Food

Call Your Mother Co-Owner Is Biden’s New Covid Czar

Former Obama economic advisor Jeff Zients is an investor in the popular bagel shop.

Call Your Mother Deli's za'atar-spiced bagel with candied salmon cream cheese, cucumber, and shallots. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Joe Biden has tapped business executive and former Obama economic advisor Jeff Zients as his Covid “czar” to help lead the new administration’s pandemic response, according to Politico. But we like to think of him as the bagel guy. A lesser-known aspect of Zients’s resume is that he’s a partner and investor in DC’s popular “Jew-ish” deli Call Your Mother.

The Kensington native had long dreamed of opening a Jewish deli, and so he teamed up with Timber Pizza owners Andrew Dana and Daniela Moreira to make it a reality. “Similar to me, he’s from this area and spent a lot of time in New York and has experienced a lot of the great deli culture in New York and wanted DC to be able to replicate that,” Dana says.

Dana was connected with Zients through his dad’s friend from summer camp and didn’t know anything about him when they met for the the first time over pies at Pizzeria Paradiso in 2017.

“I showed up for that meeting thinking Jeff was going to be, like, a 22 year old kid, and he was not,” Dana says. “I googled him after our first meeting. I was like, ‘whoa.'”

The wealthy businessman has a background as a CEO and management consultant across a range of industries. He made his fortune early in his career, taking research firms Advisory Board Company and Corporate Executive Board public. He also played a role in luring Major League baseball back to DC and was part of an investor group that tried (but failed) to win ownership of the Washington Nationals. In 2009, Obama appointed him to the new position of “Chief Performance Officer.” During that administration, he was credited with helping smooth out bumps in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.

Zients has also acted as an “advisor and mentor” for Call Your Mother, Dana says. A lot of the recipe testing for the first location in Park View, which opened in the fall of 2018, took place at Zients’s home. Dana has also consulted with him on real estate and other business decisions. Before they came up with the name Call Your Mother, Zients apparently wanted to name the place “Apples & Honey.”

“He was more involved than your typical investor at the beginning,” Dana says. “Candidly, since he’s started working with the Biden transition team, our communication has fallen off a cliff. He has far more important things to worry about than bagels right now.”

In his new role, Zients will oversee the distribution of vaccines and coordinate pandemic response efforts across government agencies. (We hope that when he got the news he called his mother.)

Zients won’t have to worry about the bagel biz too much anyway. Call Your Mother has fared better than most restaurants during the pandemic—and has even expanded. Three new locations have opened since March—in Capitol Hill, Georgetown, and Bethesda. The team recently announced another shop is headed for North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose complex next spring.

“I would put us in the one-percent luckiest type of restaurant,” Dana told Washingtonian in October. “We’re neighborhood based, we’re comfort food, we serve foods that are meant for carryout. We’re positioned perfectly for this, so we really haven’t missed a beat.”

This story has been updated with additional details from Andrew Dana. 

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Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.