RESTAURANT INDUSTRY TURMOIL – NEW SKILLS REQUIRED, STARTING WITH BOARD

Download PDF

RESTAURANT INDUSTRY TURMOIL – NEW SKILLS ARE NECESSARY, STARTING WITH THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, AND I’M AVAILABLE !!

The questions are numerous. The problems are obvious. The solutions are not so easily manufactured. We don’t know what sales will be, what labor will be required to service customers that have new requirements. Cost of goods is not the biggest problem, but distortions in the supply chain could create price volatility as well as product shortages. We will have lots of new “other” expenses, necessary to deal with health concerns of employees and customers. There has to be negotiation with landlords, convincing them that you are here to stay, but need their help. You must economize at the executive level, but the needs are broader and deeper than ever before. You have to maintain a strong balance sheet somehow, but financing is more difficult, and more expensive than ever with the fundamental uncertainty. With all of this, management is working for reduced pay and Board compensation has been reduced or eliminated.

It’s no wonder, then, that something like a dozen publicly held companies, have had changes at the Board level, sometimes suggested (or imposed) by activist investor groups. Roark has invested $200M in Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) and KKR now owns over 8% of  Dave & Buster’s (PLAY). Vintage Capital owns over 10% of Red Robin (RRGB) and is represented on the Board. Among smaller companies, Kanen Capital Management has taken major positions and is represented on the Boards of both BBQ Holdings (BBQ) and The One Group Hospitality (STKS). Shake Shack (SHAK), Bloomin’ Brands (BLMN), Cheesecake Factory, Dave & Buster’s and others have raised money publicly at what most would consider to be distress prices.  It’s clear, therefore, that management and the Board must be capable of evaluating strategic financial alternatives. We wonder, for example, how and why Bloomin’ Brands was able to raise capital at much better terms than Cheesecake  Factory.

Investment bankers are beating the bushes to “write tickets”, but their possibilities must be evaluated from a realistic standpoint. We heard of a highly regarded investment banking firm suggesting (this past weekend) to a privately held chain that they could still get a multiple of historical EBITDA close to what was considered reasonable before the pandemic. This chain, by the way, is a big box casual dining company. Their sales are currently down 50% YTY, and the chain is, predictably, cash flow negative. That particular Board won’t likely go down that fruitless road, because they have at least one  very smart Board member (my friend), but other companies might not know better and could be forced to do a very unattractive deal at the last minute with a gun at their head.

Now comes the commercial: I’M AVAILABLE ! Two of my most recent Board involvements have ended recently, one of them very successfully, the other a privately held company that required refinancing and the new lender didn’t know that he needed me:)

I was on the Board until just recently of publicly held Diversified Restaurant Holdings (SAUC), which we took private on 2/25/20 (how’s that for timing?) at a price over 100% higher than the stock had been trading. SAUC was operating 65 franchised Buffalo Wild Wings locations, clearly a troubled restaurant system even before the pandemic. They had about $100M of debt, which they were servicing as required, but the net cash flow after debt service was non-existent. I was on the Special Committee and, with the great help of Darren Gange of Duff & Phelps, we found the “needle in a haystack” private equity buyer.  Parenthetically, while we were negotiating with the ultimate buyer on virtually a daily basis, an activist investor (and shareholder) was screaming his desire to “help us out”, at what turned out to be about half the price we sold for. It was tedious but we closed the deal for an Enterprise Value of about 7.5x the “run rate” of Adjusted Cash Flow. Intense and lengthy as the negotiations were, it was stimulating and satisfying, especially since it was very successful.

The other recent Board position was a 17 unit big box privately held casual dining company that required new financing.  The chain was, and is, very successful in their home state, but geographically remote locations, opened before my arrival, proved to be their undoing. I’ve always been predisposed to keep operations  “close to home”, suggesting expansion outward from the base so there is always brand awareness and maximum ability to adjust when necessary. I learned from Norman Brinker forty years ago that “running a restaurant chain is like managing a military campaign”. You want your troops “massed”, for strength and speed and flexibility.  It was the old formula that Shoney’s used so successfully decades ago, finally running out of steam when the third or fourth generation of managers that followed founder Ray Danner allowed the operating standards to slip too far.

I’m well aware that compensation for Board members has been suspended in many cases, reduced at the least. I can, fortunately, afford to work for the “going rate” along with other Board members. My major requirement is that the chain has the corporate culture that provides the foundation for long term success. I would naturally like to work with colleagues that enjoy the hospitality industry as much as I and are committed to the task at hand.

Other than reminding all of you that I have a good education,  operated my own chain of fast casual restaurants  many years ago, and have had four decades of  investment banking experience relating to the restaurant/retail industry, more details are provided at the “About Roger” section of this website (from the Home Page)..

So much for the pitch. Publicly held or “Up & Coming” privately held companies can respond, and we’ll talk.  I can be reached at lfsi@aol.com or call 646  270 3127. Please leave a message if I don’t pick up, there is so much spam these days.

Along with you, I will be closely watching developments within the restaurant/retail industries over the critical coming months. There will be lots of closings, but some operators  will emerge stronger than ever. We will remain in touch with all of you, doing our best to contribute to your thought process.

Roger Lipton

 

 

 

 

 

Download PDF