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399: How First Watch Uses Business Constraints as Benefits with Chief Brand Officer Matt Eisenacher

In this episode, Alan and Matt discuss having a brush with Shark Tank, the benefits of developing a strong work ethic at a young age, and how Matt is working on being a fast decision-maker without being a prisoner to the moment. They also talk about the different categories within the restaurant category, the unique concept First Watch is creating with experiences, and the culture that makes it all work. Matt wraps up the episode by touching on why the new nature of marketing requires an unstructured team of specialists, the impact of Gen Z entering their earning years, and why leaders need to combat the high burnout rates in marketing.

Matt Eisenacher grew up in the Midwest and graduated from Ohio University into the dot-com boom. He got his first job in the financial sector with PricewaterhouseCoopers, but soon realized he wanted to figure out where a company is going, not measure when it has been. This led him to pursue his MBA and begin his marketing career in CPG. Matt worked for Nestle and then Abbott Nutrition before he shifted into the restaurant industry with Piada Italian Street Food. In 2019, he joined First Watch as the Senior Vice President of Brand Strategy and Innovation before taking on the role of Chief Brand Officer in 2023. Matt tells us his role as Chief Brand Officer is less about marketing to consumers and more about infusing consistent brand promise into everything First Watch does. Whether it is restaurant design or menu design, Matt is putting the team and experience first and bringing the brand to all parts of the organization.

First Watch has been around for 40 years and specializes in daytime dining with an on-trend menu for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. They do whatever they can to be the “anti-chain” restaurant. This means no microwaves or fryers, opening only from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., implementing a new menu five times a year, and keeping comfort and connection top of mind. First Watch is not trying to appeal to everyone. In fact, it’s their specialization that makes them so special. Brand awareness may be low, but they leverage their business model constraints to drive demand in a quite organic way with highly targeted digital messaging, top-quality food, exceptional experiences, and word-of-mouth.

Doing things differently starts at the top for First Watch. While many C-suite leaders are becoming more disconnected from their front-line workers, First Watch leadership commits a huge amount of time to listening to restaurant employees directly and being as responsive as possible to the feedback they get. This “you first” culture starts with happy employees and results in happy customers.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • What it means to be an anti-chain restaurant and generate demand quietly
  • How a “you first” culture starts with happy employees and results in happy customers
  • The benefits of business model constraints

Key Highlights: 

  • [01:40] Inventing Shark Tank adjacent lawn bags
  • [04:30] From the Midwest to finance to CPG to restaurants
  • [08:00] First Watch is an anti-chain restaurant.
  • [10:30] Driving growth with a self-imposed business model constraint
  • [12:30] The First Watch experience
  • [14:50] What kind of restaurants are winning in the post-COVID world?
  • [16:00] “You first” culture
  • [20:00] What does the Chief Brand Officer do?
  • [22:20] Driving demand, quietly
  • [26:20] The impact of a strong work ethic from a young age
  • [30:25] Being fast without being a prisoner of the moment
  • [31:40] Building a team of unstructured specialists
  • [35:30] Gen Z is entering their earning years.
  • [37:20] Burnout is the big one…
  • [40:15] A little Taylor talk

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