Metro-East Living

The Egg & I in O’Fallon will close temporarily, then reopen as a First Watch restaurant

Bella Milano restaurant enjoys boost from St. Elizabeth’s traffic

Tom Guarino of Bella Milano Italian restaurant talks about the boost that the new St. Elizabeth's Hospital in O'Fallon has given to businesses in Recency Center in this 2018 video.
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Tom Guarino of Bella Milano Italian restaurant talks about the boost that the new St. Elizabeth's Hospital in O'Fallon has given to businesses in Recency Center in this 2018 video.

The local owners of The Egg & I restaurant in O’Fallon are selling it to the chain’s parent company, which will close it for a week in early September and reopen it as a First Watch restaurant location.

Both The Egg & I and First Watch restaurants serve only breakfast, brunch and lunch and close mid-afternoon.

“I’m retiring for the third time,” said Gary Mueller, 65, of O’Fallon, who owns The Egg & I franchise with his wife, Cathy. “Maybe this time it will stick.”

The restaurant is in Regency Center, a strip mall that also includes Global Brew Tap House and Bella Milano Italian Restaurant, near St. Elizabeth’s Hospital off Green Mount Road and near Interstate 64.

Mueller expects to close on the sale by the end of July. The restaurant will remain open the rest of the summer, he said, with some renovations taking place in the afternoons and evenings. Then it will close the first week of September so the kitchen can be gutted and replaced.

“I’m excited about First Watch taking over The Egg & I and completely remodeling it, inside and out,” said the mall’s owner, Terry Johnson.

The Egg & I restaurant in O’Fallon opened in 2012. The chain was later sold to First Watch, and now that parent company is buying the O’Fallon franchise and planning to make it a First Watch restaurant. File photo

A First Watch spokesman did not return multiple calls for comment.

According to the company’s website, its restaurants offer breakfast favorites such as omelets, Belgian waffles, French toast and eggs Benedict, as well as specialty items such as lemon ricotta pancakes, avocado toast, pesto chicken quinoa bowls and biscuits with turkey gravy. It also serves salads and sandwiches.

“We begin each morning at the crack of dawn, slicing fresh fruits and vegetables, baking muffins and whipping up our French toast batter from scratch,” the website states.

“Everything is made to order and freshness is never compromised. We don’t use heat lamps or deep fryers. We use only the finest ingredients possible for the freshest taste around. When you arrive, we welcome you with a pot — not just a cup — of our Project Sunrise coffee, along with complimentary newspapers and WiFi Internet access.”

Gary and Cathy Mueller are shown in 2012, when they opened The Egg & I restaurant in O’Fallon. The couple is selling the franchise to the parent company, First Watch, which plans to make it a First Watch restaurant. FILE PHOTO

Mueller formerly served in the Air Force for 23 years, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. Then he worked 12 years as a military contractor before opening The Egg & I in 2012. Cathy’s background was in customer service.

Today, Gary Mueller is involved in a prison ministry and Habitat for Humanity, and he serves on a couple of boards.

“There are a lot of things we want to do, and we want to do them while we still can,” he said. “We’re going to do some traveling.”

The Muellers’ last day at The Egg & I is July 28.

“It’s been a great ride,” Gary Mueller said. “We’ve met a lot of people and made a lot of friends. We appreciate our customers and their dedication.”

First Watch was founded in 1983 in California and moved its headquarters to Florida four years later. The company bought the Arizona-based chain The Good Egg in 2014 and the Colorado-based chain The Egg and I in 2015 and converted many of those restaurants into First Watch locations.

The company now has more than 375 restaurants in 32 states, including more than 330 First Watch locations, 40 The Egg & I locations and one Sun & Fork restaurant, according to its website.

Teri Maddox has been a reporter for 35 years, joining the Belleville News-Democrat in 1990. She also teaches journalism at St. Louis Community College at Forest Park. She holds degrees from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and University of Wisconsin-Madison.