One of the more unheralded features of the business model at east Manatee County-based breakfast-brunch-lunch chain First Watch has been patience.
Executives waited for years, for example, to launch a franchise program, turning down multiple queries along the way — sometimes coming in every week. And while growth, in revenue and store count, has come quickly in the past five years, the 30 or so years before that saw the company expand in a more deliberate and measured way. The company’s IPO followed a similar patience model: it had been in business for nearly 40 years and had multimillion-dollar investments from at least three private equity firms going back to 2004 before it took its shot at the public markets.
Shares of First Watch debuted on the Nasdaq Oct. 1, under the symbol FWRG, for First Watch Restaurant Group. At market close Oct. 8 shares were trading for $22.31, with a market capitalization of $1.31 billion. The company raised $195.8 million from the IPO, according to a statement, funds that will go to pay back some $294 million in debt.
First Watch is the first major company to go public in the Sarasota-Bradenton region in 15 years. The last one to do it was Venice-based premium window and door manufacturer PGT Innovations, in June 2006. The last major one before that was Sarasota-based Helios Technologies, then Sun Hydraulics, which went public in 1997.
The Oct. 1 IPO followed another major milestone for First Watch: over the summer it moved into its new headquarters. The 39,000-square-foot two-story complex at 8725 Pendery Place in University Park can be seen from Interstate 75, right before the southbound exit for University Parkway.
First Watch’s media relations team shared the Oct. 1 itinerary and run-of-show for CEO Chris Tomasso and other executives, in the frenzied day of launching the IPO.
Around 75 employees made the trip to New York City to celebrate the milestone. In addition to top executives and board members, the group included operations directors with the company, founded in 1983, for at least 20 years and regional vice presidents with at least 15 years. Also along for the celebration were representatives from the First Watch RISE Advisory Council (Race Inclusion and Support Exchange) and up-and-coming leaders from its Rising 20 mentorship program. The First Watch team stayed at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, two blocks from the Nasdaq building.
These photos were taken throughout the day, which started at 6:30 a.m. with an overview meeting of the day and went through an evening celebration that started at 6 p.m.