Sundays are the best days at the Wood Urban Kitchen. The clientele is both the most energized and the most eclectic along that stretch of Market Street in Inglewood; there’s the post-church crowd, the football-watching contingent, the barbecue loyalists, and locals who show up just to listen to music, drink a few cocktails, and hang out. They all have a place at this self-styled “barbecue and sports lounge” in the standalone city’s downtown stretch, and that’s by owner Jonathan DeVeaux’s specific design.
DeVeaux (who, despite the owner title, likes to refer to himself as a consultant for the company, pitching in his ideas while still giving employees and the community a say in what the place will ultimately look and feel like) has essentially only operated the Wood as a pandemic-era restaurant, with a focus on Southern-style, saucy smoked meats. Having opened just weeks before the first round of shutdowns in March 2020 he knows the trials of takeout and curfews, the on-site dining woes and worries about product that goes unsold. Widening the possibilities of what a restaurant can be and do just means more people through the door — good timing too, considering Inglewood’s rapidly-changing customer base.
“Inglewood in 2022 isn’t the Inglewood of yesterday,” says DeVeaux. “It’s a lot more diverse. Our crowd is very mixed. It’s probably still more Black, but that’s the beautiful thing about food: it brings people together.”
For two years, DeVeaux relied on that mantra while building up a stable roster of returning diners eager for brisket, rib tips, smoked links, burgers, and whatever else the kitchen had on hand. He’s part of a growing number of Black Angelenos who are once again reshaping the barbecue scene here and turning customers on to new flavors, new ways of seeing the city’s smoked meat scene. The heaters and sidewalk patio space help, as do the large TVs showing sports basically nonstop. With a few radio ads and a lot of handshakes and smiles, it’s all starting to come together: the Super Bowl is days away, and there’s a tailwind of local support buoyed by Southern California’s recent sports success. It’s good to be a sports bar with community appeal, strong drinks, and a hell of a pulled pork plate in Inglewood right now.
“I’ve only now gotten to the point where this is what I had envisioned,” says DeVeaux, who loves to show off the hard-won packed patio, the busy DJ sets, the jazz nights, and the occasional meme to the Wood’s nearly 20,000 Instagram followers. “I enjoy being here. I enjoy the new energy, the revitalization.” DeVeaux knows that not everyone is faring as well in Inglewood these days, with incoming development pushing out some older residents and businesses even as new money floods in, and he’s sympathetic, particularly for any restaurant that has made it this far into a global pandemic.
“I can’t speak for my peers,” he says, acknowledging the contrast of his own recent success, “but for me, I’m just trying to enjoy it.”
In that way, DeVeaux takes a long view — beyond this year’s Super Bowl, beyond the Eagles or the Grateful Dead shows at the Forum — when thinking about the future of the Wood and the past it will be created from. It’s a smoother ride from his thoughtful, elevated perch, and it makes the hard times seem less choppy, the future less cloudy. “In some ways, it was a little bit better for us to be new when the pandemic hit,” says DeVeaux. “If you open and the pandemic is all you’ve ever known, you don’t have to change your business model. In the beginning, all our customers knew was to come in, take food, and go. It’s not your preferred method, but it was a lot better than closing down a really nice dining room. ” Now, a patio that pulses with customers cheering on the Rams or moving along to live music means the Wood has already won.
In the lead up to the incoming Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium, a scant 1.4 miles away, there will be a three-day Taste of Inglewood food festival on Market Street in front of the restaurant, making for another mixed weekend of locals, football fans, out of towners, music lovers, and barbecue acolytes ready to converge on the one place that can serve them all. DeVeaux is ready for them all. “It’s an exciting time,” says DeVeaux. “And look: the only thing that’s guaranteed is change. You have to embrace it and be willing to pivot. You have to be resilient.” Eventually, he believes, the worth outweighs the wait. “We look forward to being here in Inglewood for years to come.”
The Wood Urban Kitchen is a barbecue restaurant, lounge, and sports bar open for lunch and dinner at 129 N. Market Street in Inglewood, California.