Our previous articles regarding Noble Roman’s are available by way of the SEARCH function on our Home Page.
THE FOURTH QUARTER
For the quarter ending Dec ’22 the company reported a net loss of $873K on Revenues of $3.3M vs. a loss in ’21 of $324k on Revenues of $3.6M. The fourth quarter revenue of ‘22 was penalized $180K and expenses were penalized by $235k of adjustments related to prior years and $150k to lower the deferred tax asset. Combining those amounts the net loss would have been $307k for the quarter ended December 31, 2022 compared to $324k loss in the quarter ended December 31, 2021.
Revenues from the nine Craft Pizza & Pub locations was $2.33M vs. $2.44M, down 4.5%, primarily because the most recently opened two locations were comparing against their honeymoon periods in Q4’21. The EBITDA store level contribution was $230k (9.9% of revenues) vs. $277k (11.3%), largely due to facility costs (17.3% vs. 15.5%), primarily due to the latest two locations.
Revenues within the franchising division were $784k, down from $1.014M, the reduction due to an adjustment of prior years’ allowance of $180k and additional adjustments of $235k as a “reserve for possible uncollectables, which in the opinion of management were not necessary except to be ultra-conservative”. Gross margin in this venue decreased from 51.0% to 5.4%, due to “a decrease in revenues of approximately $180k and an increase in expense of approximately $235k. Considering only current operations, the margins for this venue for the 4th quarter would have been $458k, Going forward this venue has been showing new growth activity and both the revenue and margin is expected to achieve or exceed historic levels in upcoming periods”.
THE YEAR ‘22
The full calendar year of ’22 showed a net loss of $1.056M on revenues of $14,453 vs. net income of $509k on revenues of $13.885M in ’21. Adding back the $525k of Q4 non-cash adjustments described above plus $450k of D&A and $1.626 of interest provides Adjusted EBITDA of $1.545M. This compares to about $2.5M in calendar ’21. The decline of EBITDA was due to a lower contribution from the Craft Pizza & Pubs, primarily because 2021 benefited from the PPP loan at that time, and higher G&A, much of it to support the intensified effort within the non-traditional franchising segment.
The CPP division reported $9.7M of revenues, up from $8.9M, due to the latest two openings and same store sales increases from older locations. EBITDA store level margins decreased from 19.2% of sales, to 12.3%, “primarily the result of the PPP loan in 2021 and partially the result of increase in wages and other costs, mostly offset by menu price increases. The Company initiated a second price increase during Q2’22….the largest impact was the impact of the PPP loan in ’21 to offset certain expenses.” In terms of the outlook: “Our CPP segment is now operating at much improved staffing levels, and newer managers and employees are gaining valuable tenure and experience.”
OTHER FINANCIAL DEVELOPMENTS
Management learned “well after year-end and just shortly before the beginning of the audit, of the acquisition of our auditing firm by another company…the acquiring accounting firm will not be supporting public company audits in the future….a high priority will be…..to contract with a new firm in a reasonably short timeframe.” CFO, Paul Mobley, stated on the conference call that “it is not anticipated that the statement of operations will in any way change from what has been reported and the form 10-K will be filed as soon as possible.”
The Company expects a refund, under the Employee Retention Credit government program, of $1.718M, plus accrued interest since 2020. After relevant expense the Company expects, including interest, something over $1.5M, to be received in tranches over the course of calendar ’23.
The Company has recently begun to make monthly principal payments of $83,333 against the long-term debt (including the current portion $.8M) of approximately $8.3M that becomes due in February ’25.
The most significant tangible development is the new momentum within the franchising of non-traditional locations. In spite of the tail end of Covid still affecting potential franchisees, 31 new non-traditional locations opened in ’22, versus 24 in ’21. In the first quarter of ’23, 11 new deals have been signed, 10 have been opened and “fifteen locations are in various stages of preparing to get open, including 3 openings in the next 2 weeks.”
CFO, Paul Mobley, elaborated on the conference call that “in late 2022 and early 2023, we sold two franchises each to two different larger groups that have potential of expanding into multiple units each. One of those groups has now opened two locations and one has opened one and will be opening a second in a few days. The last group is doing extremely well with the first locations and is now discussing the likely possibility of entering a development agreement for 100 locations over the next two and one half years. The other group is extremely satisfied but is more cautious and wants those two stores to be open a few months before they do major expansion.”
According to CEO, Scott Mobley, “barring any sudden, negative changes in the economic climate, we believe it is very possible for both revenue and margins in this segment to meet or exceed historic levels.”
Craft Pizza & Pub locations
Dining room sales are up, versus last year, to 55-57%, versus 80% pre-covid. Third party delivery has fallen off, apparently as consumers react to the increased cost of that service. The Company is about to launch their own online platform, using DoorDash as the delivery provider. DoorDash will capture the delivery fee and Noble Roman’s will collect the full order amount. It will be a better value for both the guest and the Company, so hopefully will improve sales by way of this venue.
The Company is also creating its own app that will ease order placement and include a loyalty reward program, anticipated to be ready “in a matter of a few weeks”.
In terms of franchising CPP locations, the Company will be exhibiting at MUFC in Las Vegas in late April, in an attempt to develop new franchisee possibilities.
