Abbi Merriss Enters Her ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Era

After 12 years behind the wheel at Bluebeard, the lauded Indianapolis chef is ready for her next chapter.
Abbi Merriss in her home
Abbi Merriss in her Garfield Park home. Photo by Tony Valainis

“I was 29 when we started Bluebeard,” Abbi Merriss says.

The five-time James Beard Awards semifinalist spent her 30s building the groundbreaking restaurant while also launching the food program at upscale art house Kan-Kan Cinema & Restaurant. She departed the latter in 2022 and left Bluebeard in early 2024. “This open freedom is kind of strange,” the longtime chef admits with bemusement. “This chapter is going to be interesting.”

Merriss in 2012. Photo by Tony Valainis

In the heads-down, day-to-day operation of a busy kitchen, it’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. For Merriss, that meant “my personal growth had been stunted.” Without those distractions, she’s finally able to “see what else I can learn about myself, about who I really am.”

That doesn’t mean she pulled a Don Draper and headed to Esalen. Just weeks after her departure went public, Merriss and Bryan Kanne (her longtime sous chef and partner in life) announced a special dinner at fancy sandwich shop Goose the Market. It sold out so swiftly that a second night was added. It sold out, too. She was also the first-ever chef to hold a pop-up in Old Major Market’s smokehouse space.

Merriss inside Bluebeard’s kitchen, 2018. Photo by Tony Valainis

“I revere Abbi’s abilities,” Old Major owner Mark LaFay says. “As soon as I heard she was available, I was on the phone.”

LaFay isn’t the only heavy-hitter eager to get a piece of Merriss. That fact, too, creates a chance for growth. “I’ve always been in the kitchen where I didn’t have to talk to people,” she says. “Now all these different ideas and concepts are being laid on my table.”

“I still wake up in a panic every morning, thinking I have to get to work, and then it’s like, wait, no,” she says. “Now my life is a Choose Your Own Adventure story.”