Woody Phillips, founder of Los Angeles’s influential restaurant Woody’s Bar-B-Que, died on December 31, 2019. Over the last 45 years, Phillips opened three Woody’s Bar-B-Cue locations throughout South LA, which helped establish the Phillips clan as the Southland’s first family of barbecue. He was 78 years old.
According to Woody’s daughter Roderick Phillips, her father had been sick for some time. The elder Phillips suffered his first major stroke on New Year’s Eve 2008, and struggled to fully recover. Phillips kept a regular presence at his three restaurants in recent years, but with minimal physical activity. Woody Phillips celebrated his birthday on December 27, and died four days later on New Year’s Eve in 2019.
Roderick Phillips began working at the family business in 1991, and will keep the businesses going.
“He’s still with me. We’re going to try and continue what we’ve been doing for the last 45 years. He didn’t want it to die when he did. I’ll continue to do the best I can to carry on his legacy. ”
Originally from Louisiana, Woody Phillips settled in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Phillips worked at UCLA McDonnell Douglas Aircraft and even launched a gardening business, among others. But in the mid-1970s, he convinced a proprietor into selling a restaurant space on Slauson near Crenshaw Boulevard. The lease and business cost $3,500, according to the Los Angeles Times, and became the flagship location for Woody’s Bar-B-Cue in 1975. Phillips worked the barbecue pit while his wife Jenetha handled the cash register.
Phillips’s barbecue legacy even branched out in South LA. Woody’s cousin Foster Phillips operates the popular Phillips Bar-B-Cue, which has locations in West Adams and Inglewood.
Outside of the barbecue business, Woody Phillips was active in the South LA community. Over the decades, Phillips helped individuals start their own businesses and further their education. He also developed a youth ministry for gang members as a member of Holman United Methodist Church in Jefferson Park.
At Woody’s Bar-B-Cue, staff still prepare barbecue on brick ovens with oak wood, and utilize a water hose to keep the fire down. Woody’s signature smoky flavor and sauce is well-known throughout Los Angeles, and appreciated by generations of locals.
The late LA Times critic Jonathan Gold lovingly described Woody’s as “worth that wait for the crusty pork ribs spurting with juice; thick, blackened hot link sausages; chewy, meaty little rib tips; fancy-tasting smoked chicken and charred slices of well-done brisket.”
“A little part of black LA’s soul and heritage dies every time we lose entrepreneurs like Woody,” says former LA resident Stevonne Ratliff. “I don’t recall any other restaurant where you can get sock it to me cake, and perfectly smoky, spicy ribs. I hate when the old school Black restaurants lose their legendary people because they’re rarely replaced.”
Long Beach resident Virgil Petrie used to work near Inglewood, and the office’s favorite is Woody’s. “We love Woody’s at my job,” says Petrie. “I work for a horse racing network and we used to broadcast from Hollywood Park. It didn’t take long for us to find Woody’s. Usually, about thirty of us would chip in before picking it up. Our newsroom smells heavenly when it’s in the house! I’m sorry to hear of his passing. Condolences to his family and staff.”
Woody Phillips is survived by his wife Jenetha Phillips, children Greg, Tracy, Tyreke, and Roderick Phillips, along with his nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.