Backyard BBQ with Southern, Smokey Twist

by Bobby Karalla

Opening the door to the store front, a thick aroma of mesquite-smoked meats strikes the nose before someone behind the counter can even say “hello.”

It’s the powerful scent of Woody B’s BBQ, a six-month-old restaurant that has already been voted “Richardson’s Best BBQ” by Richardson Living. Found just down the street from UTD at 1980 Nantucket, it isn’t like most run-of-the-mill barbecue joints.

Customers stroll into a modest front room that’s perhaps smaller than most master bedrooms. To the right is a huge fridge packed with meats and sides. Containers of cookies, cased by the dozen, sit on a nearby table. That’s it.

The owner doesn’t spend a dime on advertising — the only money he spends is when he gives food to charitable events — and he never plans on having sit-down tables. He says he’ll never expand his business. That’s because Woody Berry likes to keep it simple.

Don’t try to call the owner “Mr. Berry.” The traditional southern gentlemen will respond with, “Call me Woody” in his deep voice and Texan accent. He said customer service is a top priority, and Berry and Gigi — Woody’s high school sweetheart from Corpus Christi and wife of 36 years — make sure to tell a joke or share stories with everyone who walks in.

There’s a lot more to Woody B’s than just another hole-in-the-wall.

Berry learned how to barbecue from his late father, Woodrow Berry — “the original Woody B” as the company website puts it.

It was from his father’s teaching that the son mastered harnessing the flavor of the mesquite wood that bestows the meat with its unique flavor, and gives off that ethereal aroma. To Berry’s knowledge, Woody B’s is the only barbecue joint in Richardson that uses the wood.

To describe the flavor mesquite adds, he used one word: “Intensity.”

Berry developed his own cooking style while working 30-plus years in the restaurant industry, climbing to the top of the ladder of four companies and establishing himself as a restaurant corporate guru, all while raising a family.

He started his first job in the industry in 1975 as a management trainee for the booming chain Steak and Ale. Throughout the next 10 years, he would go on to control 90 restaurants as regional manager.

In the late 1980s Berry left Steak and Ale and over the next 20 years he worked in upper management at several chain restaurants including Tia’s, Chuck E. Cheese’s and Dick’s Last Resort.

By 2004 he’d had enough, and his four children had all graduated. He and Gigi talked it over and decided the time was right to call it quits. He retired from corporate life, but it wasn’t long before he started his passionate project.

Even during his days at Chuck E. Cheese’s, Berry would throw together a few dishes and take them to company parties. Berry said his salmon was always the talk of the evening, but it wasn’t until good friend Don Dickerson asked him to cater his wife’s 40th birthday that the idea for Woody B’s came about.

Roughly 15 referral orders later, word began to spread. After cooking for more than 2,000 people at All Saints Catholic Church events and church-sponsored golf events several years in a row, a wildfire of business sprang up.

All this time, Berry was cooking out of his backyard. His wife described the smell as if the couple was living inside a smoker for months. By Christmas 2009, Gigi gave her husband an ultimatum: Quit smoking mesquite or start a business. Woody went with option B.

By January 2011, the 43-year cooking vet had developed a menu complete with brisket, pulled pork, ribs, chicken, his famous salmon and a bevy of sides.

Today, customers can pick up the meat and sides from Woody B’s, take it home in boil-safe bags and heat it on the stove for roughly 15 minutes to prepare.

On Christmas 2010, before Woody B’s doors opened his restaurant was already doing well. The eager owner received a phone call from a friend who told him to expect a call from former First Lady Laura Bush. Berry didn’t really believe her — he jokingly asked if her husband wanted political advice.

Turns out, though, this friend of his happens to be Ms. Bush’s manicurist. She recommended Berry’s salmon to the Bushes, who placed an order and enjoyed it at Crawford Ranch on New Year’s Eve 2010.

Berry later received a hand-written note from the former First Lady, thanking him for his “wonderful smoked salmon.”

Despite friends, family, his church and a former President and First Lady dining on his food, Berry has remained humble. He said fame isn’t his goal. He just wants to give Richardson some great food.

“I want people to think of us first when they’re thinking barbecue,” he said. “I’m not out there to make a million dollars. That’s not my goal.”