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Biden Taps DC Bagel Shop Founder as White House Chief of Staff

Jeff Zients was an original investor in Call Your Mother

Photograph of Call Your Mother’s Georgetown location by Kayla Wallace.

President Joe Biden plans to name Jeff Zients as the new White House chief of staff. Zients may be nationally known as the former Obama economic advisor who became Covid “czar,” helping lead the current administration’s pandemic response. But locally, his claim to fame is co-founder of bagel hotspot 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 told Washingtonian in 2020.

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 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, helping take 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,” and he was credited with helping smooth out bumps in the rollout of the Affordable Care Act. In his more recent role as White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Zients oversaw pandemic response and the largest vaccination campaign in US history. He left the role in April. 

Meanwhile, Zients has also acted as an “advisor and mentor” for Call Your Mother, helping Dana with real estate and other business decisions. 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. 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. Zients divested from the bagel biz—which has seven locations and counting—once he joined the Biden administration.

But the Biden administration clearly has an affinity for Call Your Mother. Biden’s very first DC restaurant outing as president was a bagel run to the Georgetown location. And according to the New York Times, Zients sponsored Bagel Wednesdays in the West Wing. 

We’re looking forward to the White House’s obvious paint job:

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.