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New owner, same staff revive First Watch location as DayBreak Cafe
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New owner, same staff revive First Watch location as DayBreak Cafe

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Fans of the national brunch chain First Watch should feel right at home at DayBreak Cafe.

For one thing, a quick glance around the space, at 8178 S. Lewis Ave., in the Plaza Shopping Center, might lead one to assume not a whole lot has changed beyond some updating of the decor.

Regular denizens of the old business will recognize most of the servers and other staff members. The menu still includes a lot of items that were among its most popular offerings under the old name. Even the plates on which one’s food is served are the same.

And that, manager Nyree Armstrong said, was by design.

“It was pretty much a full-package deal with the new owner,” Armstrong said. “He wanted to keep things as they had been as much as possible. He asked the staff if we would be willing to stay on, and the majority of us said we would.

“I’ve worked at this location for 14 years, and we all really have come to love our clientele,” she said. “It’s really like one big family here.”

The Lewis location of First Watch opened in 2004; a second location near 71st and Memorial opened in 2011. Both locations closed in early 2021, as a result of a “mutual decision between the owner and the company,” Armstrong said. (The Memorial location remains closed.)

“When we first closed, our customers were so upset,” she said. “We had people calling and asking, ‘Why would you do this to us?’”

That loyalty, Armstrong said, was one reason why the new owner, Bill Shaffer, wanted to keep the restaurant going, adding that the original idea had been to continue using the same recipes.

“But there were a number of things that First Watch said were their signature dishes, so we reworked things to make them our own,” Armstrong said. “We also took into consideration things that our regular clients were wanting as we worked on the menu.”

First Watch was known for its upscale, health-conscious menu, and DayBreak Cafe continues that, with entrees that include steel-cut oats, quinoa bowls, egg-white omelets, fresh fruit and vegetable juice blends, and salads.

But DayBreak has made a few customer-approved tweaks, such as swapping out the turkey sausage used in the old biscuits and gravy recipe for pork sausage.

“I have to admit, I never liked the old biscuits and gravy we served,” Armstrong said, laughing. “But the new recipe is really good.”

W. Somerset Maugham once opined that “To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.” In other words, if breakfast foods are available, breakfast foods should be enjoyed.

And that is how two visits to DayBreak Cafe were spent. For one visit, my companion and I sampled the Triple Play and the Classic Breakfast ($10.79 each). The Triple Play included two eggs, a choice of ham, bacon or sausage, and a choice of one pancake or a Belgian waffle.

My companion opted for the pancake, with eggs over medium and bacon, and pronounced everything to be to her liking. The pancake was light, fluffy, with a hint of vanilla that needed only butter and maple syrup; and the eggs were cooked to a perfect medium, the barest ring of crisp around the perimeter of the whites, the yolks just runny enough.

The Classic Breakfast came with eggs (we went with scrambled), a serving each of bacon, link sausage and ham; hashed browns and toast. The eggs were a bit overdone for my taste, but not unacceptable, and the hashed browns, which were either cooked in, or finished with, butter, were sinfully tasty.

On a second early-morning visit, I met a couple of friends to sample DayBreak’s version of avocado toast, here served with poached eggs ($10.79); the Avocado and Bacon Omelet ($10.99), topped with sour cream and pico de gallo; and the Butcher’s Block Skillet, a bed of home fries, topped with roasted onion, sun-dried tomatoes, and mushrooms, a Cheddar-jack cheese blend, breakfast meats and eggs ($11.79). We added an order of Candied Bacon ($5.49) for the table — I managed to get a single bite of this before the rest just disappeared.

The mash of avocado topping on the toast was well-seasoned; the only downside was the toast itself, which one diner thought was too insubstantial for the amount of topping. The eggs, on the other hand, were perfectly poached.

The omelet was stuffed to overflowing with bacon and avocado, so that the pico de gallo helped cut through the richness.

The skillet was another substantial dish, with the strips of tomato supplying surprising yet satisfying bursts of sweetness amongst all the savory ingredients.

During the photo shoot for this article, we were able to try a few other items from the menu, including the breakfast taco with chorizo, chicken, eggs and avocado ($10.29); the much-ballyhooed biscuits and gravy ($10.79), which lived up to the hype; the Cobb salad ($9.99); and the roast beef sandwich ($9.99).

This last item was well-stacked with tender beef, Swiss cheese, roasted onions and tomatoes; the exterior of the bread was coated with Parmesan cheese that grilled into a crisp coating, giving the sandwich a little extra crunch. It came with a cup of tortilla soup, a thick bisque-like soup loaded with chicken and corn and packing a nice punch of heat.

“We think we have a good balance of both healthy choices, as well as old-fashioned comfort food,” Armstrong said. “And our clients really seem to like what changes we have made. They really helped us survive the past couple of years — we did a ton of take-out orders when we couldn’t be open — so we wanted to make sure we are making the sort of dishes they want to have.”

Featured video:

Nyree Alexander tells you what to eat at DayBreak Cafe.

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