IFMA’s Coveted 2024 Gold Plate Award Presented to Chris Tomasso

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Chris Tomasso, president and chief executive officer of First Watch Restaurant Group (pictured above with his wife, Melissa) received the 2024 Gold Plate Award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) at the close of their 70th Annual Gold & Silver Plate Awards Celebration in Chicago on May 18. He was nominated in the “Chain, Full Service” category by Rich Products Corporation, Ecolab and Royal Cup Coffee & Tea, and selected from the nine honorees who took home 2024 Silver Plate awards.

Tomasso was named CEO of First Watch Restaurants in 2018, after serving as president since 2015 and chief marketing officer from 2006 to 2015. Prior to joining First Watch, he led strategic branding and marketing for renowned national and international brands such as Cracker Barrel and Hard Rock Café International.

Tomasso  was introduced at the awards ceremony by his mentor, Ralph Alvarez, chairman of the First Watch Restaurant Group and a 40-plus year foodservice industry veteran.

“I first met Chris in 2017 when with a private equity firm, we were looking to acquire First Watch,” said Alvarez. “It was an easy decision after that meeting; you invest in people, not just businesses, and I felt with Chris and Ken Pendery (late co-founder of First Watch) that we had the right leaders to run the business.”

In accepting the Gold Plate, Tomasso said, “I ended up in the restaurant industry and it got in my blood. I love what I do every day and I consider myself to be so lucky to lead this great company.”

The IFMA Gold & Silver Plate Awards is the longest-running and regarded as the most respected awards program in the foodservice sector. Each year, a distinguished jury of industry experts weighs the merits of candidates who represent the best in the business. Winners receive the Silver Plate Award and one is then chosen by secret ballot to receive the Gold Plate Award for overall industry excellence.

Past Gold Plate winners include Danny Meyer (2000), Van Eure (2004), Charlie Trotter (2008), Timothy J. Dietzler (2010), Wolfgang Puck (2017), Regynald G. Washington (2019), Phil Hickey Jr. (2020), Antoinette Watkins (2021), and Lance Trenary (2022).

In addition to Tomasso, 2024 Silver Plate recipients are:

• Jen and Jon Corto, Owners/Founders of Buffalo Strive in the category of Grocery, Convenience, & Specialty Retail, nominated by Nestlé Professional
• Roz Mallet, CEO & President of PhaseNext Hospitality in the category of Travel & Leisure, nominated by Ecolab
• Damian Monticello, Director, Enterprise Hospitality and Event Services at Guidewell in the category of Business & Industry/Foodservice Management, nominated by PepsiCo
• David Reeves, System Director, Food and Nutrition Services at Lee Health in the category of Healthcare, nominated by PepsiCo
• Melvin Rodrigue, President of Galatoire’s Restaurant in the category of Independent Restaurants, nominated by Ecolab
• Kirk Rodriguez, Senior Director of Hospitality Services and the Student Union & Activities at Texas Tech in the category of Colleges & Universities, nominated by Ecolab, Tyson, and US Foods
• Aaron Smith, Director of Culinary Services at Seattle Public Schoolsin the category of Elementary & Secondary Schools, nominated by Tyson

“Celebrating 70 years of our awards with such a remarkable class of honorees was inspirational,” said Phil Kafarakis, IFMA president and chief executive officer. “IFMA has consistently, and I would say joyously, presented a star-studded galaxy of paradigm-shifting leaders with these awards throughout our history. All the winners are nominated by food manufacturer partners who know their stories first-hand. I’m moved every year by our winners and their accomplishments, and I was honored to help present the Gold Plate to Chris Tomasso this year.”

IFMA’s black-tie celebration for the 2024 Silver Plate Class and presentation of the Gold Plate Award was held at the historic Great Hall of Chicago’s Union Station. The event was emceed by the 2020 Gold Plate honoree, Phillip Hickey, Jr., and attended by several hundred food-away-from-home leaders and luminaries.

IFMA solicits its members to nominate award candidates each August through November. The 2025 Gold & Silver Plate Awards Celebration will be held on May 17, 2025.