How Eric Martino, COO of José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup, Balances Family, Restaurants, and a Little Late-Night Pick-Up Basketball

Photo courtesy of ThinkFoodGroup.

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Ask Eric Martino who he looks to for inspiration and the answer comes quickly: “Obviously José Andrés. Who’s more inspiring than him?” Martino has worked with the humanitarian-chef’s ThinkFoodGroup since 2017, stepping into the role of chief operating officer last March. It’s a job that has him ping-ponging around the DC area most days of the week to all ThinkFoodGroup restaurants, including Jaleo, American Eats Tavern, Oyamel, and the veggie-forward, fast-casual Beefsteak. Oh, and the beloved Pepe food truck.

But the 38-year-old father of three and husband to Katherine, a personal trainer and founder of MartinoFit, still manages to work out six days a week for an hour-and-a-half each day and often plays pick-up basketball at night (the Florida native admits to a “little man crush” on Miami Heat point guard Dwyane Wade). He cooks his wife and kids breakfast most mornings, and makes it to “every soccer game, every beauty pageant, every ballet recital.”  Here’s how he gets it done.

I generally get up around 6 AM. I look at all the reports from the night before: the restaurant reviews to see how well we did, how well we were received by our guests, what type of experience we provided, and then I get into the financials part of it, and look and see how well our restaurants performed, so that’s pretty much the first 30, 45 minutes of my day.

I do that as soon as I wake up so that way it’s fresh in my mind, if there are any parameters or if there’s anything I need to address within the teams from a negative experience. But I also compile a list of the positive things, and then start communicating with the team first thing so that way it’s fresh in their inbox when they wake up.

I eat the same thing every day. I have my cup of coffee, which is Bulletproof coffee, and I also add a scoop of collagen, so I get some added protein and get my caffeine going. Then I usually have Greek yogurt with whey protein, and then some sort of fruit, either an apple or a banana, and that’s pretty much my breakfast. I’m out the door generally about 7:45 to 8-ish.

Because traffic is so crazy, I usually hit the gym in the morning. I work out at XSport Fitness right by my house. They’re 24/7 and have an amazing staff. I work out about an hour-and-a-half a day, six if not seven days a week. I do something called—I made it up—a pinwheel workout. Basically, it focuses on one body part for the duration of the workout—I’ll hit chest for four or five exercises, four or five sets, and with a specific amount of reps, medium to heavy weight. For cardio, I used to play college basketball, and there’ll be a couple of pickup games, either late night or in the morning. If not I’ll just run sprints in the gym.

It takes about an hour in the morning to get to DC. I’m only 11 miles outside the city, but depending on when I leave, it could be 28 minutes or it could be an hour. On the way to work, I’m listening to podcasts, I’m sharpening my mind, just trying to calibrate some good positive messages so that way I can help serve my people.

It’s like sharpening your knife if you’re a chef. I was a chef, and now my tool is no longer my knife. My tool is my voice and my mind, I think. My wife might say different.

I was a research and development chef, kno,wn as a “food tech,” for Carrabba’s Italian Grill in the early 2000s. I would create new dishes for the company, fly around, roll them out to 200, 300 restaurants nationwide. I started with them when I was 14. I was a busboy. I went on to become a managing partner with them. Great company.

My attitude on everything is always be of service. I say to our directors and those who help manage the restaurants, if you’re not serving our guests directly, you need to be serving those who are. I think that that works.

I try to have flexibility, although you look at my calendar, it’s one meeting to the next. It goes all day long. I spend the majority of my day in the office. If there’s an initiative or something we’re rolling out, then I’m in the restaurants during the day, watching the initiative take place, talking to guests.

At night, right about 6:30, 7 o’clock, everybody from the office tends to go home, and then I’ll be in the restaurants, again, doing the same thing, just floating around. Or I’ll have an intentional focus at a specific restaurant, making sure that our hospitality’s where it needs to be, or we’re hitting all of our marks.

If I miss the gym in the morning, which can sometimes happen because of meetings, I’ll go at night. I usually leave the office/restaurant area about 9:30, 10. It takes me a half hour to get home, then I’ll go to the gym and work out for an hour-and-a-half. By that time it’s about 12:00, and then I’ll eat, my wife will wake up sometimes, we’ll talk, and then I’m finishing up my administrative stuff and usually in bed by 1:30, 2:00.

I might fall asleep by then, depending on if my laptop’s in my hand or not. And then, you know, the day starts again in the morning.

You know, this is so funny, and this is the God’s honest truth, I’ve never counted the hours. I’ve just always tried to make them count. And I know that sounds cliché, but that’s been my mentality. I promise you, I have never looked at my specific role as a job. It’s always just been something I love to do, so I don’t even view it as work.

Food is what brings everyone together. It’s how you schedule your day, right? There’s no discrimination in food. Everybody needs to eat. To feed ourselves, and our families.

Kim Olsen

Kim Olsen ([email protected]) is a freelance writer in Alexandria.