Heller Loves L.A.’s Revitalizing Neighborhoods

Last November, the Internet was filled with articles about Ketchup Leather, Plan Check Kitchen + Bar’s ingenious solution to the soggy burger bun conundrum. While that kind of lightning-in-a-bottle publicity often provides a tremendous boost to any restaurant brand, Terry Heller is even more interested in bigger-picture boosts such as helping revitalize the Los Angeles neighborhoods that are home to his eateries.

“I know L.A., its neighborhoods and its history,” the entrepreneur told Modern Restaurant Management magazine. “They are cool and have charm and it was obvious to me foodies would come if I created something unique and built dining destinations. Still, I wanted to pay homage to these neighborhoods.”

Terry Heller
Terry Heller

Heller carries experience from successful careers in commercial real estate and music video production that dovetailed with creating a vision for his restaurants that reflects the surrounding areas. Even the Plan Check name derives from its first location being adjacent to the city’s Building and Safety Department where plans are reviewed for permitting.  Heller also wasn’t afraid to take necessary risks.

“The only way to grow and succeed is to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. Put yourself in a position to succeed and don’t be afraid to fail. Believe in yourself, someone’s got to be successful, why not me?”

In 2012, Heller opened Plan Check’s first location on Sawtelle Boulevard in the Little Osaka neighborhood, a street populated by Asian restaurants. Heller partnered with Executive Chef Ernesto Uchimura. It was Uchimura who created the recipe for the now famous Ketchup Leather, a dehydrated ketchup square that rehydrates due to the heat of the burger.

Additional outposts were opened on Fairfax Avenue in late 2013 and downtown in 2014.  Heller says Plan Check’s fourth location set to open later this year in Santa Monica will pay tribute to that neighborhood’s rich history of commercial fishing through a seafood-centric menu.

Food has become a lifestyle movement.

Heller employed a minimalistic approach to both the overall design elements at Plan Check and the menu, taking unique twists on classic American comfort foods.

“We designed a concept and menu I felt could scale—doing less things very well,” he said. “Our premise is to be approachable, affordable, and passionate about our hospitality and the quality of our food and service.”

Heller understands the importance of surrounding himself with culinary talent and chooses “attitude over aptitude” in his staff.

“It is hard to find good people, but I’ve learned time is not the equal of good. I try to have people who are passionate and organized,” Heller noted. “You have to know what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. I am not a chef. We have a talented stable of chefs and I rely on their palates. They have an eye for what’s out of the ordinary.”

The native Angelino is passionate about his city’s emergence as a culinary trendsetter.

“I grew up in L.A. when there was only a handful of eateries such as The Ivy, The Palm and Dan Tana’s and then the culinary scene ‘happened.’ Customers education and expectations were raised and savvy chefs responded by doing something unique. Food has become a lifestyle movement.”