Sticking Together

Tapping the Sweet, Sweet Tradition of Pure Maple Syrup with
First Watch Partner, The Sugarman of Vermont

Below-freezing evenings and muddy mornings. Not the spitting image of romance, right? But for the men and women producing our irreplaceable pancake-waffle partner, maple syrup – nicknamed “sugarmakers” (naturally) – they’re a match made in sugary bliss.

Nestled in the charming foothills of Vermont’s countryside, sugarmakers are tapping, sapping and entrapping our taste buds with a process of collecting maple syrup that goes back generations.

And at First Watch, you can experience that tradition with each bottle of 100% pure maple syrup, produced by our partners at The Sugarman of Vermont who are as dedicated as we are to using the highest quality ingredients possible.

A Partnership That’s Stuck

First Watch and The Sugarman go way back – more than two decades, in fact. It all began when Tony Sedutto, then owner of The Sugarman, saw a newspaper clipping about First Watch while visiting the Sunshine State (Florida, for out-of-towners). Tony then called up our founder Ken Pendery and a handshake deal was struck, the beginnings of a partnership that’s stuck – and grown with us – from a handful of restaurants to now more than 420 nationwide.

This is the family-operation-magic that helps supply our 100% pure maple syrup, which has been proudly served at First Watch since 1999. Talk about tradition!

In the years since, Tony’s family, including his daughter Kerry Sedutto, has watched over The Sugarman, but they haven’t done it alone. A collaborative network of families and independent sugarhouses across Vermont contribute to the success of the maple syrup business, with many of these relationships stretching back two, sometimes even three generations.

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A family of sugarmakers – who partner with The Sugarman of Vermont – kindly invited us for a morning in the woods to see how maple syrup is created, from tree to tap to table.

There’s a reason our partnership has continued for so many years, too.

The Sugarman has a 45-year history of delivering pure maple syrup straight from tree to table, with an emphasis on quality and sustainability, much like our own commitment to “Follow the Sun” for maximum freshness.

Its eco-friendly practices are applied across its entire business: look no further than its geothermal energy and patented underground, closed-loop system used to cool the maple syrup in a way that sustains our environment as well as the syrup’s rich flavor.

Sugarman’s award-winning syrups are always non-GMO, sustainable, kosher, certified organic and gluten-free. Quality and Sugarman go together like waffles and…well, you get it. So much so, it has earned multiple food safety and quality assurance certifications, as well as the internationally recognized Platinum Award four years in a row given by the leading international network of accredited food testing and consulting laboratories. Now, that’s sweet!

A Match Made in Sugary Bliss

What does romance have to do with maple syrup? Well, just like with a loving relationship, the conditions have to be just right for collecting it: A freeze at night and a warmer morning of about 40°F degrees. As you can imagine, this season doesn’t last long – a month and a half, at most, typically from mid-March to late April. Once the maple tree buds and its leaves begin to reappear, the sap becomes sour (not the best, trust us), signaling the close of the season.

Every tree has a unique personality and temperament, which bring out its distinct flavor of maple syrup.

No one tree produces just one type of flavor, either. From golden delicate and amber rich to dark robust, these syrups dance across your palate with varying degrees of maple sweetness. The syrup’s color also determines its age and quality, so the darker the color, the stronger that maple taste will be! You’re probably most familiar with dark robust, which is what we use in our Grade A, 100% pure maple syrup (and if you aren’t, visit your neighborhood First Watch and give it a try!).

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A colorful assortment of three of the four grades of 100% pure maple syrup: golden delicate, amber rich and dark robust.

Our partners at The Sugarman produce all four flavors, all grade A, always pure – and to prove it, they use a refractometer – a thermometer-like device that measures the density, or thickness due to the sugars – to ensure each batch is produced with the highest quality.

From Tree to Table

In the early weeks of the year, sugarmakers trudge through miles of snow and ice to tap thousands of maple trees. Spouts are connected to each tree and, once season begins, roped lines guide the sap to a collection system that pumps it to the sugarhouse (yes, that’s its actual name). Back in the day, sap was transported via bucket and horse-drawn sled to the sugarhouse, where, just like today, it was heated to reach the perfect consistency and taste.

As the boiler heats to more than 200 °F and the freshly drawn sap begins to bubble, you’ll be welcomed by hints of cinnamon, caramel, and vanilla, all joined by a touch of smoke that only carefully aged firewood could produce. This smell dances around the sugarhouse and exits through the chimney stacks to sweeten the crisp mountain air and surrounding forests as the syrup boils to a rich amber hue.

The general rule of thumb: it takes 40 gallons of sap to end up with 1 gallon of maple syrup. As syrup cools, it thickens before being shipped to suppliers (like our partners at The Sugarman) where it is enriched even further to become the sticky staple we all know and love.

While sap-collecting season may be short and sweet, sugaring is a yearlong activity for sugarmakers, who are prepping piles of wood and maintaining sap lines from squirrel, chipmunk, and even moose intrusions (they want that sugar, too, even when it’s not flowing). The taps are removed so the trees can heal themselves, though where the tree is tapped is never the same each year. It’s a labor of love, really.

Stick Close to Pure Maple Syrup

Whether you’re putting a fork in your stack of Floridian French Toast or looking to add an all-natural sweetener to your Project Sunrise coffee, our 100% pure maple syrup is your timeless companion.

Made from the sap of sugar maple trees and produced through a process that has remained unchanged for centuries (thanks to The Sugarman and their generations of family partnerships), each bite will remind you of another good reason to hug a tree. Better yet, visit your neighborhood First Watch and ask your server about trying our 100% pure maple syrup to experience the difference in your breakfast, brunch or lunch. Tree hugging optional.