If you’re a sailor or a sea-worthy traveler, you are probably familiar with the term, “first watch.” It’s a nautical expression that refers to the first work shift of the day aboard a ship. For those in the restaurant industry, it refers to a breakfast restaurant chain that is taking the nation by storm and is one of the fastest-growing brands in America, First Watch.
Born in Pacific Grove, California in 1983, this health-conscious, locally-grown brand has grown to about 315 locations across the U.S. You’ll find smoked salmon benedict, lemon ricotta pancakes, and farmstand breakfast tacos on the menu and cage-free eggs in their walk-ins. What you won’t find are deep fat fryers, microwaves, or heat lamps.
The Success of Breakfast Concepts
For those that have been inundated with the belief that alcoholic beverages and dinner make up a significant percentage of a restaurant’s profits, it strains the mind to imagine how breakfast-only concepts could take a stronghold. Of course, for one that has spent many a late-night closing down an establishment, the possibility of being home for family dinners is definitely alluring.
But when every penny counts in the industry’s tight margins, one wonders how you can miss out on the dinner segment without leaving a large chunk of profits on the table. Increased efficiencies, lower labor costs, and creating a brand concept known for the best breakfasts around may be part of the equation. Considering that breakfast foods typically run much lower in cost than dinner fare is also a positive for the breakfast-only club.
Chris Tomasso, CEO of First Watch, spoke with Forbes about their decision to limit their hours of operation. He talked about specialization, and not trying to be everything to everyone which enables them to be the best at what they do. He mentioned the ability to maintain quality employees because they appreciate the quality of life such hours of operation brings.
Breakfast Concepts on the Rise
First Watch is not the only breakfast concept to see growing expansion and revenue. There are many other brands in this segment. Here are just a few.
In 2006, Taki Kastanis founded his first Yolk in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood before spreading to downtown and beyond. In 2008, the restaurant won “Best Breakfast” from Citysearch.com and “#1 Breakfast” by Fox News viewers in Chicago. Currently, the brand has 14 locations in 4 states and has also been voted best breakfast in Dallas, Indianapolis, and Fort Worth.
What makes this brand the number one breakfast spot in several cities? They are known for their unique menu and wide array of breakfast options. Start your morning with an oat milk horchata cold brew before digging into a West Coast crepe or a pineapple bowl filled with Greek yogurt, fresh berries, walnuts, and granola. Meat lovers might order a pot roast benedict or the Yolk all-star combo. Their casual atmosphere also appeals to dog lovers who can dine with their best friends on the patio.
Yolk also boasts a test kitchen that features a seasonal menu, a new creative dish every weekend, an elevated coffee bar, and a chicken and waffle station.
When Kastanis spoke with Forbes, the entrepreneur’s reasons for sticking with the breakfast model sounded very much the same as First Watch’s CEO. He addressed the importance of a sustainable quality of life that allows employees to spend evenings with their families.
One of the newest members of this growing segment is Biscuit Belly. Founded in 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky, the brand quickly grew to three locations and announced the launch of its national franchise program in October 2020.
Chad Coulter, CEO, spoke with Restaurant News about the launch and his surprise at the public’s response to his first unit which included “lines wrapped around the block and a loyal stream of social media followers.”
As the name implies, you’ll find quite a selection of scratch-made biscuit sandwiches as well as other southern comfort fare and breakfast cocktails. A few of their many selections include a biscuit brisket and the belly buster, a loaded biscuit with buttermilk fried chicken, sausage, bacon, house-smoked brisket, mushroom gravy, and an over-easy egg.
The story of Snooze begins in Denver in 2006 when brothers Adam and Jon Schlegel first opened their doors. What sets this brand apart is its chef-driven menu, responsibly sourced product, and a high-energy vibe that is carried along with intense music. It also comes equipped with a full bar and a commitment to sustainable practices. They place a strong emphasis on community involvement and rally around employees expressing their unique, individual selves.
Today, Snooze has grown to 37 locations in 4 states. The brothers, while still active in the brand, sold to Stripes Group at the end of 2016. Their innovative dishes include a pineapple upside-down pancake, breakfast pot pie, habanero pork belly benedict, and a bountiful Buddha bowl.
When Forbes asked CEO David Birzon about their decision to close their doors at 2:30 p.m., he responded in much the same way as our previous operators and owners. They do one thing and they do it really well, and their staff appreciates the better quality of life they can offer.