In 1995, before he even went to culinary school, restaurateur Geoff Tracy waited tables at local American restaurant, Cafe Deluxe. Now, the namesake of Chef Geoff’s is a co-owner of the dining room where he got his start. Chef Geoff’s, which has two locations plus Lia’s, has merged with Clover Restaurant Group, which operates four locations of Cafe Deluxe plus Tortilla Coast on Capitol Hill.
Clover Restaurant Group co-owner Brian Sullivan first approached Tracy a few years ago about bringing their restaurants under the same umbrella, but Tracy says the timing wasn’t right. They restarted conversations a year ago, and finalized the deal on Monday.
The new venture, called Chef Geoff’s Deluxe Hospitality, is a 50-50 split; Tracy and his brother Chris own half of the company, and Clover Restaurant Group’s Sullivan and his father Jim own the other half. The merger was also an opportunity for Tracy give his brother, previously president of Chef Geoff’s Restaurant Group, equity in the company. The brothers now have equal stakes and will run the day-to-day operations of the new group, while the Sullivans “look for new business opportunities.”
In studying the deal, the companies discovered they had similar valuations and cultures, and that the skills of their executive leadership teams dovetailed nicely. “A lot of things sort of fell into place and worked well,” Tracy says. It helped that Tracy and Sullivan—both Georgetown grads—have been friends for many years. (Their kids are on the same swim team.)
So, what does this all mean for diners?
Not too much in the near term. Chef Geoff’s will remain Chef Geoff’s, and Tortilla Coast will remain Tortilla Coast. One of the first steps will be merging the restaurants’ loyalty and gift card programs.
Behind the scenes, the group is looking to crossover some employee benefits (including discounts for dining at the other restaurants). The merger also means more purchasing power. “Hopefully, in the upcoming weeks, we can get a little better deal on apples, if you know what I mean,” Tracy says.
Going forward, the restaurant group is looking to expand its existing concepts and create some new ones. In fact, they’re already in talks with landlords.
In the meantime, the partners will be having a lot of meetings with their managers and chefs about whose systems to adopt or whether to create new ones. Tracy calls it a “strength finding tour.” Everything is on the table at this point.
“We’re really just going to ask a lot of questions,” he says.