Heather Tierney may have grown up landlocked in Indianapolis on a typical Midwestern diet of meat and potatoes, but she has become a quintessential mellow surfer chick who has helped resurrect some of Venice’s decaying iconic haunts, including the Roosterfish on Abbot Kinney and the Waterfront on the Boardwalk.
The journey that brought her to the beach town started out of college when she took a job in New York and follows a kinder, gentler and savvy Devil Wears Prada path.
“I started writing for Time Out New York,” Tierney tells L.A. Weekly from her groovy Butcher’s Daughter cafe on Abbot Kinney. “I was entry-level, low on the totem pole. I just happened to land in the editorial section, even though I would have been happy working in any section of the magazine. I had no writing experience.
“They would send me to restaurants that nobody else wanted to review that were literally falling into the East River,” she says with a toss of her long blond curls. “Nobody wanted to go over there. I started amassing all this knowledge about the restaurant and bar industry in New York as well as food and culture and learned a lot about food in general.”
After four years of working her way up the magazine ladder and becoming the head food writer, she took that knowledge and, together with her brother, opened a cocktail bar in Chinatown.
“It was a speakeasy hidden behind an old Chinese restaurant and we called it Apotheke. We just celebrated our 10-year anniversary and it’s become a fixture in the neighborhood. We’re both designers, so we both like to create experiences.”
To help create an Old World feel, and with her passion for fresh juices and herbs, Tierney took her inspiration for the bar from old European apothecaries.
“Back in the day, your medicine would come in liquid form. You’d walk into a huge marble bar and go to the chemist if you had a backache or a headache, and he would take a mortar and pestle to mix up herbs and powders and liquids and make it into a drink and give it to you,” she says. “You’d drink it and walk out.
“That was the story we wanted to create for the bar. Even the bartenders wear lab coats as they dispense your medicine. It all spoke the same language and was memorable for people. Plus, it’s this little secret you discover in an alleyway in Chinatown. New Yorkers love that.”
There’s a juicer in the cocktail bar, with stacks of kale and Buddha's hand for exotic juices and elixirs, such as the water flower juice, which is a mix of watermelon, lavender, agave and cactus pear.
Employing her business school knowledge, Tierney continued to grow her empire from there. Next, she and her brother opened Pulqueria, a Mexican restaurant next door to Apotheke. Her first solo project, the Butcher’s Daughter, came two years later.
“At first, I just wanted to open a juice bar near my loft, so I could get fresh juice without having to make it,” Tierney says. “By the time I opened the doors, it morphed from juice bar to a full-scale cafe and restaurant with healthy, plant-based food. My goal was everything should be healthy but you shouldn’t have to to sacrifice lifestyle. I wanted a pretty environment where you could also have a glass of wine if you want.”
She was inspired by the cafes in Paris and wanted to transfer that kind of feeling while having a juice or avocado toast instead of foie gras. Tierney says that most plant-based restaurants at the time were all crunchy hippie-type places with bad lighting, bland food and no wine or beer.
“Just because you are eating healthy or vegetarian doesn’t mean you should be punished by sitting in a bad environment or having boring food,” she says.
After 10 years of the New York grind, Tierney was looking westward for a lifestyle change. She took a year off, bought a beach cruiser and canvassed Venice for the home of the next Butcher’s Daughter. She’d been eyeing a spot on Abbot Kinney, the perfect fit for her natural California plant-based juice cafe.
Tierney channeled her inner Andy Sachs and battled it out with the Spotted Pig and Wolfgang Puck for the space. Determined to prove to her partners and landlord that she could fill the 3,200-square-foot space with satisfied diners, she flew them to New York to see the success of the Daughter in action. Her determination paid off and she won the competition for the space. The brand has since grown to four restaurants with more to come.
Her newest project in the Venice cafe was inspired by Trumer Pils’ centuries-old beer recipe from Austria. Tierney has collaborated with the Berkeley Brewery to develop a series of bread and spread recipes, using the four pure ingredients with which the brew handcrafts its award-winning pilsner — water, malt, yeast and hops. “We just invigorated our bread and pastry program at the Butcher’s Daughter and made a special room in the front looking out on Abbot Kinney and moved our bread oven up there,” Tierney says.
“What I learned when we visited the brewery was that beer and bread are not far off from each other. They have the same ingredients. Back in the day, they would take the fermentation from the beer and put it in the bread. So we collaborated and did a special edition of breads and pastries made with the beer and the same ingredients they use in the beer.” Specialties like the sourdough with hops fleur, whole wheat with hops levain, sourdough brushed with toasted barley honey, toasted barley brown butter, pretzels with hops salt and a pilsner Dijon dip are all made in-house.
“When we make our breads, it’s all natural without preservatives,” Tierney explains. “We make it every day in-house adhering to the same guidelines. Our flour comes from Europe. Our pizza dough flour comes from Italy. The flours in Europe are naturally lower gluten because the wheat over there isn’t genetically modified.”
And no, she’s not the daughter of a butcher. Her love of pounding the produce is how the name came about. “I had this vision of meat hooks, but instead of meat you have vegetables like kale and greenery and it’s like a healthy butcher shop,” she says. “After we juice beets in the back, there’s beet juice on the walls and it looks like the scene of a butcher’s shop with slaughtered vegetables.”
The visions never stop. The self-taught designer's Wanderlust Design company brought the Roosterfish bar back to life in union with the city, along with her latest reopening of the Waterfront Venice on the Boardwalk. A sad crumbling mess with inedible food, the dive bar was a favorite among locals, who feared the worst when it closed.
Tierney wanted to bring back the vintage ’80s Venice feel, with visions of roller skating on the Boardwalk and the days when Harry Perry was the unknown guitar man of Venice.
“We really wanted a place that we could go to at the beach,” says the mother of 1-year-old Marley and wife to Los Feliz local Jake Mathews. “We wanted a place where families could go. The back patio is open for dinner and brunch. There will be kids' music classes. We’re keeping the local icons and just making them better.”
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The vast remodeled beach shack space has two bars plus indoor and outdoor dining with casual and affordable beach food, plus a taqueria called Boardwalk Tacos. The homeless band that has been playing in front of the Waterfront for years is still a fixture across from the patio.
“We’re getting them Waterfront T-shirts and started an Instagram page for them,” Tierney says. “Their stories are amazing. One of them is a dog trainer and we’re getting him business and we’re going to pay them a small fee for playing so they can stay there.”
At a time when restaurants in L.A. continue to struggle and pop-ups seem to be the trend of the future, Tierney says those providing an experience, design and environment — not just a good burger — will survive.
“It’s the one thing you can’t buy on Amazon — a good experience,” she says.