On the bright side:
- Labor availability has improved, and could help to improve CPP store level margins in ’23.
- The intensified focus on non-traditional franchising is starting to pay dividends.
- The Company expects to receive something more than $1.5M including interest from the federal Employee Retention Credit program.
- A new 6%+ stockholder has proposed a short-term (two year) loan to the company to reduce a portion of its debt to Corbel. The company has declined the proposal as not in the best interest of the company and in violation of its senior note agreement with Corbel. Uncertain though it is, new interest validates the upside potential at Noble Roman’s.
The overriding corporate limitation for Noble Roman’s, especially in terms of company store expansion, is the $8M of long term debt, carrying an interest rate, including PIK, of approximately 15%. (The higher indicated interest rate is due to amortization of costs incurred in the course of acquiring that debt.) The principal is now being repaid at $83,333/month, with the total amount due in early ’25, so operating cash flow is largely absorbed in this manner. Fortunately, the $785k of cash as of Dec ’22, augmented by anticipated operating cash flow and the receipt of over $1.5M of ERC funds, should allow for servicing of that debt, but most of that $8M will need to be replaced within 24 months, hopefully at a materially lower interest rate than is currently the case. In this regard, the Company, prior to Covid, was generating about $3M of EBITDA, though much of that was absorbed by debt service and legal expenses, the last of which is no longer a factor. Projecting forward twenty-four months, if the previous $3M of EBITDA has been re-established, $8M or more of new financing should be available at an interest rate well below the current level. The operative phrase, of course, is “if the previous $3M of EBITDA……”.
An important current positive is the newly established growth within the non-traditional venue, and the most recent possibility of signing one or more major multi-store agreements. It is worth noting that initial franchisee fees, though received up front, are amortized over the life of the contract rather than reflected in current revenues. The current cash flow from initial fees from 30-40 or more openings will, of course, be useful. The 7% royalties will be reflected as sales are generated and will be reflected in the current P&L.
The new stockholder, a publicly held company with $7.2M of cash on hand as of 9/30/22, has purchased about 6% of the common equity, and proposed a short-term loan to the company to reduce a portion of its debt to Corbel. While, as we said above, the company has declined the proposal as not in the best interest of the company, their interest validates the long-term potential at Noble Roman’s and could encourage other equity or debt participants.
UPDATED CORPORATE DESCRIPTIONS: with relevant transcripts – NOBLE ROMAN’S, FIESTA RESTAURANT GROUP, BURGERFI, BRC (BLACK RIFLE COFFEE), ARK RESTAURANTS
FIESTA RESTAURANT GROUP
BRC, INC (BLACK RIFLE COFFEE COMPANY)
NOBLE ROMAN’S REPORTS SECOND QUARTER – EARNINGS AND CASH FLOW VIRTUALLY BREAKEVEN IN Q2, BUT TRAFFIC IS POSITIVE AND IMPROVING WITH JULY OPERATING MARGIN MATERIALLY BETTER
We have written extensively on Noble Roman’s and encourage readers to use the SEARCH function on our Home Page to access previous articles.
Noble Roman’s (NROM) remains a small-cap situation with a great deal of untapped potential. The Company’s emergence from Covid in a strong competitive situation should provide them with a new opportunity to build out this fifty- year-old Midwest brand. Nine company operated Craft Pizza and Pubs are profitable, setting the stage for further expansion, especially if a new smaller CPP works as expected. In the non-traditional venue, the Targeted Addressable Market amounts to tens of thousands of outlets, and NROM should be able to build on their base. With a microcap valuation (22M share at $.20-.25 per share), the potential upside of this situation continues to be substantial. While the current long term debt absorbs an undesirably large portion of the current operating cash flow, that should be less the case as margins improve from here. As more consistent operating results are reported for the first time in many years, we believe the long term debt can be restructured on materially better terms, allowing for greater free cash flow to fuel consistent and profitable growth.
The second quarter for Noble Roman’s was fairly typical of most restaurant chains as inflation drove labor and other operating costs high enough to delay the return to normal operating margins. In addition to the nine company operated Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza and Pubs (CPPs), the non-traditional segment that generates just over $1M per quarter in royalties and licensing fees (with substantial long term potential) continues to show modest but steady improvement and has recently demonstrated a noticeable pickup in signings and openings.
Revenues were $3.8M vs. $3.6M, with a net loss of $50k vs a net profit of $85k in ’21. Company owned CPPs generated $2.5M vs $2.3M, and franchising revenues was $1.1M vs. $1.2M. As the Company summarized it, “ramifications of the COVID pandemic continue to negatively impact labor, supply chain and cost structures…..the impact of these factors has dissipated measurably with regard to CPPs….the franchising venue has been impacted more significantly and in a more lasting way but the venue is now growing again, while at a slower pace due to the economic environment and labor shortages.
The Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza and Pub (CPP) Venue
Compared to 2021, Cost of Goods was unchanged at 20.9% and Labor up only 20 bp at 28.6%. Facility Cost was up 120 bp to 16.2%, Packaging was up 90 bp while Delivery Fees were down 250 bp to 1.6%. All other Operating Expenses were up 90 bp to 15.5% (with utilities costing 30% more) and the store level EBITDA margin was down 90 bp to 13.6%, up sequentially from 9.9% in Q1. A notable sequential improvement was in Labor which declined 310 bp from 31.7% in Q1.
