Top Companies Profiles-Sunny Side Up

By Nancy Wollin July 31, 2009

Ken Pendery Jr., president and CEO of First Watch Restaurants, the Manatee County-based daytime restaurant chain with locations in 11 states, including four in Sarasota and Manatee counties, always gets up on the sunny side of the bed. “I don’t have a lot of patience for negativity,” he says. “I believe we can accomplish great things—that we can choose to be successful. I insist on that same optimism in the people around me.”

For Pendery, 56, that optimism seems to be paying off. Sales at the chain’s 80 restaurants reached $82 million in 2008 and are expected to climb to $85 million by year’s end. First Watch also was named best family chain restaurant in the county in Consumer Reports this past June.

A Kentucky native who studied finance at Indiana University, Pendery acknowledges that times are tough, but is quick to note that this is not the first difficult economy that the 26-year-old company has weathered. “The first restaurant opened its doors in California during a difficult time, and we weathered the recession in the early ’90s. We’ll get through this,” he says.

His secret for success? “We’re not the fanciest restaurant, but we’re consistent. The average check at a First Watch is $8.24, so we’re still affordable in this economy,” he says.

Pendery also credits the company’s low employee turnover rate. Because First Watch is a daytime café—open from 7:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas—there’s no evening shift. “Managers work five days a week and have nights off, something practically unheard of in the restaurant industry,” he explains. “We are a family-friendly business that promotes a family-friendly lifestyle. We stick to three basic principles: Employees are respected, they are compensated reasonably well, and we support quality of life and family time.”

First Watch is in an expansion mode when many other companies are shrinking. “We expect to grow to 110 restaurants by the end of 2012,” Pendery says. “We’ll meet those expectations as long as we continue to stick to the basics of good service and good food and a nice atmosphere.”

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