It’s 9 a.m. on a fall Friday morning at Oxford Exchange, and power couple Geoffrey and Margaret Zakarian arrive bright-eyed for their photo shoot. Renowned chef restaurateur Geoffrey makes a beeline for the coffee bar to order his wife and business partner, Margaret, a cappuccino — with heart foam. What a romantic.
As they move through the photo session, their magnetic attraction and light-hearted playfulness never tire. They crack jokes and giggle. He suggests that they cross arms with their drinks, and she tells him it’s cheesy — but obliges.
Judging by the reverent way Geoffrey looks at Margaret, 16 years of marriage has flown by. They could pass for newlyweds with their flirtatious energy.
Love Is In The Air
The Zakarians sit shoulder to shoulder for their interview with TAMPA Magazines, relaxed and at ease in each other’s presence. When asked what they’re most attracted to about each other, they beam.
“Geoffrey has such an incredible personality. He’s so charming and has a lot of positivity around him all the time and has a spirit of adventure and excitement,” Margaret says.
It’s debatable whether he’s blushing through his tan. Geoffrey’s turn.
“I saw this lovely woman and she was just so sparkly,” he gushes. “Her smile was really the thing that got me. The most attractive thing for me was her smarts — and her sense of humor.”
The tight-knit pair first crossed paths between business meetings in 2002 in New York. Before they met, Geoffrey had already worked his way up in culinary prominence, graduating from The Culinary Institute of America, studying under a master chef at Le Cirque, becoming executive chef at several high-end New York restaurants and opening his first restaurant, Town. Margaret, who studied theater and business marketing at New York University, directed marketing and events for several restaurants and played an integral role in launching the Meatpacking District Initiative to market the west Manhattan neighborhood. The couple struck up a conversation and quickly became inseparable, marrying three years later and continuing to grow each other professionally and personally.
The dynamic duo has been prolific since launching Zakarian Hospitality in 2005. They have opened and consulted for several fine dining restaurants, developed a product line and partnered on a multimedia production company.
“It’s so rewarding and fulfilling to do it all together,” says Margaret, president of Zakarian Hospitality.
Their New York restaurant endeavors have included the Michelin Star-rated restaurant Country in 2005; opening The Lambs Club and The National in New York City in 2010; and reimagining the iconic Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel in 2014. Geoffrey was New York’s first chef to earn three straight three-star reviews from The New York Times. They branched out to Beverly Hills and opened Georgie at the Montage hotel, and then in 2016 they opened Point Royal and Counter Point at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Florida. In November, they went international, opening The National in Dubai, with plans for nearby in Qatar in 2022.
Among the Zakarians’ latest ventures is one Margaret calls the most fun. In 2016, they launched Zakarian Pro For Home, a product line that has expanded to over 150 items on QVC, including cookware, cooking tools and the Zakarian Collection of food. Margaret focuses on product development and vendor relationships, while Geoffrey sells the products.
“It takes both sides to bring it together,” Margaret says.
In 2017, they partnered with media executives Jaret Keller and Tara Halper to create the multimedia production company Corner Table Entertainment. The emerging business already has an Emmy nomination for a television special that they produced in 2020 to raise money for hunger relief efforts, a podcast called Four Courses with iHeartMedia, a documentary focused on the restaurant industry during the COVID-19 pandemic and a holiday TV special. They plan to grow this company in the coming years.
“I really envision it to be a bigger part of where we spend our time,” says Margaret, one of the company’s executive producers.
Geoffrey agrees, also emphasizing his dedication to Food Network, which he’s been working with for almost 15 years as a longtime judge on Chopped (earning him a James Beard Award), a winning contestant on Iron Chef and co-host of Emmy-nominated daytime series The Kitchen.
The Zakarians’ business approach is to divide and conquer. She handles the financial and operational aspects, while he shops, cooks and takes care of the creative side. When asked how they separate their personal and professional lives, they don’t miss a beat.
“There’s no separation,” she says.
“Zero,” he affirms. “If I’m cooking and I’m experimenting with ingredients, it’s either for writing a book or recipes for the kitchen, but it’s also always for dinner that night.”
When you love what you do, separating work from play isn’t a concern, and when it’s in hospitality, it’s nearly impossible anyway, they conclude. Their professional accomplishments are impressive, but so is how they’ve grown each other personally.
“My wife has been an incredible spiritual leader for me,” Geoffrey says. “She’s the most honest human being I’ve ever met and stays very, very grounded at the same time. I’m always learning every day.”
He has inspired her in another way.
“Geoffrey’s commitment to excellence and his razor focus to bring that incredible work ethic into his work, his family and his life every day is quite amazing — and through osmosis, I feel like I was able to get that,” Margaret reflects.
The Zakarians have built an incredible business, but their proudest accomplishment is one many parents would agree upon: their children.
Margaret and Geoffrey have three kids, Madeline, 14, Anna, 12, and George, 7. The girls have appeared on The Kitchen, the Today Show, Rachel Ray and The Drew Barrymore Show to name a few, and they co-authored their own cookbook, The Family That Cooks Together, a No. 1 National Best Seller. As an aside, Geoffrey’s future goals include producing “many more” cookbooks.
The Zakarians are family focused. These past couple of years due to COVID-19, they spent more time together at home, enjoying movie nights, sharing meals and helping film Geoffrey’s shows.
“They learned what it is to be a family and how important that is,” Geoffrey says.
The couple really opened up when asked what lessons they hope to impart upon their children. Their answers reveal their guiding principles of life.
“I hope they would take away first and foremost to be a good person at heart and kind and honest,” Margaret says. “If you can genuinely be that and you can put that into your business, it’s just magic.”
Geoffrey adds, “I’m learning now that humility is everything and to be grateful for everything you have. And they definitely can learn work ethic from their parents. I don’t think they’ve ever seen two harder working parents.”
Tampa has a special place in the Zakarians’ lives, as Margaret moved here from Niagara Falls, New York, when she was 3. Undoubtedly, she absorbed some of her father’s business acumen. Francis Williams, Chairman of Kimmins Contracting Corporation, relocated the company from Niagara Falls to Tampa and helped grow this family business into one of the area’s premier civil and demolition contractors. Among Kimmins’ notable current projects is Water Street Tampa, arguably Tampa’s most ambitious redevelopment, transforming 56 acres in the downtown waterfront area into a $3.5-billion walkable, urban community.
As for Margaret and Geoffrey, they have always kept a Zakarian Hospitality office inside the Kimmins building, making them no stranger to Ybor and Tampa over the past two decades.
“It’s a gift to work inside a family business,” says Geoffrey, with Margaret adding, “We couldn’t be luckier to see and work alongside cousins and siblings each day. It’s amazing to see the growth of Kimmins and Tampa since the ‘80s. Tampa is on fire!”
The Zakarians are big fans of Tampa’s food scene. Geoffrey’s local favorite grocery stops are Meacham Urban Farm and The Boozy Pig. As for Tampa’s restaurants, the couple rave over Oxford Exchange, Rocca, The Orangery at The Stovall House, DeVito’s Italian Specialties, Psomi, Bern’s Steak House, On Swann and Meat Market. Buddy Brew has become Geoffrey’s go-to coffee stop. Donatello’s is an old favorite of Margaret’s growing up. And for dessert, they favor Oh Yeah Creamery and The Hyppo.
“This town is a gem,” Geoffrey says.
When asked if they have their sights on Tampa for a future restaurant, they don’t rule it out. Fingers crossed, they’ll bring their culinary genius to Tampa’s exploding dining scene. Regardless, the Zakarians are a team to watch as they continue to build their culinary empire.