In 2009, Charles (Woody) and Cilina Rust opened Woody’s New Orleans West in Oakhurst and after a five-year run, the successful restaurant will close May 3.
Gone to Mountain Area residents will be the Mardi Gras pasta, crawfish balls, deep-fried dill pickles, and many other dishes which were patrons’ favorites on the Cajun cuisine menu.
Cilina and Woody first moved their family to Oakhurst when their oldest was entering high school. They stayed for eight years. They left for New Orleans only to see Katrina hit there just seven weeks after their move. The hurricane destroyed the school in Port Sulphur, Louisiana, where Cilina had been teaching. Restaurant Cuvée, where Woody had been working was closed for a month because of no power and has since closed permanently. The family returned to Oakhurst in 2006.
“We chose Oakhurst mostly because our family was all here and Cilina’s parents, Jaime and Marilyn Lopez,who have lived here for 40 years were here. Cilina, who graduated from Yosemite High School, has always considered this home. We thought this would be a good place to regroup. It has now been eight years,” Woody said. “The restaurant was never really part of the regrouping plan but the opportunity presented itself to us and it was something we had always wanted to try. We have made many friends who feel like part of our family.”
One young restaurant patron told Cilina that eating at Woody’s made her feel like she was a guest in their living room.
At one point, all three of the Rust’s daughters worked at the restaurant and so did one of their husbands and one future spouse. Daughter Jennifer and her husband Nick Hunt now live in San Diego with sons Braddock and Hudson. Lauren Rust and fiancé Nick Bissmeyer live in Bootjack with Lauren’s children Madelynn and Mason, and Nicole Baker is currently in Cypress, Texas, with her two sons, Sam and Nate. All three of the daughters also graduated from Yosemite High School.
“Apparently we both have some gypsy blood in us and would like to see more of the world while we are still young enough to enjoy it,” Cilina said indicating that their plans for the future are still unfolding.
In addition to doing the books and occasionally waitressing, Cilina teaches third grade at Oakhurst Elementary School.
Woody, who grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, began his cooking career training under Chef Wayne St. John at the Narrow Gauge and then was given the chance to be head chef for Mirriam Wackerman at Savoury’s in Mariposa.
While Woody is not a “papered chef,” he feels and tells people he was trained at the school of “hard knocks.” At one point, Woody’s New Orleans Restaurant served brunch, lunch, and dinner. But when son-in-law Hunt, who is a “papered chef,” left, that schedule was just too hectic for Woody to be doing all of the cooking. Since then, Allan Fayne has been assisting in the kitchen and Kylie Freeman has been waitressing and “both are like family,” Cilina said.
“A chef’s tasting at The French Laundry restaurant in Yountville in Northern California, would be my dream meal,” Woody said.
Cilina just shakes her head at the notion — “It’s not worth all that money,” she said.