CHICAGO, May 19, 2024
Chris Tomasso, President & CEO of First Watch Restaurant Group, received the coveted 2024 Gold Plate Award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) at the close of their 70th Annual Gold & Silver Plate Awards Celebration. Tomasso was nominated in the “Chain, Full Service” category by Ecolab, Rich Products Corporation, and Royal Cup Coffee & Tea and selected from the nine honorees who took home 2024 Silver Plate awards. 

Tomasso was named Chief Executive Officer of First Watch Restaurants, Inc. in 2018, after serving as President since 2015 and Chief Marketing Officer from 2006 to 2015. Prior to joining First Watch, Tomasso 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, Chairman of the First Watch Restaurant Group and 40+ year foodservice industry veteran, Ralph Alvarez. “I first met Chris in 2017 when with a private equity firm, we were looking to acquire First Watch,” he said. “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. 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 IFMA Gold & Silver Plate Awards is the longest-running and most respected awards program in foodservice. Each year, a distinguished jury of industry experts weighs the merits of candidates who represent the best in the industry. 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 & 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 & CEO. “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 on Saturday, May 18. 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 Saturday, May 17, 2025. 

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About International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) 

The International Foodservice Manufacturers Association (IFMA) is a trade association founded in 1952. IFMA empowers, nurtures, and connects an inclusive and diverse $1.3 trillion food-away-from-home ecosystem of manufacturers, distributors, operators, and others. By sharing insights, fostering best practices, and developing networking and educational opportunities through events, IFMA informs and instructs its members, and motivates change to improve both individual organizations and the foodservice industry at large. For more information, visit