First Watch, the chain of daytime cafes, is temporarily closing all of its corporate owned restaurants, including all Central Florida locations, beginning Monday, April 13.
In a letter posted Saturday on the company’s website, the CEO, Chris Tomasso, said the decision was made to protect the workers who have continued to offer food for takeout and delivery. “Our people are our most important asset, and their physical safety and health, as well as their mental wellbeing, are always our priority,” Tomasso wrote. “I carry that responsibility, and it is not something I take lightly.”
The closings impact approximately 400 Central Florida workers spread among the area’s 17 locations, according to company spokeswoman Gina Merianos. All remaining staff will be furloughed beginning Monday. But Tomasso notes in his letter that the company will continue to pay health benefits for the workers who were on the company’s health plan. And if any of them become ill with covid-19, First Watch will pay all fees associated with treatment.
“ We’ve also invested in telemedicine benefits for every First Watch employee and their family, at no cost to them,” Tomasso said in his letter, “so all have access to medical professionals who can diagnose, authorize testing and even prescribe medications.”
“This was not a financial decision,” Merianos said in a phone call Saturday afternoon. She said the restaurants that remained open had been doing good business with takeout and delivery, though most restaurants were operating with only a few workers. Still, cooks were together in the kitchen and some guests were coming into the restaurants to pick up orders. Closing the doors, she said, was the only way to assure adherence to social distancing strictures.
First Watch is a Sarasota based company with 375 locations in 29 states employing 6,000 people. Merianos said some franchise locations have made the decision to stay open, but none are in Central Florida.