The Franchising Venue
Royalties and Fees were $1.064M vs. $1.199M, still down from ’21 but continuing to improve sequentially from $1.034M in Q1’22 and $1.014M in Q4’21. The margin contribution from this venue was 54.6% of Revenues, down from 59.8%, with Salaries and Wages up 300 bp to 20.4%, Trade Show Expense down 280 bp, Insurance up 180 bp, Travel & Auto was up 200 bp and Other Operating Expense up 110 bp. Part of the swing in payroll and other expenses was a function of allocating PPP money in ’21 to those categories.
Operating Income was $282k vs. $424k in ’21, after D&A of $113k vs. $142k and G&A of $539k vs. $424k. Interest Expense was $11k higher at $348k, resulting in a pretax loss of $66k vs a profit of $85k.
Management provided tangible indications of improving fundamentals relative to both important venues. The formal earnings release indicated that the “Covid factors have measurably dissipated” with regard to the CPP venue and the franchising division is “now growing again”, and the Conference Call filled in more details
Regarding the CPPs, not only were Q2 Revenues up as expected, with the season, but July Revenues improved further, the CPP EBITDA margin improved to 16.0% in July, and the most recent week in August was up 20.8% for the comp stores open over two years. It is also noteworthy that these sales gains are a result of traffic improvement, since prices have not been raised since early in the year and the average ticket has actually been running down modestly. In terms of unit development, the search for an attractive location in which to place the first “smaller footprint” CPP continues.
On the non-traditional front: nineteen locations have been opened in the year to date, with eighteen sold, and the pace seems to be continuing. It was mentioned that a recent Indiana C store added $11k/wk of pizza sales when it introduced Noble Roman’s product. While it is clear that some of the weakest non-traditional outlets, which pre-Covid numbered over 600, will likely not return because the operators could not financially survive the Covid, newer outlets are opening successfully and the marketplace seems more receptive than in a long time.
President and CEO, Scott Mobley, provided further operating details on the Conference Call. The labor situation at the CPPs, while always challenging, has largely stabilized, so turnover is coming down and productivity per hour is increasing. Retention of managers, who generally are leaving the industry, is a more important longer term issue than finding hourly workers. Negotiations continue with all sorts of vendors to keep operating costs under control. New agreements with commodity suppliers may save about 50bp of operating margin, in addition to another potential 50bp from a recent decline in the price of cheese. While beef and pork prices could move higher, costs are generally under control. A new salad bar has been introduced in the CPPs and almost 2,000 salads were sold in a recent week, showing some promise, especially for the lunch daypart.
CONCLUSION: Provided at the beginning of this article
NOBLE ROMAN’S, INC.- UPDATE FROM PRESENTATION AT ANNUAL MEETING ON 7/15/22
There were no meaningful fundamental developments at Noble Roman’s annual meeting that took place last Friday, 7/15/22. However, CEO Scott Mobley’s presentation provided an update regarding progress over the last two years, and reviewed ongoing challenges and opportunities. The full slide presentation can be found on the Noble Roman’s website, and we provide some of the highlights below. Our previous articles regarding Noble Roman’s can be accessed through the SEARCH function on the Home Page of this website.
Second quarter results, to be reported in early August, will obviously be instructive. It seems that, based on the presentation at last week’s Annual Meeting, the worst of the COVID and supply chain effects is in the rear-view mirror. Our expectation, therefore, is that sales in Q2 are likely to be noticeably higher than Q1, both on a seasonal basis and also less affected by COVID variants. Operating margins at the Craft Pizza and Pubs (CPPs) should also be sequentially improved, better labor efficiency and higher sales, and commodity prices no worse than in Q1.
Non-traditional franchising results in Q2 should improve sequentially, at least modestly, with seasonally higher sales, new units signed and/or opened, and the continued recovery from COVID. Most importantly, the “total addressable market” is huge, many tens of thousands of prospects, the franchise offering has been improved, signings and openings are taking place, and a newly hired experienced sales associate could be an important addition. This division, over the long term, could be materially larger than it is today.
The new smaller CPP prototype, if successful, could provide new momentum for this division. The company has demonstrated an ability to open new locations in as little as 90 days from signing of a lease, and lease negotiations are currently taking place, so we should have feedback in this regard within perhaps six months.
NOBLE ROMAN’S CRAFT PIZZA AND PUB (CPP)
Recall that there are currently nine company operated “CPPs”, plus three franchised locations, all within an hour or so of Indianapolis. The CPP is distinctive from fast casual pizza competitors in that its menu is broader (with sandwiches, pasta, salads, desserts), three different size pies are served, there are several styles of crusts, beer and wine is offered, the dining room has more service, and the décor is modern with TV entertainment. The latest developments include: a salad bar added during June and July, which in the last week of June increased sales before 4pm by 16.8%. Potentially very important: a new 2,400 square foot prototype has been designed, allowing for 20 tables seating 89, retaining the pizza valet service entrance and the visible dough making area, with two large ovens replacing three smaller units, continued offering of domestic and imported craft beers but without the bar area. The new CPP version will save about $270k of initial hard costs (versus the previous $650-$700k), with presumably lower ongoing occupancy expense. Negotiations are in progress for the first company operated location, which could facilitate franchising by being much less costly to build and more profitable to operate.
