How the owner of DC restaurants stayed afloat with new ventures


  • Geoff Tracy’s DC-based restaurants have stayed afloat and are slowly returning again to regular, regardless of the ongoing pandemic. 
  • Tracy informed Business Insider that he is solely not too long ago gotten used to the new regular, after months of working what he mentioned seems like seven or eight completely different companies.
  • Like many restaurant house owners, he is needed to make sacrifices, like limiting opening hours and streamlining menus, and adjusting to new rules hasn’t been straightforward.
  • But the disaster, he shared, has additionally given him a chance to faucet into philanthropy, together with providing providers to his most loyal prospects and creating new jobs for 200 folks with PPP cash. 
  • Looking forward, Tracy mentioned he is been capable of work out offers with “generous” landlords, however he predicted takeout and supply are prone to keep so long as native jurisdictions hold companies outdoor. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for extra tales.

Geoff Tracy’s line of Washington, DC-area restaurants have all miraculously managed to outlive the final six months. It’s actually been an attention-grabbing experience for Tracy, husband to anchor Norah O’Donnell of “CBS Evening News” and coauthor of the New York Times bestselling cookbook “Baby Love: Healthy, Easy Delicious Meals for Your Baby and Toddler,” who thought when the pandemic first got here on the scene in March that it will be “the worst two to three weeks of his career.” 

Then, at the starting of April, he figured, issues would get again to regular. 

“I didn’t realize that this was going to be a full-fledged marathon with no end in sight,” mentioned Tracy, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. His restaurants serve 750,000 friends annually and make use of a whole bunch.

Now everybody has settled into their respective mountains or holes, with grocery shops sitting on mountains and the airline trade in a gap, in keeping with Tracy. He’s not fallacious — CNN Business not too long ago reported that the airline trade could must shrink its labor prices in half to outlive. Restaurants throughout the nation are additionally in a gap, as Business Insider reported in June.

Tracy mentioned he is felt like he is run seven or eight completely different companies since the pandemic hit. Today, he lastly seems like issues are extra in a stream, with outside eating and their profitable takeout and pickup “comfort meal” enterprise.

Here are the steps he took to remain afloat.

Selling important provides

To survive on day one of the shutdown in DC, Tracy opened up pantries, the place his restaurants began promoting important provides like bleach, gloves, and gallons of milk. 

“Part of it was, what are we going to do with all our inventory with no one coming into the restaurants?” Tracy mentioned. 

Tracy’s restaurants have been promoting fruits, greens, rice, pasta, and pasta sauces out of their pantries. They have been arrange as nonprofits, the place 50% of all gross sales went to the tip jar for workers. It generated an additional $15,671 for the staff at two of his restaurants, Chef Geoff’s and Lias, from mid-March to mid-June. It was what Tracy mentioned he felt compelled to do after each server, bartender, host, and busser was out of work.

“Doing something for others at that time sort of helped us mentally through that darkness,” he mentioned.

Running goodwill tasks

He and his staff additionally did a bunch of goodwill tasks, together with free automotive washes for patrons and calling their prime 500 loyalty level members and providing to run errands for them. They picked up prescriptions, dropped off dry cleansing, and gave rides to physician’s appointments. 

“It was money spent on labor that didn’t generate sales but generated goodwill,” Tracy mentioned. “A lot of people were very impressed and thankful.”

Creating new jobs to spend PPP cash

When his restaurants acquired their Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) cash in early April, he was informed to spend all of it inside eight weeks (that was finally prolonged to 24 weeks). He mentioned he obtained over $1 million, primarily based on 2.5 occasions his common month-to-month payroll in 2019. Tracy was pressured to get artistic to spend all of it in that quick quantity of time.

cook with pasta dish credit Sarah Palmer

Cook with pasta dish.

Sarah Palmer


“I created new jobs,” he mentioned. “I told my handyman to hire 12 people who could fix things.” He mentioned he employed over 200 folks, and 75% of the PPP went to staff — the relaxation to landlords and utilities.

