First Watch co-founder Ken Pendery dies at age 70

He was involved in the daytime dining chain for 38 years, many of them spent as CEO. "Ken's impact and influence is—and will forever be—felt throughout our organization," current CEO Chris Tomasso said.
Ken Pendry | Photo courtesy of First Watch.

First Watch co-founder and former CEO Ken Pendery died Monday from a rare neurological disorder called multiple system atrophy, the chain said Tuesday evening. He was 70 years old.

About 38 of those years had been spent in one capacity or another at First Watch, a concept that specializes in breakfast, lunch and brunch. According to company lore, Pendery and co-founder John Sullivan focused on daytime dining so they could play golf in the afternoon. To this day, most stores close around 2:30 p.m.

Pendery became CEO of First Watch in 1998. When he took the helm, the chain extended to 50 locations. By the time he moved up to executive chairman in 2018, it had grown to 330 units. It has since expanded to about 540 locations.

Pendery left the board in 2022. Current CEO Chris Tomasso has cited Pendery’s early influence, and particularly the culture he cultivated in those days, as key reasons for the brand’s current standout success.

"Ken's impact and influence is—and will forever be—felt throughout our organization," Tomasso said in the announcement of Pendery’s passing. "He was a mentor and dear friend, and the epitome of the 'You First' culture our company is built upon. Everyone who crossed his path is better for it. Our hearts go out to his family, and we will carry his memory fondly."

Tomasso worked under Pendery for 12 years, continuing the growth trajectory his mentor had set.

First Watch noted that it still adheres to Pendery’s Five Steps of Service, which were penned on the back of a napkin. The chain’s other sacred documents include The 10 Commitments, another set of guidelines hatched by Pendery.

The success of Pendery and Sullivan’s brainchild has sparked development of a relatively new industry segment known as daytime dining. The entrants include the secondary concepts of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store (Maple Street Biscuit Co.) and Denny’s (Keke’s). 


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