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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Dec. 5, 201905:20 AM EST

First Watch restaurant expanding in Northeast Florida, adding bars

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Riverside restaurant was the first in the company to sell and serve alcohol.

First Watch, The Daytime Cafe, is adding two Northeast Florida locations next year in addition to the six open in Duval and St. Johns counties — and they will have bars, or at least partial ones.

The Riverside restaurant at 192 Riverside Ave. was the first in the company to sell and serve alcohol when it opened in October 2017, renovating and moving into a former Corner Bakery Cafe.

First Watch intends to open by early summer in OakLeaf Crossing and about a month after that in Nocatee Town Center, said Eleni Kouvatsos, the company’s public relations and communications manager.

“Both these new restaurants will have a bar and serve our crafted brunch cocktails,” Kouvatsos said.

“As a 36-year-old company, we’ve learned throughout the years that in order to stay relevant, we must evolve, try new things, ask our customers and friends what they want, and respond accordingly,” she said.

Kouvatsos said the signature cocktails and brunch classics will be the same at all locations, but the beer, wine, kombucha and hard seltzer options might vary or not be offered at some restaurants.

The bar area inside the First Watch restaurant at 192 Riverside Ave. in the Brooklyn Station on Riverside shopping center.

“We’ve been testing the concept closely and slowly rolling it out in certain new restaurants, modifying the menu, figuring out the larger strategy around the program,” she said.

A Jacksonville bar menu includes four signature cocktails, three brunch classics (bloody mary, mimosa and champagne) and hard cider and kombucha on draft.

The signature cocktails are vodka-, tequila- and rum-based.

The city is reviewing a construction permit application for a 3,656-square-foot First Watch at 9680 Argyle Forest Blvd., No. 1, in OakLeaf  Crossing in Southwest Jacksonville. 

Plans show a restaurant with 114 inside seats and 32 on the patio. It is replacing Gator’s Dockside, which will move to a free-standing building nearby in Oakleaf Station.

TWT Restaurant Design, Construction & Development Co. of Tampa is the contractor for First Watch.

Kouvatsos said Monday First Watch has a fully executed lease for an end unit at OakLeaf.

Carrie Smith, managing director with the Franklin Street commercial real estate firm, represented First Watch in negotiating the deal, Kouvatsos said.

She said the Nocatee location will open at 295 Pine Lake Drive, Unit C105, in Ponte Vedra in St. Johns County. Smith also negotiated that deal.

Each new restaurant will have about 30 employees, she said.

First Watch operates six restaurants in Northeast Florida, primarily east of the St. Johns River. The Riverside and OakLeaf sites are west of the river.

First Watch opened its first two area restaurants in 2011, starting in August at 544-4 Marsh Landing Parkway in Jacksonville Beach. The second opened in September at 11111-4 San Jose Blvd. in the Riverplace Shopping Center in Mandarin.

First Watch cocktail offerings in Riverside include the Morning Glory, Pomegranate Sunrise and Million Dollar Bloody Mary.

It added locations at 13470 Beach Blvd. in Hodges Pointe Plaza at Hodges Boulevard; at 4490 Southside Blvd., near Tinseltown north of Butler Boulevard; and at  12540 Bartram Park Blvd., near Interstate 95 and Old St. Augustine Road.

First Watch is open 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. It is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day

The menu includes breakfast, brunch and lunch items, such as eggs, omelets, waffles, salads, wraps, sandwiches and bowls.

“Northeast Florida has been a great and successful market for us since we opened our first restaurant here in 2011,” Kouvatsos said. 

She said the First Watch approach to breakfast, brunch and lunch “resonates extremely well with residents and visitors here, which has spurred our growth in this area and allowed us to open six restaurants in the greater Jacksonville area in the past eight years.”

After the OakLeaf and Nocatee restaurants open, the First Watch development team will look for more sites, she said.

University Park-based First Watch Restaurants Inc. says it is the largest and fastest-growing daytime-only restaurant concept in the United States with more than 370 restaurants in 31 states.

Those includes 350 First Watch restaurants, 20 The Egg & I restaurants and one Sun & Fork restaurant. 

Kouvatsos said the popularity of breakfast and brunch has grown tremendously and will continue to do so.

“First Watch is in a unique situation having led the daytime dining segment for years,” she said.

Rather than compare its brand with other large or nationwide concepts, First Watch views itself as more of a neighborhood restaurant comparable in food quality and service to a local mom-and-pop cafe, she said.

“We admire the independent restaurants in this area greatly,” she said.

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