THE NON-TRADITIONAL VENUE
Recall that there are over 600 non-traditional locations selling Noble Roman’s pizza and other products, generating over $4M in annual royalties with operating profit well over 50%. This business, mostly convenience stores and gas stations, was seriously impacted over the last two years by Covid, has been steadily recovering most recently. In addition to pizza, baked sandwiches, pasta, burgers/cheeseburger pizzas, breakfast and take-N-Bake products have been available. Honey Crisp Chicken was introduced as an “Add-On Concept” but was de-emphasized during the Covid due to supply shortages. The Total Addressable Market (TAM) In the convenience store/gas station grouping is about 150,000 units. Foodservice sales within convenience stores (industry wide) have been growing steadily right through the Covid, accounting for 22.5% of inside sales and 33.5% of gross profit, so non-traditional potential franchisees are increasingly interested in improving their food offerings. While many non-traditional franchisees are small business entities, and were obviously affected by the stay-at-home economy in 2020 and 2021, it is noteworthy that, since the onset of COVID (from 3/20 to 7/22), NROM has signed 85 franchise agreements and 61 new units have opened. In calendar 2022 through 7/15 there have been 21 signings and 17 openings. The typical non-traditional installation costs about $24,500 for equipment and signage and a $7,500 initial franchise fee. A newly instituted franchise agreement calls for a minimum weekly royalty, and expands the economic viability of lower volume locations. Lastly, a new sales associate, with operational and sales experience in the non-traditional sphere has been hired as of July 5, 2022.
EMERGING FROM COVID
Scott Mobley reiterated how difficult the two years ending 3/22 have been, indicating that staffing and supply chain issues have noticeably eased in the last few months. Inflation, however, remains a key issue, and good real estate is in short supply due to minimal new strip center development over the last two years. The average salary for general & assistant managers is up 18.2% since October, 2019, to $51,444, but adjustments at four company locations, reducing salaried managers from three to two, has been a partial offset. Average hourly wage in the same period has increased by 8% to $11.70/hr. As a measure of the improvement in labor productivity, Sales Per Non-Management Labor Hour (SPNMLH) has increased from $52.89 in January, 2020 to an impressive $75.59, up 43%, in July, 2022.
COST OF GOODS
The CRB Commodity Index, after rising almost 50% from January through June, 2022, has retreated about 15% from its high in the last several weeks. Wheat, Beef, Chicken, and Tomato Paste, after substantial increases, are still at or near their recent highs. Cheddar Cheese Block price, after rising throughout ’21 to $2.00, rose further to a peak around $2.35 by April-May, has now retreated to about $2.15. Offsetting some of the higher cost of goods and in an effort to cut down on waste, operational simplifications have been put in place. Some slower moving menu items have been removed from the menu and the variety of cheese cup sizes has been reduced. To reduce power usage, only 2 of 3 ovens are used during lunch and slower weekdays. Negotiations have taken place with linen, pest control and produce suppliers, as well as their credit card processor. Relief relative to the operating costs of goods and services is “on the way”, the magnitude of which is “TBD”.
The presentation made reference to ongoing uncertainties such as the general economy, the price of gasoline which inhibits local travel, the general rate of inflation, resurgence of COVID variants, and customer resistance to necessary menu price increases.
RECENT PERFORMANCE METRICS
Over the last year, from June to June, the average ticket is up 8.7%, the percent of sales that is Dine-In is 56.4% vs. 49.4%, 3rd party delivery sales is 13.8% vs. 17.7%, and YTD catering is $98,996 vs. $71,735. Consumers are clearly more comfortable dining out, and entertaining groups at home, rather than picking up or getting delivery.
CONCLUSION: Provided above
NOBLE ROMAN’S (NROM) REPORTS MARCH QUARTER – OMICRON REDUCES OPERATIONAL RESULT TO BREAKEVEN EBITDA – COMPANY EXITS PANDEMIC WITH NINE COMPANY (PLUS THREE FRANCHISED) “CRAFT PIZZA PUBS” AND OVER FIVE HUNDRED NON-TRADITIONAL FRANCHISED LOCATIONS
Previous reports we have written that more completely describe Noble Roman’s, its operations and its prospects, can be accessed via the SEARCH function on our Home Page.
Noble Roman’s (NROM) has been predictably affected by ramifications of Covid-19 and its variants, as well as supply chain, labor and inflationary challenges. However, the Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza & Pub venue moves forward with nine company operated stores, operating profitably even in their seasonally weakest quarter and still influenced by the Covid. The non-traditional venue, even as it recovers, is generating over $1M per quarter in royalties and can be expected to grow from here.
The development of a new smaller prototype of the “Pub” has the potential to provide an additional growth venue for this fifty year old midwest brand. Noble Roman’s was generating approximately $3M EBITDA annually prior to the Covid. While a good portion of that EBITDA was consumed at that time by legal expenses related to long gone franchising activities, that burden has seemingly run its course. At the same time, over the last two years the “Pubs” have more than doubled in size (from five to nine company locations) and could grow very fast if the new smaller prototype is successful. Additionally, the non-traditional venue seems poised to grow again.
