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Woodblock Cocktails & Food

Laidback elevation

Finding everything you want in a dining experience in one place is not easy. Maybe you want a touch of fine dining but hate white linens and stuffy service. Maybe you want a good burger but prefer not to order off an enormous board through a microphone from your car. Maybe you like some efficient attention from your server without them becoming your new best friend. Where could this ideal place be?

Woodblock in Redmond meets those needs and adds a little sugar on top. Tony and Carolyn Scott (photo) opened Woodblock in March 2016 with a "family first" concept (family being staff, guests, community). They were living in Redmond, had kids in school there, and felt like typical Redmond-ites. They'd talked about opening a restaurant for years and wanted it to be unpretentious, inventive, and a little upscale. "We gave a lot of thought to what Redmond didn't have and what we'd want," explains Tony. "As a kid, my parents moved us to England for a year or two at a time, so I've always had an affinity for British/European food. That's how Scotch Eggs became part of the original menu and are still served."

Whiskey was part of the concept from day one as well. "No one was doing it in Redmond. I could have opened a brewery because I love beer and the brewing process. But there are so many breweries that it didn't make sense to us to start another one. Whiskey seems more artistic to a certain extent; it has such history behind it."

They found a new building and looked at the plan for the area, like the park that's now across the street. "The space had an impact on what kind of restaurant we had, too," says Tony. "High ceilings and tall windows did not lend themselves to a dark neighborhood bar with darts in the back." Both Tony and Carolyn had industry backgrounds, and they wanted an open kitchen. "We chose an open kitchen to help create a restaurant family who works together. The closed kitchens at the restaurants we worked were divided us/them. No one position makes it alone. We want the kitchen staff to see the guests enjoying their food, and guests love watching the show - this why we added the counter seats. It's a fun experience."

All was going well until the pandemic hit and Tony got a cancer diagnosis. In 2020, they hired Ira Muench (photo) as their GM to handle basically everything until Tony was back on his feet. "He's made himself indispensable; we can't do without him now!" Ira's youthful plan was to become a rock star (and he did tour as a drummer), but he also started in the restaurant industry at 17 at a tiny restaurant in Kirkland, moved to Olive Garden, then to Daniel's as a server. After just three months he became a Daniel's manager and was the second youngest manager for Schwartz Bros. at 29. He worked at Chandler's, then switched to John Howie Steak. He was working at Ascend in Bellevue when the pandemic hit. Something snapped and he said, "I am done with suits and ties." He found his way to Woodblock, fell in love with the restaurant and working with Tony and Carolyn. "Ira has brought so much to Woodblock, but maybe the biggest thing is the professionalism and training of the staff. It's not only the mechanics of serving, bartending, and customer service. We've always hired people with the ability to engage and be outgoing. He's taken it to another level." Ira adds, "It's the 'College of Schwartz Bros.' For my first year at Woodblock, it was one chef and me. One of the benefits of COVID for us was that people were out of jobs. I was able to bring in professional people, like someone who had been with Daniel's for 24 years. Another hire had been in the industry for 12 years; he's now the GM at Spark Pizza (Tony and Carolyn's other restaurant in Redmond). I grabbed some of the best in the business and they love it here. Because they know how to streamline things, two servers can now handle what 4-5 servers use to, with an increase in time spent with the customers. You don't dumb down service, you prep in advance. Part of the fun for me is elevating people, seeing them grow. Servers are like actors on stage and every table is a different world."

With over 850 whiskeys on the wall and, in total, over 1000 spirits, staff needs to be knowledgeable. "Every staff member takes a bartender's shift," says Ira. "After a week or two, they understand how important the wall is to the restaurant and they are able to offer elevated service to customers. Elevated customer service comes in many ways. My mom has worked for 60 years, and she hosts three days a week here. She also does the flower arrangements inside and out, and makes dog treats for the neighborhood dogs. That's all part of our elevated service and it strengthens Tony's and Carolyn's brand."

Connie Adams/July 2023

Stay tuned for part 2 in August.

16175 Cleveland St
Redmond, WA 98052

Spiced baby carrots, feta yogurt

Spark Pizza
8110 164 th Ave NE
Redmond, WA 98052

Photos courtesy of Woodblock


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