EQUAL PARTS STYLE AND SUBSTANCE COMBINE TO MAKE GREG RYAN THE PERFECT FACE OF JEFFREY’S AND JOSEPHINE HOUSE
There’s a recurring fictional character we all wish we knew, or could be, in real life: someone who, regardless of the circumstances or company, knows exactly what to say and do to make others feel at ease. Self-assured but modest in tone, such a person is cool and unflappable, even in the most chaotic of settings. And, in the best film or literary portrayals, this character possesses a full measure of sophisticated style that makes everything he wears and does appear effortless.
In Austin, at one of the city’s most iconic restaurants, the nonfiction version of the character who makes everyone feel catered to – and most importantly, confident in their decision about where to spend their dining time and treasure – is Greg Ryan.
An hour spent chatting with the affable general manager of Jeffrey’s and next-door sister restaurant Josephine House, and it’s easy to see how Ryan is perfectly suited (double entendre intended) to his job. At both restaurants, as with all McGuire Moorman Hospitality establishments, the standards are high, the pace is demanding, and an easy elegance is delivered with every dining experience.
On a weekday afternoon, before happy hour patrons arrive, Ryan and I visit at a table for two in a sunny corner at “Jo House,” an affectionate abbreviation used by regulars. Dressed in a gorgeous blue suit, spread collar white shirt, and perfectly knotted tie, Ryan appears completely unrushed and present. In answer to my question about his personal aesthetic, he laughs.
“I can’t say I’ve ever spent time thinking about that,” Ryan answers. “What comes to mind is that l like to feel prepared every time I walk through the doors. That pretty much sums it up; how I dress definitely impacts how prepared I feel. Wearing a suit that fits me well makes me feel like I’m ready for anything that comes my way.”
Ryan doesn’t consider himself a clotheshorse by any means and doesn’t particularly love to shop. But, to meet his personal criteria, he selects what he wears with care and thinks of the suits he’s worn to work every day for the past 12 years as a uniform. “I think the way you dress sets the tone and expectations for what you do and the way you do it,” he says. “Every interaction with my team and our guests matters to me.”
Ryan’s closet currently holds about five great suits and 20 or so jackets, some of which used to have pants. “For some reason,” he says, “I’m much harder on the pants.”Over the years, he’s figured out what works for him in terms of fit. He also looks for overall value, in suits and shoes, especially. “When you wear a suit to work every day, you find out which fabrics and brands last over the long haul and that’s crucial. It may be more expensive but the extra cost proves worth it.”
For suits, Ryan favors Freemans Sporting Club from ByGeorge and J. Crew’s Ludlow cut. Solids and subtle, clean patterns define his tastes. “When I worked in New York, I experimented with different kinds of ties, and patterned shirts and socks, but they didn’t really feel like me,” he says. “Classic looks, modern but not trendy, are more my thing.” Lacking any pretense, Ryan perfectly embodies a style-over-fashion ethos.
Ryan knows his job well and recognizes that restaurants provide an emotional experience; his style of dress is completely consistent with his warm and respectful personality. With a resume that includes years at New York City’s Per Se and the famed Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel & Bungalows, he cites as mentors some of the most respected managers and maître d’s in the hospitality industry. In talking about his time at California’s fabled Pink Palace, he speaks with reverence about working alongside Pepe De Anda, a 30-year veteran there.
“Pepe is amazing in the way he handles the room,” he tells me with real enthusiasm. “He could sit down, at any given moment, with every guest and have a conversation about their kids, vacation or whatever was happening that day. His relationships are special…he made each guest feel comfortable because he’d developed trust and mutual respect. You really watch and learn from people like that. Guests came for the interaction with Pepe – it’s not just about dining but the whole experience.”
Comparing him to De Anda might feel like a stretch to Ryan, but it doesn’t to his loyal regulars, proving that being at the top of his sartorial game is not the only reason he’s come to be known as the face of Jeffrey’s and Josephine House.
Read more from the Food Issue | July 2017