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Insider Q&A: CEO of fast-growing First Watch keeps the focus on breakfast

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Insider Q&A: CEO of fast-growing First Watch keeps the focus on breakfast

First Watch, a restaurant chain that serves breakfast, brunch and lunch, is rising – and shining.

The Bradenton, Florida-based chain, known for its fresh, seasonal ingredients and made-to-order menu, is one of the fastest-growing in its category in dollar sales and unit growth, according to market research firm Technomic.

Two restaurant veterans who were tired of working late nights launched First Watch in 1983 in Pacific Grove, California.

“So many concepts are devised in a boardroom or something like that. This was the complete opposite,” CEO Chris Tomasso said. “This was a bunch of guys who really wanted to be home every afternoon so they could golf.”

The company now has more than 500 U.S. locations in 29 states. But because each eatery is designed to blend into its community instead of from a corporate model, the restaurants often feel more like neighborhood hangouts than part of a chain, Tomasso said.

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Tomasso led marketing for Cracker Barrel and Hard Rock Cafe before joining First Watch in 2006. He talked to The Associated Press recently about building brands and why First Watch has no plans to expand beyond lunch. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

Q. You say First Watch has retained its scrappy feel despite its growth. How do you accomplish that?

A. One thing I’ve been saying forever to our teams is, “If we can do it in one, we can do it in 100. If we can do it in 100, we can do it in 1,000.” And the reason that’s so important is because usually by the time concepts get to our size, they start to dumb down or do things differently, not realizing that the consumer will notice over time. You start outsourcing things. You say, “Well, it’s too much labor to make our pancake batter from scratch.” And we’ve stayed very true to that. I will tell you, there’s less expensive ways to do the things that we do, but we know what’s important to the consumer.

Q. What are some of the breakfast trends you’re seeing?

A. We started to see over the last five or six years this emergence of what we call “power breakfasts.” It’s so much easier for people to meet in the morning before they get to work and their day gets away from them. So that’s been a big shift for us. And what used to be a shoulder period between 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., with remote working and hybrid working and all those things, we’re starting to see all that fill up. And then, you know, the weekend brunch is just having its day, right? It’s been the only segment in the restaurant industry that has shown growth in the last five years.

Q. Some competitors have been trying to grow sales by expanding into dinner. Does First Watch plan to ever stay open past 2:30 p.m.?

A. We love our business model, and we love the employee proposition side of it too. It’s one shift a day. We do tremendous volumes in 7.5 hours. Our teams get to have a job in the hospitality industry that doesn’t have them work until all hours of the night. They make a great living. So I don’t see us expanding hours at all. Also, from a consumer standpoint, doing what we do establishes us as the authority in breakfast and brunch and lunch. We’re not trying to be all things to all people in any way, shape or form.

Q. You’re a marketer. How has the work you do changed over your career? Is it getting harder to reach customers with all the distractions they face?

A. The kind of marketer I consider myself to be is an inside-out brand builder versus an advertising focus. Which is great, because when I first joined, I didn’t have any money to do any advertising anyway. So it really was about evolving the concept and setting up the foundation for growth. We had three uniforms, four menus, all kinds of different things. There wasn’t a lot of consistency. And so in order for us to really grow, we had to unify the brand voice. There was a lot of work done around the menu, the music, every consumer touch point in the restaurant. Now, has marketing gotten harder or easier? I think it’s easier in that you can now reach a lot of people through social and digital without having to do TV and radio like you used to do. It’s also easier now to control the messaging. But I also think there’s challenges. If you make a misstep, it can be amplified a lot. So I think much more care and focus has to go into your messaging and your actions.

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TVLine Items: Tom Brady Live Roast, Baking Show Renewed and More

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TVLine Items: Tom Brady Live Roast, Baking Show Renewed and More


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Turkish President makes first official visit to Iraq in over a decade

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Turkish President makes first official visit to Iraq in over a decade

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in Iraq on Monday for his first official visit in more than a decade as Ankara seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has a foothold in Iraq.

Other issues also loom large between the two countries, including water supply and exports of oil and gas from northern Iraq to Turkey, halted for more than a year.

TURKEY’S ERDOGAN FACES UNCERTAIN FUTURE AFTER SHOCK ELECTION LOSSES EXPERT SAYS

Erdogan, whose last visit to Baghdad was in 2011, when he was prime minister, met with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as they inked agreements on water management, security, energy and economic cooperation.

“I believe that my visit and the agreements just signed will constitute a new turning point in Turkey-Iraq relations,” Erdoğan said in a joint news conference with al-Sudani.

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, right, and Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani shake hands during a welcome ceremony in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. Erdoğan was set to make his first official visit to Iraq in more than a decade on Monday, April 22, 2024 as his country seeks greater cooperation from Baghdad in its fight against a Kurdish militant group that has a foothold in northern Iraq.  (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)

Al-Sudani said they discussed “bilateral security coordination, which will meet the needs of both parties and confront the challenges posed by the presence of armed elements that may cooperate with terrorism and violate the security of the two countries.”

Erdoğan’s visit “comes at a sensitive and dangerous time,” al-Sudani added, citing Israel’s war against the Hamas militant group in Gaza — a war that has had ripple effects across the region.

Erdoğan said the leaders had “consulted on the joint steps we can take against the PKK terrorist organization and its extensions, which target Turkey from Iraqi territory,” referring to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement banned in Turkey.

The PKK has maintained bases in northern Iraq’s semiautonomous Kurdish region.

