What's Harder, Opening a Restaurant or Making a TV Show?
Alexis Martin Woodall, the president of Ryan Murphy Productions, weighs in. Her new restaurant, Red Herring, just re-opened in Los Angeles.
When you’re in L.A. and someone says “the industry,” they’re almost always talking about Hollywood.
But as the city gets more national acclaim for what it’s always excelled at—food—there’s another “industry” in town. One that’s just as hard to break into and where everyone wants to make it big. And one woman has quite possibly mastered both: Alexis Martin Woodall.
As the president of Ryan Murphy Productions, she’s produced Glee, American Horror Story and People vs. O.J. Simpson. And along with her husband, chef Dave Woodall—whose resume includes Michelin-starred Melisse—she runs Red Herring in downtown Los Angeles. It re-opened December 16, a shiny new version of its previous location in Eagle Rock, in northeast L.A.
While it’s not uncommon for entertainment execs and celebs to own restaurants, Alexis actually works in hers. She’s ordered (and re-ordered) the restaurant’s bar stools, designed the website at 3 a.m. the week before the re-open, and may or may not have resurrected her past life as a P.F. Chang’s hostess. (She worked for the restaurant chain in high school and then again after college, when she moved to L.A. to look for a production assistant job. It turns out she wrote the book on being a hostess, literally—she created P.F. Chang’s training materials.)
“I think about it like a T.V. show,” Alexis said, of working in restaurants. She’s currently working on the Netflix series Ratched, out later this year. “I got to the end of an episode that we locked two months ago, and I emailed Ryan [Murphy] at the end when I was signing off on the final thing and realized we should revisit a particular shot. You want be focused on the story all the time. That’s what I do here at the restaurant.”
“And that’s what we do here at the restaurant,” she continued. “I want the guests to feel like they have all the choices in front of them, but we’ve made every choice for them. They come in and the lighting is right. The music is good. The room is warm.”
Last year, Alexis got appointed as president of Ryan Murphy Productions. It was a long time coming. In 2003, she started as a production assistant for Murphy’s show Nip/Tuck. Two years later, at age 24, she was a post-production coordinator when Murphy named her the new associate producer.
At the same time, Dave Woodall—Alexis’s then-boyfriend, now-husband—had gotten promoted to be the executive chef at Blair’s in Silverlake. They never saw each other.
“We were these babies, given a lot of pressure and intense scrutiny,” Alexis said. Being in the same field might have made it easier, maybe—but less interesting. “I don't think anyone really should ever date someone in their field. You go to your work and you talk about it, then you go home and talk about it. Then again, I married the person and made this my field; now we're just fucked either way,” she said, laughing.
And now, with Red Herring 2.0—right next to Whole Foods, on the ground floor of one of those fancy apartment buildings in DTLA—their newest project comes with a 140-page lease and $90,000 worth of lights.
On offer are sweetbreads with hummus, caper yogurt, and sumac; ricotta toast with pickled tomatoes and cured yolks; shaved Brussels sprouts with kumquat. “There’s nothing new on that menu. It’s just that we care about it,” Dave said. “Those ingredients, those ideas are all out there. There's nothing new in the world. But doing it well and doing it with care makes it stand out.”
Besha Rodell, the critic who named our World's Best Restaurants in 2019, paid a visit to Red Herring’s original location in 2017. She wrote of the food: it’s “better than it needs to be.”
“I really didn’t understand that for a while, and it hurt me a lot,” the chef said. “It’s since then become kind of a goal. People work so hard for their money. You can’t pick a more expensive, wasteful way to feed yourself. You really can’t.”
The promise of Red Herring, then, is that it’s actually good. Better than it needs to be. And with an Emmy-winning producer's eye, the restaurant is run with the precision of a television set.
"I've always been a step ahead for Ryan [Murphy]," Alexis told the Hollywood Reporter when the restaurant opened in December. "I could look at the room, essentially his dinner table, and say, 'Oh, shit, he needs a salad fork and more water, and a little bit of salt. And I'm going to get that for him before he asks for it.'"
In a city that can offer artifice, Red Herring—despite its name—delivers. As for what's harder?