Made In Full: Modern American Delicious Eats
It took decades for Made’s Mark Woodruff to become a chef and to open his own place, but he’s been deep in the restaurant industry since elementary school. “I started rolling silverware at 9 years old,” Woodruff, now 37, says with a laugh.
Food ran in the family. Woodruff grew up in Plano, Texas, where his father and stepmother operated a number of restaurants. Every summer, every holiday, Woodruff found himself helping out with the family business: “I was managing restaurants when I was 16.”
With Made now celebrating two successful years in downtown Sarasota, it’s clear that experience has paid off. “If a breeze comes through the kitchen,” Woodruff says, “I know which door is opening.”
But understanding how to operate a restaurant is one thing—creating a menu is something else entirely. And while Woodruff had labored in the industry for years, eventually moving with his family to Sarasota to help run a downtown restaurant he doesn’t want me to name, until Made came along he had never put his own stamp on a menu. He wanted to change that.
Even on his days off, Woodruff wound up in the kitchen, cooking for 15 or 20 friends he’d invite over for a feast. He drew on his Texas upbringing for inspiration, and added Southern touches when it seemed right.
In 2005, after his father passed away, Woodruff realized he could afford to take a couple years off and go to culinary school. He chose one of the best: the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Already 27, Woodruff found himself sharing dorm rooms with 17- and 18-year-olds. On the weekends, he would travel south to Manhattan, where he staged at world-renowned spots like Le Bernadin and Per Se, working for free and crashing with a friend. The learning process was simple: “I’d pay attention,” Woodruff says.
After graduating and returning to Sarasota, Woodruff started looking for a spot to call his own. In 2012, he got a call with news that Brasserie Belge, a Belgian spot located next to Mediterraneo and across from the Hollywood 20, was closing up, and Woodruff sprang into action.
“Seven months later, we were open,” Woodruff says. “We opened this restaurant with $160,000 and $10,000 credit. I had to pull every favor from my friends.” With all his experience in the biz, Woodruff knew the right people to call. Getting a liquor license took just two weeks.
The guiding philosophy at Made is clear. “We make everything,” Woodruff says. Even down to the condiments. Made produces its own ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, etc., and the kitchen even produces many of the items you find in their craft cocktails, stuff like specialty simple syrups, grilled lemons, candied ginger and homemade Bloody Mary mix.
The menu reflects the food Woodruff grew up with. Tacos stuffed with slow-roasted pork shoulder nod to Tex-Mex, while the double-fried chicken and fried cube steak represent the South. A peach barbecue glaze puts a spin on classic dry-rubbed and smoked ribs from Texas.
But the dishes never remain static. Woodruff is constantly tinkering with ingredients and proportions. His sausage gravy kept turning out bland, so instead of adding plain flour, Woodruff tried mixing in the seasoned flour he uses to fry chicken. Voilá. Managerial savvy also plays a role. The restaurant’s barbecue sauce was tying up two stockpots and two burners for six hours—shifting to making it overnight has saved time and kitchen space.
Woodruff admits he was “very nervous” to take over the Brasserie Belge space, which had been home to a number of other nowclosed spots like the coffee and gelato café Jolly and Buddha Belly Donuts. But great press and solid awards led to good traffic, and Woodruff is conscious of pricing his dishes correctly. “We stayed in the black most of the time,” Woodruff says of the restaurant’s early months.
After surviving that first year, Woodruff made a conscious decision to push himself to begin incorporating more local ingredients. “It just took me awhile to get my shit together,” he says. The restaurant now cooks with butter and heavy cream from Dakin Dairy Farms and Woodruff himself hits up the downtown Sarasota farmers’ market to purchase ingredients for Made’s popular Sunday brunch. The corn tortillas for Made’s breakfast tacos come straight from La Primavera, a Mexican grocery just up the Trail.
What’s next? Woodruff is considering opening other Mades in New Jersey and Austin, Texas. Managing restaurants long-distance could prove formidable, but Woodruff knows what he wants.
“I want that laid-back Texas don’t-give-ashit attitude,” Woodruff says. “Everyone can come, and they’re going to sit down to something delicious.” Sounds like Made all right.