By Published: Dec. 5, 2016

Dave Woodall says CU Boulder education gave him tools to open a from-scratch, comfort restaurant that ‘recalls glamour of mid-century Hollywood’

Dave Woodall (’02 sociology), owner of Los Angeles’s Red Herring restaurant, says the University of Colorado Boulder taught him how to conduct research and teach himself to do anything.

Dave Woodall and Alexis Martin Woodalll

Dave Woodall and Alexis Martin Woodalll

Red Herring, which opened in August, offers “upscale comfort food in a vintage glamour setting.”

While studying physics and, later, criminology in Boulder, Woodall spent his off-hours working in various kitchens around town including Whole Foods, Schlotzsky’s Deli, and the Dairy Queen on the Hill.

Food had always been an important part of Woodall’s life, who was raised at the apron strings of his mother. An adventurous cook, she showed him “a lot of great stuff… and some near disasters.”

Woodall continued cooking for himself in college when he moved out of the dorms. “I spent a small fortune on corn dogs and bacon and then slowly transitioned into buying fresh ingredients,” he says.

After graduating from CU Boulder, he returned to Washington, D.C., to work for an immigration lawyer while preparing for law school.

Then he had an epiphany: His passion was in the kitchen, not the courtroom. So, “I thought, ‘Why not just give it a whirl?’ I headed west, took up cooking full time and never looked back.”

Woodall moved to Los Angeles with his now-wife, CU Boulder alumna and Emmy award- winning executive producer Alexis Martin Woodall. Once there, he hopped on a full-service restaurant line and quickly moved up the ranks. He was promoted to lead line cook after one year. When the chef left the following year, Woodall took over that kitchen and then another one across town.

After working across Los Angeles in every type of kitchen, from short order to Michelin-starred, he became frustrated that restaurant owners wouldn’t let him buy fresh produce from a local farmers’ market. Instead, Woodall had to procure from a third-party warehouse.

“I was paying more for produce a week and a half old that I could have bought fresher and cheaper across the street,” Woodall says.

This, and his passion for food, led him and Martin Woodall to open Red Herring, an upscale, American comfort-food restaurant in the Mayberry-esque neighborhood of Eagle Rock, in northeast Los Angeles.

“Dining out is a privilege,” Martin Woodall says. “It should be an experience, as opposed to a theatrical production. And comfort food can be an experience. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.”

Now, in honoring his passion for local, seasonal and sustainable products, Woodall is able to buy directly from the farmers.

CU Boulder gave me the opportunity to learn how to teach myself…to go out, gather information and find my own knowledge.”

Owning his own restaurant also allows him to explore more unconventional approaches to food. He gets much of his produce from Local Roots, a farm in industrial Los Angeles that uses converted shipping containers to hydroponically grow “some of the most fabulous herbs and lettuce,” Woodall says. “It uses 3 percent of the water of a typical farm. It’s literally the future of food.”

Everything in Red Herring, including pasta and ice cream, is made from scratch. Everything, that is, except Heinz ketchup. “God only made one ketchup, and it’s Heinz,” Woodall says. Red Herring’s menu also includes dishes like Maryland-style crab cakes, yam fritters with herb dressing, and risotto with hand-foraged mushrooms.

Of the menu and Woodall’s creations, Martin Woodall says, “My husband is a genius.”

When asked about the origins of the restaurant’s name, Woodall had this to say: “…it just sounds nice, Red Herring has a pleasing phonetic structure and recalls the glamour era of Hollywood and its Hitchcockian storytellers from the midcentury.”

Business is good and Woodall says Red Herring is fortunate to be able to pursue its primary role as a neighborhood restaurant. “We cater to folks who can walk to us. We want to let it be a community jewel first.”

As he started to research and prepare to launch Red Herring, he realized just how much his education in Boulder informed and spoke to what he loved.

“CU Boulder gave me the opportunity to learn how to teach myself,” Woodall says. “To go out, gather information and find my own knowledge.”

Because of this self-sufficiency, he has the tools to open a restaurant or succeed at anything he wants in life.

Woodall credits CU Boulder’s Michael Radelet, a sociology professor who taught Woodall’s graduate course on death-penalty law, with developing this independence.

“We had to pick something, anything, and then approach it in a scholarly fashion, analyze it, and take that study into a finished thought. It was a massive, high-level research project, from scribbling down information to a final term paper,” Woodall says.

Similarly, when he opened his restaurant, he had to start from scratch, conduct research, and deliver a huge, finished product.

“My early childhood and CU background meshed into something really nice,” Woodall says.

Woodall and Martin Woodall plan on opening additional restaurants with different dining styles, based on the same local, seasonal, sustainable model as Red Herring.

“We’re negotiating what’s next,” Woodall says. “I’d like to open a diner.”