crawfish fettuccine. But customers’ favorites are likely to change on a nightly basis.
“It depends on the crowd,” Martin said. “Some nights we serve nothing but spaghetti, some nights nothing but steaks. You just never know.”
Martin said the menu was created with hopes that everyone could find on it something they enjoy. He also noted that he’s willing and open to change.
“If there’s an entrée or something we’re doing the wrong way — I’m young and I’m open to suggestions.”
His father, who had retired from another company, helped Martin develop the recipes and menu and now runs the kitchen.
“The boys were in the kitchen in my family — not that the women didn’t cook — it’s just that the week of Christmas or Thanksgiving, the whole family was in the kitchen,” he said.
Martin lived in Greenville until he was 6 and then moved to Tyler. He began working as a busboy at 14. When he was 17, he became a server and was running a Japanese steakhouse and sushi bar by the time he was 19. At 21, he managed his first bar.
At 22, he moved back to Greenville and has been running bars and restaurants ever since.
“I’ve done everything from the bottom to the top,” he said.
And Martin said he loves all aspects of the restaurant world.
“I love the chaos of it all,” he said. “It’s always fast-paced, and you get to see everybody in the community from all walks of life. It allows you to be hands-on, and you can talk to anybody.”
The business isn’t without its hardships, and a particular lesson can be learning to deal with customers.
“Customers come in a restaurant in every kind of mood,” he said. “They come in to eat because they’re mad. They come in to eat to celebrate. I’ve had to learn how to deal with employees who are affected by the customers.”
The restaurant is open at 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday, but Martin starts his workday at 9 a.m. and stays until after closing.
“Everybody joked when we were opening that I’d be married to it, and I think my wife would have to agree that I’m married to it,” he said. “I love it. Any day you get to go work and do what you love is a good day. This is my dream, and I love that I’m getting to live it.”
Martin said he plans to stay in Greenville and hopes to eventually open other restaurants.
“I see this as kind of a stepping point,” he said.
While opening and running his own restaurant has presented challenges, Martin said he was ready.
“It was time,” he said. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I’m sure I’m still making some, but I’ve got good people who have stuck by me and really helped me out.”