A Q&A With Chef Geoff Tracy About His Move to New York

“There is no fear or fret associated with this opportunity,” says the Chef Geoff’s restaurateur.

By: Todd Kliman

"I'm a DC guy," says Geoff Tracy. Photograph by Yassine El Mansouri.

When we delved into the inner workings of chef Geoff Tracy’s mini empire in “Everywhere at Once,”  Tracy had not yet announced he would be taking the challenge of omnipresent restaurateur to the next level: overseeing his four area restaurants—plus a Rockville location officially opening on Wednesday—from a new home in New York. His wife, Norah O’Donnell, took on a new position as cohost of CBS This Morning in July, and now the Washington power couple and their three children will be spending at least half the year in the Big Apple. So what does this mean for Chef Geoff’s and Lia’s? Todd Kliman spoke with Tracy about his plans for running the restaurants with brother and company president Chris, his thoughts on moving, and a possible New York expansion.—Anna Spiegel

What do you fret about most with this eventual move?

Probably that the food writers will make this into something bigger than it is. But seriously, there is no fear or fret associated with this opportunity. Henry, Grace, and Riley want to check out the big toy store, the tall buildings, and Central Park. I’m eager to check out the food scene and explore the city. I have never spent more than a night in New York City. But remember, I’m not leaving DC; I’m just traveling more. I have spent 21 years of my life here. I am a Washingtonian. I promise you Chef Geoff’s will be rolling here for decades to come.

Can you take me through the process by which you arrived at a decision?

Norah was offered an incredible career opportunity by the great people at CBS News. She’ll be doing more than ten hours of television a week in front of millions of viewers and interviewing some of the most dynamic and important people in the world. Norah has been supporting me for over a decade as I built the restaurants. There wasn’t even an ounce of debate when this opportunity came up. She is going to be amazing in her new role. I am extremely proud of her.

You talked about possibly alternating weeks in the two cities. What are some of the other ideas you’re mulling?

New York and DC are a 50-minute shuttle flight apart. If I moved to Manassas, my commute on I-66 would be 90 minutes. This year I’m staying here in DC with the kids. Norah will be commuting back and forth. In 2013, I will spend more than half the year in DC. And when I’m in DC I will be really focused on restaurant operations. I have mulled going back and forth each week, but that actually is less efficient, as it would be 52 trips instead 26 trips.

What has been the reaction among your regular customers?

Most know Norah, so the first thing is congratulations. The next thing they want to know is, “What are you gonna do?” I tell them we are going on an adventure. Life is meant to be lived, and it is my understanding that this is the only one I get. Norah and I have always jumped at the opportunities that have arisen. It is one reason we get along so well.

What will change about your Washington operations with you in New York?

Nothing for the rest of the team. I’ll just divide up my work into New York-based work and DC-based work. On my New York weeks I’ll probably delve into the operational metrics and sales data a bit more than I would in my DC weeks. I’ll also spend the week in NYC managing marketing, financials, reviewing new opportunities, tweeting about bacon, doing menu development, dreaming up big ideas, and heckling the mayor about speed cameras. On my DC weeks I’ll just visit restaurants and chat with my teams and guests. Management by walking around.

What do you see changing for your brother, Chris?

Chris’s role will stay the same. We meet formally once a week. That won’t change at all. We will continue to bounce ideas back and forth via e-mail.

You have always tried hard to be a certain kind of restaurateur—how will this challenge that? What compromises do you foresee having to wrestle with?

My job as a restaurateur is to surround myself with people who are better than me. I might end up being in the restaurants a little bit less than I would have liked. But that is gonna happen with new restaurants anyway. The key is getting great people into a well-thought-out system. I think we do that pretty well. I am very proud of what my teams make happen on a daily basis. I believe in them.

On a purely selfish level, what did you think initially when you heard about Norah’s job offer in terms of how it would affect you and the restaurants?

I knew I could work out the restaurant thing. I believe in the concept of infinite adaptability: Things perpetually change, and those who accept this and roll with it do better than those that resist it. My only real concern was the kids. But after thinking about it, how awesome is it to be five years old and attend school in New York and spend summers in DC? That’s pretty cosmopolitan growing up in two of the greatest cities in the world. I must admit I was slightly concerned about how this might impact my golf game. I like my mid-afternoon trips to hit balls at Haines Point. I also hope my kids don’t grow up to be Yankee fans.

If you had to put the odds on at least one of the next five being in New York, what would those odds be?

Hmmm, good question. I won’t rule anything out, but it’s not really part of my plan of keeping all the restaurants within 15 miles of our home in DC. Maybe 20-to-1 odds. I’m a DC guy.