Fans of lion meat tacos will have to drive into Ybor City for their fix, and they may have to dodge reality TV camera crews while there.
Owners of Taco Fusion are closing up their restaurant site on Bay to Bay Boulevard in South Tampa, and they're moving to a new, larger, outdoor restaurant site just off the rowdy Seventh Avenue row in Ybor City at 1604 N. 17th Street. Perhaps proving that any controversial venture will soon attract a reality TV deal, the owners of Taco Fusion have one in the works.
Taco Fusion became an international sensation and target of fierce criticism this summer after it added lion meat to its already exotic lineup of taco toppings. The restaurant menu includes bear, kangaroo, elk and other unusual meat items, as well as a nacho plate roughly the size of a garbage can lid.
International exposure and controversy helped pique an ongoing dispute with the landlord at the Bay to Bay site over rent and maintenance problems, said Taco Fusion owner Ryan Gougeon.
In turn, Gougeon decided to move to Ybor, which already hosts a wide range of nightclubs, hookah lounges and tatoo parlors. Gougeon also owns the nearby James Joyce tavern on east Eighth Avenue, which had moved from a Seventh Avenue space where it regularly held raucous parties.
The new Taco Fusion site is now under renovation. Most recently, it was the Seabreeze Ybor outdoor restaurant, and before that, it was the Hot Willie's hot dog spot. (The area is also ground central for Ybor City's wild chicken population.) There isn't an indoor seating space on the site. Rather, the kitchen staff takes orders at a window, and patrons park themselves under a shade cover next door to eat.
Construction crews are now doing work to vastly expand the deck space to about 40 seats. Opening day could come by early August.
As for the reality TV deal, Gougeon is now dealing with Pilgrim Studios, which produces shows like "Dirty Jobs," "Ghost Hunters," "Extreme Loggers" and the cage-match fighting show "Tapout." This August, crews are scheduled to start filming a pilot episode to present to TV networks, chronicling Gougeon and his staff running both the James Joyce and Taco Fusion - with special emphasis on the lion tacos and all the controversy it has wrought.