THREE FINE RESTAURANT COMPANIES: CAKE, CBRL, & CHUY PROVIDE UPDATES, WHAT CAN WE LEARN?

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THREE FINE RESTAURANT COMPANIES: CAKE, CBRL, & CHUY PROVIDE UPDATES, WHAT CAN WE LEARN?

CHEESECAKE FACTORY (CAKE)

There are 294 total company operated restaurants in US and Canada, @ 12/31/19,  including 206 Cheesecake Factories CAKE, 23 under the North Italia brand, 50 within Fox Restaurant concepts, 13 under Grand Luxe Café, 1 under RockSugar Southeast, and 1 under the Social Monk Asian Kitchen brand. The Fox Concepts and North Italia comprise 28.3% of 12/19 assets and 3.7% of consolidated revenues (or only about $90M, as North Italia and the remainder of Fox were completed on 10/2/19). There are also 26 CAKE restaurants operating internationally under licenses, as well as the bakery subsidiary.  Comps for Cheesecake Factory restaurants, for the two months ending 5/31, were down 63%, including 87 full or partial closures. Stores that are opened without dining rooms are doing about $4M annualized.

It is worth noting that off-premise activity represented 22% of Q1 sales, more than at most of their full service casual dining competitors, a solid base on which to build. In April CAKE amended their credit line with covenant relief, reduced operating costs, suspended the dividend and stock repurchases, and raised $200M from a convertible preferred equity raise. The cash balance was $260M as of 4/30.

As of  6/2, CAKE has reopened about 25% of all 294 (that would be about 73 locations), of which 34 are Cheesecake Factories  (out of 206), restaurants under COVID-19 capacity restrictions. They hope to have 65% of dining rooms opened, with limited capacity, by mid-June. They began reopening dining rooms the second week of May. The (17% of) Cheesecake Factories that have so far opened their dining rooms  have recaptured about 75% of last year sales average. Stores that are opened without dining rooms are doing about $4M annualized.

We suspect that the 17% (34 of 206) Cheesecake Factories that have opened are those most easily accessed by today’s stay at home customers. Time will tell how successfully average sales will build as the system openings proceed. Recovery of profit margins will be inhibited by delivery expenses and increased packaging costs, like everybody else, and also by fewer high-margin drink sales.

Also, while Cheesecake Factory is clearly the dominant brand within the portfolio, other than pointing out that North Italia has a lot of growth potential and Fox is an incubator of new brands, there has been no update on how they are doing. They do, after all, represent 28% of corporate assets and hundreds of millions of dollars of annualized sales (as of Y/E ’19).

CRACKER BARREL (CBRL)

CBRL reported its financial results for the third quarter ending May 1, 2020 and provided an update relative to COVID-19.  For the third quarter of fiscal 2020, through April, all 664 Cracker Barrel stores remained open, comp restaurant sales declined 41.7% and comparable store retail sales declined 45.5%. However, all stores were operating in an off-premise-only model with no dine-in service from late March through late April, with incremental dine-in openings initiating thereafter. It is noteworthy that off-premise sales only represented 9% of the mix prior to COVID-19.  A relatively old customer base, with breakfast representing 25% of sales, are relevant factors in the rebuilding process.

Since the end of Q2, the table above shows the weekly progress over the last four weeks for all comparable stores. The Company points out In the week ending May 29, 2020, when compared to the comparable period in 2019, comparable store restaurant sales for stores with limited dine-in service For the full week (434 out of roughly 664, about 2/3 of the system) decreased approximately 32% compared to approximately 76% for stores that were limited to an off-premise-only business model.  The Company points out that, as of 5/29, 505 stores had limited dine-in service, and the Company expects that substantially all stores will have limited dine-in service by the end of June. It can be expected that the system restaurant comps will move closer to the negative 32%, and hopefully improve from there over time.  Retail comps have been steadily improving and will presumably move higher as restaurant activity brings more customers inside.

CBRL had a strong balance sheet ahead of the pandemic, has not raised equity capital but drew down its full revolving credit line in Mid-March and net debt to trailing twelve month EBITDA rose to 2x as of 4/30/20, vs. 1x three months earlier.

Once again, however, a negative 32% or 22% or even a negative 12% doesn’t bring profitability back to previous levels.  Labor is higher, protein is costing more (at least temporarily) and sanitizing efforts provide an additional expense line.