Scott Mobley’s summation is pertinent: “…the period from mid-November ’21 through late February ’22 required a constant emergency footing…daily pricing issues, ingredient shortages, personnel shortages, . Covid-19 isolations, distribution disruptions, shortages of equipment parts and service…The necessity of managing daily emergencies has subsided dramatically, and the operating environment during March and April, although still challenging, is very good by comparison.”
Overall, it seems likely that operating results, along with last vestiges of Omicron, have bottomed and the long term potential for earnings and cash flow growth should assert itself. With a total enterprise value of only about $15M, the possibility of record levels of EBITDA (which could exceed $5M in just few years), would provide a handsome return to investors at the current level.
NOBLE ROMAN’S REPORTS FIRST QUARTER RESULTS
Indianapolis based Noble Roman’s reported their March ’22 quarter, showing higher revenues versus ’21, due to two new “Craft Pizza Pubs”, with earnings and EBITDA subdued by the lingering effects (revenues and staffing) of Omicron and supply difficulties.
Total revenues in Q1’22 were $3.465M vs. $3.282M. Operating Income was $159k, down sharply from $1.161M (when $941k was received from the PPP program). There was a net loss of $137k, after interest of $342k and a $46k tax benefit, versus a profit of $827k in ’21 (as a result of the PPP). Adding back $112k of D&A, the first quarter of ’22 was virtually breakeven from an EBITDA standpoint (a loss of $25k).
NOBLE ROMAN’S CRAFT PIZZA AND PUBS
The Craft Pizza & Pub Division generated $2.283M of revenues, up from $2.108M, with nine locations operating versus seven in ’21. Cost of sales was similar at 20.8%. Salaries and wages was 31.7% of sales, higher than “normal”, due to staffing challenges, and especially higher than the 10.9% shown in ’21, when PPP was largely applied against this category. In a similar fashion, Facility Cost was 17.2% of sales versus only 5.4% shown in ’21. The total of Packaging, Delivery and “Other” Expenses was well controlled, 20.6% of sales versus 21.2% in ’21. The store level EBITDA margin contribution was 9.9% in ’22 versus a non-comparable 41.7% in ’21.
Based on commentary from both Paul and Scott Mobley, within the earnings release and on the conference call, there is reason to believe that store level margin from this division will improve noticeably in quarters to come. Per Paul Mobley: “the effect of labor shortages, supply chain disruptions, inflationary pressures and the Omicron effect have dissipated significantly starting in March (when labor expense ran 29.0% (versus 31.7% in Q1). Scott Mobley elaborated that “through aggressive recruiting, company owned Pub restaurants all have a full complement of management staff. We are much better staffed now than many and we have no severe staffing deficits in any company operated units….we are having to pay up for that labor, however, the good news is that our hourly labor productivity has increased more dramatically than the wage increase…..the average wage for hourly employees has increased by 5% in round numbers…..however…..sales per non-management labor hour has increased by approximately 35%. This and the menu price increase translate into a lower wage expense as a percentage of sales, a trend that began showing itself in March and has continued through April and now into May. Scott Mobley also pointed out that average salaries of managers is up about 7.5% since pre-Covid, partially offsetting the productivity gains of hourly staff.
Reinforcing the indication that sales have firmed in April and May, Scott Mobley described on the conference call that: “Organic sales of stores open well over a year or more, ‘organic’ defined as ‘total less catering and special events’, during the last six weeks are up 11% vs. last year…average check is up 5% so traffic and average check combined, is up about 6%.”.
Also supporting the likelihood of an improving store level margin was Scott Mobley’s breakdown of sales by venue during the last six weeks: Inside dining has been 49% vs 52% a year ago, carryout has been 34% vs. 33%, 3rd party delivery 17% vs 15%. Importantly, a recent new arrangement for third party delivery will incorporate a lower charge by the agent as well as a surcharge over the in-store price, which should make the 17% of sales from 3rd party delivery materially more profitable than it has been.
Based on the above indications, margins at the Craft Pizza and Pubs appear likely to move materially higher than was shown in Q1. The normal seasonal increase in sales, combined with the described improvement in labor costs, as well as 3rd party delivery profitability, seem likely to move margins at the Craft Pizza Pubs at least several percentage points higher than the 10% area of the first quarter.
This portion of Noble Roman’s activities was virtually flat in the first quarter, at $1.03M vs. $1.05M in Q1’21. The EBITDA margin contribution of this segment was $573k vs. $715k in Q1’21. The flat year to year sales, in spite of new openings, is a result of closures likely affected by the ongoing Covid variants. The decline in profitability was also largely due to PPP funds in ’21 largely applied against Salaries and Wages, which was up $95k in ’22. Scott Mobley pointed out that the challenges of Omicron took certain NROM employees away from their normal efforts to support and build non-traditional results, but they have now returned to their traditional job descriptions. In the meantime, fourteen non-traditional locations have been signed in ’22 with fifteen opened and more to come. The non-traditional venue, with over six hundred locations operating before the Covid pandemic, has something less than that number operating today, but there continues to be substantial opportunity for growth. There are many thousands of convenience stores, gas stations, and entertainment centers that are prospects for Noble Roman’s products.
