- May 3, 2023
UNIVERSITY PARK — Breakfast-brunch-lunch chain First Watch debuted as a public company Oct. 1, selling shares at $18 each and raising $170 million.
Wall Street responded well to the IPO, pushing shares up nearly 22% by afternoon trading, and hit a day-high of $23.43 a share before closing at $22.13, up $4.13. The stock trades on the Nasdaq under the symbol FWRG, for First Watch Restaurant Group. Private Equity firm Advent International, which acquired a majority stake in the east Manatee County-based company in 2017, owns 79.2% of the common stock, according to a statement. Proceeds from the IPO will go to pay back debt, company officials have said in previous statements.
“We are incredibly proud of all we’ve accomplished as a brand during the past 38 years to bring us to this juncture,” First Watch CEO and President Christopher Tomasso says in a statement. “Listing on the Nasdaq is a tremendous milestone for First Watch, and today it’s so important for us to celebrate every employee in every First Watch restaurant throughout the country for all they’ve done for each other and for our brand.”
The IPO also represents a major milestone for the Sarasota-Manatee business community. It’s been 15 years since a large homegrown company in the region went public. Venice-based premium window and door manufacturer PGT Innovations went public in June 2006, while Sarasota-based Helios Technologies, then Sun Hydraulics, went public in 1997. The largest publicly traded company in the region, Lakewood Ranch-based Roper Technologies, was founded in 1981 and moved to town in 2007 —well after it surpassed the billion-dollar sales mark.
First Watch, founded in 1983 with a model to serve made-to-order breakfast, brunch and lunch using fresh ingredients, moved into a new headquarters over the summer — a 39,000-square-foot two-story complex at 8725 Pendery Place in University Park. (The street is named for the company’s chairman emeritus and former CEO, Kenneth Pendery.)
In addition to the capital raise, the day of the IPO, Oct. 1, was also a celebration of the company’s culture and employees, says Matt Eisenacher, senior vice president of brand strategy and innovation at First Watch. Speaking from New York City, Eisenacher told the Business Observer the opening bell ceremonies was a “really cool moment” for the company. “It’s been such a whirlwind,” he says.
The IPO is also an acknowledgment, Eisenacher adds, of the company’s ability to come out of the pandemic not only intact, but also as a strong company. One example: it posted same-restaurant sales growth of 16.3% in the 2021 second quarter relative to the quarter that ended June 30, 2019. In-store traffic increased 1% in the same time frame. In addition, annual revenue doubled from 2015 through 2019, to $436.37 million and it had $490 million in revenue in the 12-month period that ended June 30, according to its pre-IPO public filings.
Eisenacher says he and Tomasso and other senior leaders said in 2020 they “wanted to do something amazing,” coming out of the pandemic. “Now we can say we did something amazing.”
First Watch has 420 First Watch restaurants in 28 states.