First Watch: Meet Our Leadership Team

Meet Our Leadership Team

Experience, accomplishment, and vision. Three words that describe our management team, and their track record of success and intelligent growth.

Kenneth L. Pendery, Jr., Executive Chairman

Kenneth L. Pendery, Jr.

Executive Chairman

Kenneth L. Pendery, Jr. has been a key leader of First Watch Restaurants, Inc. for over 25 years. He has been instrumental in evolving the brand from a simple concept into a successful, multimillion dollar enterprise. Today, in his role as Executive Chairman, Ken ensures that the company’s principles are upheld daily. He serves as a liaison between First Watch’s management team, board of directors and private equity partner. He is a restaurant-industry veteran with extensive executive experience, including the creation of several restaurant concepts throughout his career. Ken majored in Finance at Indiana University. He is an operator at heart and on most days, can be found in First Watch restaurants speaking with employees and greeting guests first hand.


Christopher A. Tomasso, CEO

Christopher A. Tomasso

CEO & President

A 20-year veteran of the restaurant industry, Chris Tomasso joined First Watch in 2006 as its first Chief Marketing Officer before being promoted to President in 2015, then CEO in 2018. Chris led First Watch’s complete re-branding effort, which included a new brand positioning platform, new restaurant prototype and new company logo and tagline. He previously served as Vice President of Marketing for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., and he spent more than 10 years with Hard Rock Café International, one of the world’s most recognizable brands. There, he served as Vice President of Worldwide Marketing. Chris holds a degree in Journalism with a specialty in advertising and public relations from the University of Central Florida. He was recognized on Nation’s Restaurants News’ 2018 Power List, named a Top Private Company CMO in 2012 by ExecRank and currently serves on the Marketing Advisory Board for Share Our Strength’s Dine Out for No Kid Hungry and the Board of Directors for the National Restaurant Association’s Marketing Executive Group. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the University of Central Florida’s Alumni Association.


Laura Sorensen, Chief People Officer

Laura Sorensen

Chief People Officer

As the Chief People Officer for First Watch, Laura Sorensen oversees all aspects of the employee experience, including staffing and people development, employee relations, diversity and strategic planning. She joined the First Watch team in 2016 with years of experience working in Human Resources for prominent brands. Most recently, she worked as a member of the executive team as the senior Vice President of Human Resources for Darden’s LongHorn Steakhouse, where she oversaw all Human Resources priorities and initiatives for nearly 500 restaurants and 30,000 employees. Before working with Darden, Laura served as the Director of Human Resources at Chico’s and as the strategic business partner to White House / Black Market brand president and executive team for all brand business functions. She also served on the Board of Directors for the Orlando chapter of the Adult Literacy League. Laura earned a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing and an MBA with a specialization in Human Resources management from the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.


Eric Hartman, Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer

Eric Hartman

Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer

With more than 20 years of experience in Real Estate and Development, Eric Hartman leads Development for the First Watch brand, which includes Strategic Planning, Site Selection, Real Estate, Construction and Facilities management. Eric previously served as President and Founder of a commercial, residential and mixed-use development organization, SEVA Development, where he remains on the board of directors. Before that, for more than 10 years, Eric led many development-related functions for Bloomin’ Brands, the parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s and Bonefish Grill. His roles with Bloomin’ Brands included Vice President of Development Strategy and then Group Vice President of Real Estate and Development, where he led the team responsible for site selection, letters of intent, lease negotiations and development management for new growth and relocations domestically. Eric is a registered Professional Engineer and graduated with Honors from the University of South Florida, where he earned a degree in Civil Engineering. Eric played on the Men’s Tennis Team during his time at USF, where he was named to the all-conference team his sophomore year. Born and raised in Lakeland, FL, Eric, his wife Vicki, and their three children reside in Tampa.


Jay Wolszczak, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel

Jay Wolszczak

Chief Legal Officer & General Counsel

Jay Wolszczak joined the team at First Watch Restaurants in 2018. He leads the company’s legal interests in the areas of real estate and construction, trademark, risk management, regulatory compliance, employment law, corporate finance, transactions, mergers and acquisitions and other corporate functions as necessary. Jay previously served as General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Business Affairs for Hard Rock International, Inc. in Orlando, where he played an integral role in the company’s growth from 30 to 181 cafes and from one to 25 hotels and 11 casinos. Prior to his tenure at Hard Rock, Jay was an associate with Akerman Senterfitt and Holland & Knight. He graduated with honors from the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law in Gainesville and was a member of the Florida Law Review.



Mel Hope, Chief Financial Officer

Mel Hope

Chief Financial Officer

Mel joined the First Watch team in 2018, bringing decades of experience leading complex public organizations like Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. as well as entrepreneurial start-ups. He leads the company’s finance department, including long-term strategic financial planning, transactional negotiations, reporting, P&L budgeting and more. Prior to joining First Watch, Mel was most recently a partner in Genesis Real Estate Advisers LLC, serving as the company’s Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer. Long before he began working in finance, Mel’s first restaurant experience was at 8 years old, serving iced tea to guests at his grandfather’s restaurant. He graduated from Bellhaven University with a BBA in Accounting and is a CPA. When he’s not working, he’s likely enjoying time with his wife Trish and their four children, listening to The Grateful Dead, cheering on the Atlanta Braves or traveling.



Shane Schaibly, Vice President of Culinary Strategy

Shane Schaibly

Vice President of Culinary Strategy

After graduating at the top of his class from Johnson & Wales in 2005, Shane worked in fine dining for brands like the Ritz-Carlton in Miami Beach and Tampa’s Café Ponte. He joined Front Burner Brands concept The Melting Pot in 2007, where he helped the company set the Guinness World Record for Largest Cheese Fondue Set while working as manager of culinary development. He also served as the restaurant’s director of food and beverage and ultimately corporate chef for the Front Burner restaurant group, where he helped develop menu items and opened restaurants around the world. In 2014, Shane was honored on FSR Magazine’s 40 Under 40 list for his culinary accomplishments. Since joining First Watch as corporate chef that same year, he has shifted his focus to breakfast, brunch and lunch. Shane has revamped First Watch’s menu and introduced a successful Fresh Juice Program, and he continues to keep things fresh with innovative seasonal menu features.

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