It’s the year 2000, and Peter Tierney —who will become one of Naples’ top restaurateur-hoteliers—takes a seat at the bar of The Bay House, an Old Florida-style restaurant built in the late ’80s by then-owners Tom and Martha Jennings. Sipping a glass of wine, Tierney mulls over his latest ideas. The Charleston-born culinary graduate of Johnson & Wales University cooked up and down the United States’ East Coast before moving to Marco Island in the 1980s and landing a chef job at O’Shea’s Restaurant.
By 2000, he’s already begun to make a name for himself as a man who can turn places around, like The Turtle Club, which he transformed in 1999 from a little motel with two picnic tables and a shuffleboard court into one of Naples’ go-to spots for beachfront dining. From The Bay House bar, Tierney looks out the glass windows at the mangroves that line the banks of the Cocohatchee River. The restaurant reminds him of a lake house, and he thinks to himself: “I could do a lot with this place.”
He made good on the thought in 2007, when he teamed up with Dr. Edward “Bud” Negley and father-son duo Mike and Mick Moore, to buy The Bay House and turn the once-folksy restaurant into one of Naples’ top dining destinations with seafood and Southern-inspired dishes. He’s had similar success with The Claw Bar, which opened in 2018, and, more recently, the jazz lounge The London Club. Both are situated within Bellasera Resort, which Peter Tierney and his partners also acquired in 2019 and overhauled with a stylish remodel, completed in December.
Tierney is always looking for what’s next. One trend he’s noticing is a shift to curated menus and smaller venues. While big-floorplan restaurants with extensive offerings drew customers in the past, he now sees international chefs and restaurateurs microsizing—an idea he’s embracing. “I have no interest in doing giant restaurants,” he says. “Menus are getting a lot smaller; mine certainly are.” Tierney hopes tasting menus will continue to catch on here, too. “Restaurants are becoming more conscious of flavor,” he says. “The world has so many exciting flavors to offer, and we love to meld those with our regional bounty. We’re putting together menus that are more adventurous and surprising.”
This hasn’t always been the case locally, where diners often find the same snapper, scallops, grouper and sea bass at restaurants. The problem with these oft-served species isn’t flavor; it’s that they’ve been steadily depleted from global waters. “We’re eating these species to death,” he says. “We need to be conscious of sustainability and sourcing.” To that end, Tierney plans to debut The Syren Oyster & Cocktail Bar this month in the former Wharf Tavern Restaurant & Lobster House space on Naples Bay. The restaurant focuses on sustainable, line-caught, underutilized Gulf species, like sheepshead, grunt, tripletail and mullet. (Guests can even charter the restaurant’s 44-foot yacht, also dubbed The Syren, for immersive dining on the water.) For Tierney, each project has its specialty. Next up is The Churchill Library, a piano bar at Bellasera Resort centered around after-dinner drinks and desserts.
Looking ahead to the next five or 10 years, Tierney envisions the role of local restaurants evolving. “We need to educate people and change their palates,” he says. “If I never eat another piece of grouper again, I’ll be OK.” For chefs, this means shifting away from staples and toward new ingredients, like invasive lionfish.
Biologists and spearfishers agree the more lionfish restaurants consume, the better for local waters. Restaurants like Harold’s in Fort Myers and Shangri-La Springs in Bonita Springs have featured the voracious fish on their menus. Tierney is also doing his part: At The Bay House (which he sold to Phelan Family Brands last year), chefs have served lionfish crudo—a dish he plans to reintroduce at The Syren.
Though future menus may be smaller and some of the ingredients unfamiliar, Peter Tierney remains optimistic diners will embrace chefs’ heightened creativity and interconnectedness with the world around them—a development that’s good for the planet and local appetites.