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Erdoğan had previously announced a major operation against the PKK during the summer, with the aim of “permanently” eradicating the threat it poses. He did not specify what actions Turkish forces would take in Iraq but Turkish forces have in the past carried out numerous ground offensives against PKK in northern Iraq and Turkish jets frequently target suspected PKK sites.

Ankara now aims to create a 19-25 mile deep security corridor along the joint border with Iraq, Turkish Defense Minister Yasar Guler told journalists last month.

The insurgency — the PKK is fighting for an autonomous Kurdish state in southeast Turkey — has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the 1980s and Turkey and its Western allies have labelled PKK a terrorist organization.

Baghdad has long complained that Turkish actions in Iraq against the PKK violate its sovereignty, but appears to be acquiescing with Ankara’s operations.

In March, after a meeting between the Iraqi and Turkish foreign ministers, Baghdad announced that the Iraqi National Security Council had issued a ban on the PKK, although it stopped short of designating it as a terrorist organization. Erdoğan on Monday praised the ban.

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Al-Sudani told journalists during a visit to Washington last week that Iraq and Turkey have “true interests with one another and common projects.” He noted that the PKK has long had a presence in northern Iraq, “but we are not allowing any armed group to be on Iraqi territory and using it as a launchpad for attacks.”

Ankara has argued that PKK’s presence in Iraq threatens the planned construction of a major trade route, the Iraq Development Road, that would connect the port in Basra, southern Iraq, to Turkey and Europe through a network of rail lines and highways.

Baghdad may take a similar approach to the PKK as it has taken to Iranian Kurdish dissident groups based in northern Iraq.

The presence of Iranian dissidents had become a point of tension with Tehran, which periodically launches airstrikes on their bases in Iraq. Last summer, Iran and Iraq reached an agreement to disarm the groups and relocate their members from military bases to displacement camps.

Energy issues and water rights are also key in Iraq-Turkey ties.

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An oil pipeline running from the semiautonomous Kurdish region to Turkey has been shut down since March 2023, after an arbitration court ruling ordered Ankara to pay Iraq $1.5 billion for oil exports that bypassed Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. The sharing of oil and gas revenues has long been a contentious issue between Baghdad and Kurdish authorities in Irbil.

In recent years, Iraqi officials have complained that dams built by Turkey are reducing Iraq’s water supply.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which provide most of Iraq’s fresh water, originate in Turkey. Experts fear that climate change is likely to exacerbate existing water shortages in Iraq, with potentially devastating consequences.

Mustafa Hassan, a Baghdad resident, said he hopes that Erdoğan’s visit “will help to solve problems related to water, because Iraq is suffering from a water scarcity crisis, and this affects agriculture.”

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Erdoğan said Ankara was aware of the water problems Iraq faces and that the two countries have set up “a joint permanent committee which is going to help through cooperation … taking our shared interests into consideration.”

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Turkey’s Erdogan meets Iraq PM for talks on water, security and trade

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Turkey’s Erdogan meets Iraq PM for talks on water, security and trade

Turkish president says two leaders discussed steps the two countries could take against the PKK armed group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has met Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani in Baghdad for talks on security, economic and energy cooperation.

In a joint news conference on Monday, Erdogan said the two leaders discussed steps the two countries could take against the armed group the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and welcomed Iraq’s designation of the PKK as a banned group.

Erdogan said he had shared his strong belief that the PKK’s presence in Iraqi territory would end as soon as possible. The Turkish president said that cooperation on security and the fight against “terrorism” was one of the most important agenda items during his meetings in Iraq.

The PKK, which has fought a decades-long rebellion against the Turkish state and is considered a “terrorist” group by Ankara and its Western allies, has a presence in northern Iraq.

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Since 2019, Turkey has conducted a series of cross-border operations in northern Iraq against the PKK dubbed “Claw”.

Al-Sudani said Turkey and Iraq discussed security cooperation and agreed to deal with the challenge of non-state armed actors that could cooperate with “terrorist” groups.

The two sides signed a strategic framework agreement to oversee security, energy and economic cooperation as well as a 10-year agreement on management of water resources that ensures Iraq will get its fair share, the Iraqi prime minister added.

During Erdogan’s visit, the Turkish president and Iraqi premier also witnessed the signing of a preliminary agreement by related ministers of the countries to cooperate on a $17bn Development Road project.

Erdogan also said in the press conference that Ankara eyes widening mutual trade – and cooperation in energy, health and tourism – with Iraq.

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The Iraqi prime minister said 24 memorandums of understanding were signed during Erdogan’s one-day visit.

“I believe that my visit and agreements just signed will constitute a new turning point in Turkey-Iraq relations,” Erdogan said in the press conference.

Meeting with Rashid

The Turkish leader earlier met with Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid in Baghdad. He told Rashid that Turkey “had expectations of Iraq regarding the fight against the terrorist organisation PKK, and that Iraq must be rid of all forms of terrorism”, according to his office.

Erdogan’s trip comes amid soaring regional tensions, fuelled by Israel’s war on Gaza and a confrontation between Israel and Iran.

The Turkish president reiterated his call for all relevant parties to refrain from escalating tensions in the Middle East.

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Bilateral trade between Turkey and Iraq was worth $19.9bn in 2023, down from $24.2bn in 2022, according to official Turkish data.

In the first three months of 2024, Turkish exports to Iraq rose by 24.5 percent, while imports fell by 46.2 percent.

After meetings in Baghdad, Erdogan was set to travel to Erbil, the provincial capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, for talks with Iraqi Kurdish officials with trade and security high on the agenda.

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