First Watch’s menu has a knack for featuring trending flavor profiles before they hit the mainstream. The brand’s Elote Mexican Street Corn Hash ran as an LTO back in 2018, well ahead of the current elote craze. Shane Schaibly, SVP of culinary strategy and corporate chef, says that a robust LTO strategy is a foundational pillar of innovation for First Watch. “It’s been one of the keys to our success over the years,” he says. “In order to bring in a lot of fun dishes with fun trends that we can jump on before our competition, like the Elote Hash, we have to be in lock step with our suppliers. We test a full year ahead, which helps build those relationships with suppliers because they know what we’re asking for.”
Innovation is still at the forefront, but Schaibly describes his approach to LTO ideation as “evolving.” “We’re leaning in on what is truly unique to our brand. In 2020, we pulled out our fan favorites,” he says. “I’m eight years in at First Watch, so we can look back and see what works for us: hashes, Benedicts, pancakes—those are fan favorites. We know these forms work well, so let’s innovate around them instead of chasing the next avocado toast.”
A few recent LTOs reflect that strategy. The Short Rib Poutine Hash stars red wine-braised short rib tossed with fresh seasoned potatoes, house-roasted mushrooms and shallots, mozzarella, Wisconsin cheese curds, two cage-free eggs cooked any style, demi-glace and fresh herbs.
The Million Dollar Breakfast Sandwich builds on the success of the core menu’s Elevated Egg Sandwich, which Schaibly describes as “the gold standard.” “We had to differentiate the LTO from that long-running sandwich,” he says. “That’s where these partnerships come into play so we could put together the quality ingredients we wanted, knowing the supply would be there for us.”
The Million Dollar Breakfast Sandwich features an all-natural pork sausage patty, an over-easy cage-free egg, smoked Gouda, fresh arugula and Mike’s Hot Honey drizzle on a griddled English muffin. “We like to run menu items that you don’t typically see at chain restaurants,” says Schaibly. “Right now, we’re moving about one step out of the box, and that is working really well for us.”