Those dozen folks went to his restaurants and sanded down tabletops, refinished and redid flooring, and painted. “They fixed everything, all stuff you don’t think about when your restaurant is open every day, all day long,” he mentioned. “This puts us in a better position moving forward.”

Tracy moreover employed a restaurant designer to generate new paint coloration concepts and design.

Selling wine stock

There was additionally an enormous wine stock his eateries have been sitting on, since nobody was capable of dine in and order a glass or bottle. Thankfully, DC restaurants have been quickly granted the skill to promote wine to go. He took benefit of that and ended up liquidating his wine stock — about $50,000 value.

“During the early part of the pandemic, everyone wanted to make sure they had enough toilet paper and enough alcohol,” he mentioned. “I was having to-go orders that would include two bottles of chardonnay, two bottles of cabernet, and six rolls of toilet paper — I was like, I went to culinary school for this?”

The restaurants ran pantries for a couple of months and dialed them again as soon as they have been allowed to supply outside seating at the finish of May into the starting of June. With no friends in over two-and-a-half months, Tracy mentioned it was good to lastly hear the sound of china and silverware once more. He’s been lucky that his restaurants have good-sized patios, too. Managers have develop into adept at maximizing them, creeping an increasing number of towards sidewalks and including an additional desk right here and there. 

Shutting down at lunch

Another new change was that Tracy shut his restaurants down for lunch (some are nonetheless open weekend afternoons). With lunch not being significantly worthwhile and requiring nearly the identical quantity of labor as dinner, shutting down offers staff some respiration time. 

Outdoor dining at CGS credit Sarah Palmer

Outdoor eating at CGS.

Sarah Palmer


“All we’re doing at lunch is generating sales tax for the city,” Tracy mentioned. “My teams enjoy not having to do the restaurant grind from 11 a.m. to midnight.” His venues additionally shut earlier, with the final seating at 9 p.m. as a substitute of 10. “A lot of those time and closing changes were to stop the bleeding that occurred in March and April,” he added.

Streamlining menus and including tech

Tracy’s groups additionally sat down and streamlined their menu to return up with dishes that concerned rather less labor and traveled properly. The group had beforehand carried out vacation meals for households to take out and eat. They maximized this by creating consolation meals for households and events of two. They’ve since supplied Greek hen with rice, numerous pastas, hen parmesan, fajitas, and extra. The enterprise has been so fashionable that the meals have generated about $285,000 in gross sales since April, Tracy mentioned. 

“You have to rethink as a full-service restaurant,” Tracy mentioned. “It was a business model we converted to on the fly.”

There have been rather a lot of logistics to work by, like utilizing a sort of software program that will effectively group orders for drivers who collected a $25 supply payment for every order.

His restaurants additionally upgraded their know-how, taking benefit of the Toast platform to do tableside ordering. The program streamlines issues so a number of servers aren’t touching the identical pc display screen for sanitation functions and prospects can do tableside, contactless fee. Takeout and supply are additionally built-in to make issues simpler.

“At the beginning everyone was calling to place an order,” Tracy mentioned. “We just didn’t have enough phones or people and we were messing up orders and stuff like that.”

Looking forward

As far as trying towards the future, Tracy believes takeout and supply are right here to remain, no less than for the subsequent few years. He additionally has the winter season and lease looming. For the subsequent 5 to 6 months, he is labored out offers with his landlords who’ve been “generous,” he mentioned. 

“We’ve been able to pay landlords with some PPP money, but the reality is until sales get back to what they were in 2018 and 2019, it’s going to be hard to pay rent,” he added.

Given that DC is a novel space with three completely different states making up the metro space, enterprise will depend on what native jurisdictions rule. Tracy has restaurants in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Currently, most of Tracy’s restaurants are at 50% capability indoors.

“Maybe when there’s no outdoor dining that will change, but what are the implications of that — more outbreaks?” he mentioned. “It’s a little scary to think about serving the amount of people inside that we’re serving on the outside, I just don’t think it will work.”

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