CHUYS HOLDING – (CHUY)

Prior to their June 1 release, the Company had provided a Q1 (3/31) updates, with subsequent events as well. They indicated that off-premise revenues had tripled from 14-15% of sales to 45-50% of (old) sales, roughly 20 percent of that from delivery.  Online ordering was 45% of off-premise activity, compared to 18% before the pandemic. The weekly burn rate was $200,000 by end of May, compared to $500k/wk in April. They had cancelled non-essential capex, temporarily suspended rent payments, continued to work with landlords. As of 5/17, they had $27M of cash on hand and they announced on 6/1 their intention to sell $50M of common stock.  Amid the pandemic, they furloughed 80 pc of hourly employees, 40% of store management, 40% of corporate and administrative staff. Non-furloughed workers had salaries reduced by 25-50 pc, senior mgt. took pay cuts of 50-75% and Board of Director compensation was suspended. They continued paying health premiums for eligible furloughed employees.

As reported on June 1st, for the second quarter (two months) through May 24, 2020 comparable restaurant sales decreased approximately 49.8% from the same period last year. The following table shows selected weekly comparable restaurant sales and average sales, for the 92, out of 101 system-wide locations that are open.

The Company commented that: “during the eight-week period ended May 24, 2020, we remained current with all of our vendors but deferred a majority of our lease obligations and as allowed under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act deferred the payment of our employer social security taxes. Had we fully paid these expenses during such period, we estimate that we would have had approximately $27 million of cash and cash equivalents as of May 24, 2020 (down from actual current $32M).

“In response to the business disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, during the eight-week period ended May 24, 2020, we transitioned our restaurants to a more limited menu and a primarily off-premise operating model with reduced labor, operating expenses, marketing and corporate overhead expenses, along with the cancellation or postponement of all non-essential planned capital expenditures. At the end of the eight-week period ended May 24, 2020, we were operating 18 restaurants in to-go only format, 74 with limited dine-in seating and nine were temporarily closed.  Based on our operations over this eight-week period, we estimate we achieve positive EBITDA (1) with average weekly sales above approximately $43,000 after taking into account all restaurant operating costs, including rent, and G&A expenses.   As we expand our operations by increasing our dine-in capacity and reducing the off-premise operating model for our restaurants, we expect to incur additional restaurant operating expenses and G&A expenses. With the increased expenses resulting from such expanded operations, we estimate we achieve positive EBITDA (1) with average weekly sales above approximately $54,000.”

Management actions, to get through these challenging times, have been commendable. We accept the fact that the cash burn has been reduced, and that the cash flow breakeven point has been lowered, for the time being. However: the new fully loaded (with corporate G&A) EBITDA breakeven point as described may be optimistic. $54,000/week annualizes to $2.8M per store, or about $290M system-wide. In calendar 2019, CHUY reported $426M of revenues, with income from operations of $3.4M. Adding back $20.7M of D&A, $14.2M of Impairment and closing costs, $0.6M of legal settlement, and $2.9M of pre-opening costs, provides Adjusted EBITDA of $41.8M. That means that ($426-290M) $136M of sales above “break even” last year generated only $41.8M of Adjusted EBITDA, or a 30.7% “flow-through”. That’s not much “leverage” from the higher sales. We believe cash generation from the incremental sales should be 40-50%. (Cost of sales, 26%, is variable, Labor, 35.4% is perhaps half variable, Operating Expenses, 15%, is perhaps half variable, Occupancy, 7.5% is mostly fixed, G&A, 5.6% can’t by leveraged by more than a point, so 26 + 17 + 8 + 1 = 52% variable, ballpark).  That leaves 48% theoretical flow through. Especially since there is no expense line that is expected to help, our conclusion is that the average weekly sales need to be $60-65k/wk. to generate positive corporate EBITDA. It’s interesting that $60-65k/week is 74%-80% of the previous sales that we suggested in our recent Darden (DRI) analysis as the approximate EBITDA breakeven range for full service casual dining restaurant chains.  Let’s watch 🙂

CONCLUSION

CAKE, CBRL, and CHUY are all well run restaurant chains, strongly positioned competitively, supported by strong balance sheets, with admirable operating histories. The reports described above show definite sequential progress over the last two months. There is, however, a lot of “wood to chop” before profit margins recover and an attractive return on capital can be earned. We stand by our prior reasoning that year to year sales comparisons have to recover to a negative 20-25% to provide a breakeven corporate EBITDA. While companies in all industries like to report “Adjusted EBITDA”, for old school analysts and investors that consider GAAP earnings relevant: GAAP breakeven (depreciation is not “free cash flow”, and interest expense will be higher than before) will require 10-15 points more of revenues. That means that GAAP breakeven will require sales to be down only 5-15% YTY, 10% as the midpoint. Above this GAAP pretax breakeven point, the last 10 points of revenues will generate perhaps 4 points of pretax profits, 3% after tax.

It is a new world, on many levels.

Roger Lipton