First Watch CEO Chris Tomasso wins operator of the year honors from IFMA

The full-service veteran was named this year's winner of the Gold Plate award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA).
Chris Tomasso, right, and his wife, Melissa. | Photo courtesy: IFMA.

Chris Tomasso, CEO of the daytime dining concept First Watch, was named the 2024 winner of the Gold Plate award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA), an honor bestowed on the operator chosen from across all of foodservice as the year’s best.

Tomasso was selected from a group of leaders who’d each been chosen as tops within their respective industry segment. The full-service veteran secured a place within that group of finalists by winning the top segment honor, the Silver Plate, in the Chain Full Service category.

The other Silver Plate winners in the eight areas of competition were:

  • Melvin Rodrigue, president of Galatoire’s, in the Independent Restaurants category;
  • Roz Mallet, CEO of PhaseNext Hospitality, Travel & Leisure sector;
  • Kirk Rodriguez, director of hospitality services at Texas Tech, Colleges & Universities;
  • Damian Monticello, director of enterprise hospitality and event services, GuideWell, Business & Industry/Foodservice Management;
  • Jen and Jon Corto, owners and founders of the Buffalo Guide c-store chain, in Grocery, Convenience & Specialty Retail;
  • Dave Reeves, system director of food and nutrition services, Lee Health, Healthcare;
  • Aaron Smith, directr of culinary services, Seattle Public Schools, Elementary & Secondary Schools.

The Silver Plate winners were chosen by a jury that included past winners, industry luminaries and editors from B2B foodservice media, including Restaurant Business.

Tomasso has served as CEO of First Watch since June 2018, after holding the president’s post for three years. During his time as the chain's leader, he led the company’s initial public offering.

Earlier, Tomasso held executive positions at Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores and Hard Rock Café.

He began his restaurant career at age 14, washing dishes in his uncle’s Italian restaurant. He also washed dishes at an Amish buffet and served in a number of other crew positions before concentrating on a career track in marketing.

"I ended up in the restaurant industry and it got in my blood," Tomasso said in accepting the award. "Everybody in this room knows that once it's in your blood, it's in your blood. I love what I do every day and I consider myself to be so lucky to lead this great company."

The Silver and Gold Plate awards are presented annually by IFMA. Past Gold Plate winners include Danny Meyer, Charlie Trotter, Wolfgang Puck, Lance Trenary, Phil Hickey and Regynald Washington.  

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