NEW CRAFT PIZZA & PUB PROTOTYPE
While NROM management continues to search for CRAFT PIZZA & PUB locations, they announced within the first quarter report the development of a new smaller prototype, which is contemplated to be 1,800 to 2,400 square feet in size. It would be suitable for smaller markets and potentially far more interesting to franchisees. It would have a more limited menu, therefore simpler to operate, and an initial investment far lower than the current 3,400 square foot version. As they search for the first site, management obviously feels that the opportunity is substantial and the risk is tolerable.
THE BALANCE SHEET
The current ratio was 2.5 to 1.0 on March 31, 2022, including cash of $808k, compared to 2.3 to 1.0 on 12/31/22. Current liquidity, along with cash flow generation from operations, should allow for development of at least two Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza Pubs. There is $8M of long term debt plus $597k of convertible debt. One of the corporate objectives is to refinance the $8M, at a lower interest rate and longer term, before principal repayments (at $33,333/month) begin on February 28, 2023., allowing for more rapid expansion of company operated Pub locations.
CONCLUSION: Provided at the beginning of this article
NOBLE ROMAN’S OVERCOMES LABOR AND SUPPLY CHANNEL CHALLENGES TO GENERATE EBITDA OF ALMOST $500K IN THIRD QUARTER – OPENS EIGHTH COMPANY “PIZZA PUB” IN OCTOBER, NINTH TO COME ON DEC 6TH
Noble Roman’s continues to build on the productive reincarnation of their fifty year old midwest brand. Overall company revenues in Q3 were $3.4M vs. $2.9M in ’20. The net income line was virtually breakeven, as in ’20 (a loss of $79k vs. a profit of $83k). The EBITDA was comfortably positive at $488k vs. $589k in ’20., the largest difference being Salaries and Wages at the Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza & Pubs (NRCPPs) (29.2% of sales, vs 26.3% in ’20), partially offset by lower cost of sales (21.0% vs 22.5%). The bottom line EBITDA margin at the NRCPPs was 10.6% of sales vs. 13.0% in ’20.
The franchising division (non-traditional & grocery sales) showed Total Revenues of $1,177k, down just slightly from $1,252k, most of the decline due to the grocery segment, which was down $31k. Expenses were well contained and the margin contribution was $685k vs. $770k (58.2% of sales vs. 61.5%). There are still temporary closures within the non-traditional system, not all of which will reopen, but sales should recover as the Covid winds down and there is considerable untapped potential for more non-traditional outlets.
CEO, Scott Mobley, made reference to the ongoing franchising of non-traditional outlets, though potential franchisees are predictably inhibited by Covid-caution. Relative to all outlets, but NRCPPs specifically, Mobley talked about “the inflationary pressures from labor and ingredients, as well as additional costs from managing the supply chain…those restaurants open greater than one year had an AUV of $1.2M and store level EBITDA above 15%. Newer locations opened in 2020 are averaging $1.4M with store level EBITDA from 17-20%. …we anticipate continued gains in both revenue and EBITDA….a menu price increase implemented on November 10,2021 should alleviate the inflationary and supply chain management cost pressures that adversely impacted margins in the third quarter.”
Corporate expenses were well controlled. D&A was higher due to the newer stores, but G&A was up just $46k to $506k with preparation for the newest NRCPPs. The current ratio on the Balance Sheet was much improved, at 4.6 to 1, compared to 2.6 to 1 as of 12/31/20, as a result of the PPP funding in February 2021 and the cash flow from operations.
Management expressed satisfaction, within the earnings release and on the conference call, in the progress made in spite of an unprecedented number of operating challenges. They pointed to the four new successful NRCPP locations opened since March ’20, with a fifth (the ninth overall) to open on December 6 and a tenth well along in lease negotiations. At the same time, the balance sheet is strong enough (with $1.8M in cash and positive cash flow) to support a continued expansion of company locations while awaiting post-Covid interest from potential franchisees for both the NRCPPs and non-traditional locations. Management declined to predict how many NRCPP locations will open in ’22 but lease negotiations are continuing and it seems reasonable that at least three more company stores could open by the end of ’22. CEO, Scott Mobley, on the conference call recounted the impressive efforts made by administrative personnel as well as store crew and field supervisors in coping with the unprecedented operating challenges.
The Covid hangs on, continuing to affect consumer dining habits as well as the availability of labor, and supply channel disruptions create an entirely different set of challenges. However, a long entrenched regional brand, with management committed to protect their personal legacy as well, should have a good chance of emerging stronger than ever and moving the Company to new heights.
P.S. We have written extensively about Noble Roman’s, its history and its prospects, which readers can find by using the SEARCH function on our Home Page.
NOBLE ROMAN’S (NROM) REPORTS 2ND QUARTER – STAGE SEEMS SET FOR UPSWING IN CASH FLOW AND EARNINGS
We have written previously about Noble Roman’s and suggest our readers access those articles by way of the SEARCH function on our HOME PAGE.
While NROM has moved up in price over the last few months, there continues to be potential upside. The second quarter provided about $600k of quarterly EBITDA once again, and seems to provide a base on which to build further. As outlined below, potential add-ons “in hand” could take the annual EBITDA to comfortably over $4M annually going into calendar ’22 and be at or above $5M early in ’23. The regional focus with their expanding NRCPP chain seems to minimize operational risk and the total Enterprise Value (currently about $25M) is obviously modest for a well established brand with growth potential.
