When Justin Tauch opened up his first tattoo shop in Bixby Knolls three years ago, he never expected it to become one of the most popular places to get inked in Long Beach.
Inside the intimate space, a plethora of unique illustrations hang on the light blue walls—a color that resembles the flag of his native Chicago. Lights reflect off the glossy wood floors, where one corner is decorated with a coffee table and couches that give the shop an at-home vibe.
Walking into a tattoo shop for the first time can be a stressful experience for some people, Tauch said. So when he thought about opening up his own shop, he wanted to create an environment where customers could visit and “feel at ease instead of anxiousness.”
That method has proved to be successful for the shop. It was voted one of the top five tattoo shops in the Post’s “2022 Best of Long Beach” list, a title that’s earned through votes by community members.
“I’ve worked at a lot of different shops, and almost everyone that I worked for told me to never open a shop and that I’d hate it,” Tauch said. “But I felt like I was at a point in my career where I ready to do it.”
Tauch was born on the north side of Chicago. From an early age, his sister appeared to have a natural talent for drawing, which encouraged Tauch to also learn.
Inspired from a young age by the illustrations in Spawn, a monthly comic book about a superhero/antihero, and the Japanese anime Dragonball Z, Tauch soon developed his own illustrative style.
“I just knew that was going to be the route that I was going to take, especially because in high school, all my classes that I had that were art-related—I would always end up doing well in them,” Tauch said.
After high school, he attended the American Academy of Art in Downtown Chicago, where he is still friends with some of his professors, Tauch said. There, he also met his wife, Carla.
Throughout his time in Chicago, Tauch explored different avenues where he continued to hone his art, working freelancing gigs where he created designs for skateboard decks and a beer company.
While getting his own tattoos, he’d ask his artists questions about their style and how they performed certain techniques. “I was always planting the seeds,” Tauch said.
One day while walking in the suburbs of Chicago, he walked upon a tattoo shop and looked at the art on the wall. At that moment, he thought, maybe tattooing would be something he’d be good at.
But getting at an opportunity in the tattoo industry proved to have its difficulties. First off, Tauch had to find an apprenticeship, but there wasn’t anyone taking applications at the time.
But Tauch persevered. He knew his strengths, which eventually led to his first offer to be a tattoo apprentice.
Ever since then, it’s been “full throttle” for Tauch’s tattoo career.
For a while, all was fine until Chicago began experiencing a “Snowpocalypse” in 2011, where record-breaking winters hit the city for four years, Tauch said.
“If you look at pictures, it looks like the movie ‘The Day After Tomorrow,” Tauch said. “Every winter was the worst winter I’d ever had.”
One particular incident, however, finally convinced Tauch it was time to move. A blizzard had struck Chicago, and he had to get to an appointment with a client.
His car was snowed in, and his only other option at the time was to walk 2 miles in the heavy snow to make it on time.
In 2015, Tauch and his wife moved to Long Beach.
“There was something that was very Chicago about Long Beach,” Tauch said. “Chicago and Long Beach have a very strong community and a hometown vibe kind of thing.”
Once Tauch found the right location in Bixby Knolls, Breakwater Tattoo opened for business in 2019.
Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, affecting businesses like Tauch’s, which had to close for months at a time amid restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.
During this time, Tauch applied for grants and made artwork for customers on commission to help the shop survive. He also traveled to states with more lax COVID-19 restrictions like Montana to do guest spots.
“We had everything working against us,” Tauch said. “… but we thought, ‘We’re making the best of it. This isn’t going to last forever.’”
By January 2021, restrictions that had prevented tattoo shops from being open eased, allowing Breakwater Tattoo to reintroduce itself to the community.
Since then, work has been nonstop, and Tauch said his artists are often booked up to three to six months in advance.
“We’re here to stay,” Tauch said. “People in Long Beach have a genuine appreciation for each other and they’re very supportive of local businesses.”
On Nov. 13, Breakwater Tattoo celebrated its three-year anniversary with a “Flash Day,” where clients got to pick from a sheet of pre-drawn illustrations to get tattooed.
Customers got to the shop early and eagerly waited in a line that stretched to the outside of the corridor. Some clients who were just finished getting a tattoo went back in line for the chance to get another one.
“One of my favorite aspects of tattooing is getting to know my clients,” Tauch said. “This is a dream come true for me.”
Editor’s note: This article was updated with a different photo of a tattoo by Justin Tauch.