SECOND QUARTER ANNOUNCEMENT
Noble Roman’s reported their 2nd quarter results, ending 6/30/21. Since PPP loans were received in the 2nd quarter of ’20 and the first quarter of ’21, distorting QTQ comparisons, we will first discuss the six month report, which provides a more accurate picture of the YTY recovery from the pandemic.
THE SIX MONTHS
For the six months: Restaurant Revenues, from their Craft Pizza and Pubs, were $4.4M, up from $2.5M, as a result of three new Pubs opened during calendar ’20, as well as the ongoing post-pandemic sales rebound. Operating Income was $1.586M almost exactly flat with $1.608M, with both six month periods affected by PPP loans which offset extra expenses. Depreciation was $306k in ’21, up from $164k, as a result of the three new locations, so EBITDA for H1’21 was about $1.8M, a little higher than in ’20. Still, we do not view the $1.8M in H1’21 to be a current EBITDA run rate because of the ongoing operating adjustments, especially in Q1’21. The following discussion of Q2’21 is more indicative of the income and cash flow going forward because of the diminishing, though still material, effects of the pandemic.
THE SECOND QUARTER
Revenues in the Craft Pizza and Pubs was $2.265M vs. $1.407M, as a result of the three successful new Pubs opened during ’20. The store level EBITDA was 14.5% of sales (expected, as stated by management, to improve), not comparable to the 42.8% in ’20 which was driven by the PPP loan/grant. Royalties and Fees from Franchising was $1.046M, up from $905k in ’20 and up sequentially from $890k in Q1’21. Royalties and fees from the grocery segment (becoming relatively immaterial) was down $45k to $317k. The Margin Contribution from the total Royalties Segment (Non-traditional, NRCPP, and Grocery) was $717k, down from $821k, a 59.8% Margin Contribution vs. 75.4% in ’20. This decline in margin on an increase in YTY revenues is due to the receipt in ’20 of the PPP loan, part of which was allocated to expenses of this segment. Q2’21 showed Operating Income of $424k. D&A of $142k and a few small non-cash expenses, which brought the quarterly EBITDA to approximately $600k. We will use this past quarter and first half EBITDA (about $600k/qtr., $2.4M annually) to build upon in terms of potential EBITDA over the next year or two. It is worth noting that NROM has about $15M of tax loss carryforward so that EBITDA, less interest, will approximate the after tax cash flow from operations. The balance sheet includes $2.1M of cash, about $8M of total long term debt, with a current ratio of 4.7 to 1.
THE CONFERENCE CALL
Paul Mobley, CFO, expressed his satisfaction that facility cost in Q2 was lowered to 10.4% from 15.5% last year, due to the higher sales of the first four NRCPPs, the well above average sales at the three new locations, and the new leases. At the end of the call, he interjected that July sales for the seven NRCCPs were up 4.6% over June. Additionally, “August is a transition period where weekends are getting larger, weekdays a little smaller….but it looks like August will be a pretty decent month as well.”
Scott Mobley, President and CEO, described how supply chain (i.e.chicken and packaging) and labor issues were second quarter hurdles but operations were maintained without major disruptions. He noted that when Indiana opted out of the unemployment bonus payments, there was an immediate resurgence of job applications, but the applications dried up when the court reversed the opt out policy. Logically, the labor situation (for all) will hopefully improve when the Federal programs expire in September. He described the two new announced NRCPP locations with enthusiasm and noted that signups for non-traditional units are increasing, 19 so far in ’21.
The current sales mix is 47% dine-in, 18% third party delivery (which is not promoted) and 35% takeout (the pizza valet program). In the most recent weeks, carry-out has firmed up as the Covid variant has been in the news. There are no new mask mandates but some customers are obviously concerned.
Scott Mobley talked about a new flatbread pizza that has worked well in test, will be rolled out shortly, and can be done without new operational complexity. He also expressed an expectation that third party delivery charges can be reduced by way of a new local agent.
POTENTIAL ADDITIONAL EBITDA
We build, below, upon the current run rate of EBITDA, to develop expectations over the next year or so.
Three new NRCPPs to come on stream in Q4’21. Two leases are signed, the first to open in late September, the 2nd in October, the 3rd in late Q4. If the three stores average $1.4M of revenues annually, as the last three have done, and generate a store level EBITDA margin of 18-20%, that would contribute $252k-$280k each annually, or $756k-$820k ($788 at the midpoint) for the three locations.
It seems reasonable to assume an additional sales recovery of 5-10% from the existing seven NRCPPs, or $65k/store, bringing the current $1.3M run rate to about $1.4M. The Company has said that the most recent 14.5% store level EBITDA can be improved, especially with the recent 5% menu price rise. If we assume two points of margin improvement on $1.4M, that would be $28k per store, or $196k annually on the existing seven locations.
The non-traditional franchised segment, primarily C-stores and gas stations, numbered close to 650 locations two years ago. Including the royalties and fees from NRCPPs, that segment contributed $1.3-$1.4M of royalties on a quarterly basis, with a margin contribution well above 60%. This segment has been improving sequentially, from a low of $846k in Q4’20 to $890k in Q1’21 to $1046k in Q2’21. If we assume this segment will continue its recovery back to about $1.3M quarterly, that would be about $300k quarterly, with an incremental margin of at least 75%, $225k quarterly, or $900k annualized.
Potentially offsetting the above potential add-ons could be a continued deterioration in the royalties from grocery stores, which could be perhaps $200k of revenues and $150k of EBITDA.
Adding together the above contributions, we get $1.734M of additional EBITDA within the next year or eighteen months. On top of the current annual run rate of $2.4M, that would total $4.134M. This can be considered “in hand” potential over the next twelve months, essentially going into calendar ’22. It can be expected, looking out more than twelve months, that there will be additional NRCPP openings, a new high of non-traditional locations, and additions to the current three franchised NRCPPs.
It does not seem to be a “reach” to think that annual EBITDA could be at a run rate of $5M or more by the beginning calendar ’23. The biggest single variable, which could help or hurt, would be the rate of sales at the fleet of NRCPPs. Mitigating the risk is the fact that the entire fleet of NRCPPs (10 company operated and 3 franchised), are within an hour’s drive of Indianapolis, with the attendant operational focus.
CONCLUSION: Provided above
NOBLE ROMAN’S ANNOUNCES NINTH COMPANY OPERATED “CRAFT PIZZA AND PUB” LOCATION
Noble Roman’s (NROM) announced today a lease signing for their ninth company operated Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza and Pub location, to open in Franklin, Indiana, just south of Indianapolis.
While NROM is relatively small, among publicly held restaurant chains, this forty year old brand has been re-invented over the last five years, in particular with the creation of its flagship Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza and Pub (NRCPP). Our previous write-ups, describing the Company, its history and its prospects, can be accessed using the SEARCH function on our Home Page. As we have previously suggested, the public valuation of NROM should follow, as the Company produces steady fundamental progress
Recall that Noble Roman’s (NROM), with the first NRCPP location, in Westfield, IN now over four years old, opened three highly successful units during 2020, bringing the current total to seven. The Franklin unit will be the second of three expected during the balance of 2021. There are three franchised locations also operating, so NROM will enter 2022 with thirteen units in their expanding NRCPP system, all within a ninety minute drive from Indianapolis.
The latest location will be about 3,600 square feet, representing the somewhat smaller (10-20%) version of the first NRCPPs, and this size location (costing about $750k) and including their innovative curbside “pizza valet” carry-out service, has shown a capability of generating annualized volumes over $1.5M with a store level EBITDA margin at 20% or more. It is worth noting that the Pizza Valet service, introduced over a year before Covid-19, served the Company well during 2020 and should alleviate the traffic risk from any sort of resurgence concern.
The recovery from the pandemic affected 2020, including their 650 franchised non-traditional locations, and new unit growth of the NRCPP system should allow for expanding cash flow and earnings. The stock has moved up materially (from about $0.50 to $0.80-0.90) but the Enterprise Value, still under $30M, continues to be modest relative to the prospective earnings and cash flow.
NOBLE ROMAN’S (NROM) REPORTS MARCH QUARTER – SUPPORTED BY THE BEST BALANCE SHEET IN MANY YEARS, UNIT GROWTH (AND HIGHER PROFITS) TO RESUME SHORTLY
Noble Roman’s (NROM) has dealt with the pandemic related challenges better than most, maintaining corporate liquidity, improving their balance sheet materially, and controlling operating expenses well. The prospect for increasingly profitable growth has been enhanced by the opening, in the heart of the pandemic, of three additional Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza and Pub locations. The seven current NRCPPs can now be expected to annualize at an indicated average of about $1.4M, with store level margins in the high teens generating a cash on cash return of 35% or more. Moreover, If the three latest openings, annualizing at about $1.6M, are any indication, future results could be materially better than that. At the same time, the 650 non-traditional locations, mostly in C-stores and entertainment facilities, generate annually over $4 million of royalties and can be expected to grow as well. The Company has reported an EBITDA of approximately $3M in recent years, but that has been reduced by high interest cost and legal expenses, both of which should be much lower in the future. Over the next twenty four months, it is not hard to project a corporate EBITDA run rate between $4M and $5M, from a combination of company NRCPPs, steady progress in the non-traditional segment, and franchised NRCPPs. As the Company results reflect the expected steady progress, with fewer non-operating adjustments, it seems likely that NROM will be revalued upward.
Relative to the expected stock performance, it should be noted that a substantial holder (Robert Stiller, founder of Green Mountain Coffee), who purchased over 3 million shares of stock something like 10 years ago, has been a seller recently of several hundred thousand shares (about 79,000 shares this month). While he has not directly spoken to the Company, his most recent filing indicates his ownership at 2.8M shares, about 12% of the outstanding shares. We expect that, if the fundamentals of Noble Roman’s develop as expected, the Stiller holdings, worth about $1.1M at the current price will be absorbed by new buyers. His apparent willingness to sell shares at this level could provide an opportunity to a value oriented small cap stock investor.
THE FIRST QUARTER REPORT
Noble Roman’s (NROM) reported their March, 2020 quarter last week. Results, as indicated with the ’20 yearend report and subsequent commentary, showed store level operations at the seven company operated Noble Roman’s Craft Pizza & Pub (NRCPP) locations largely recovered from the pandemic, and the 650 franchised non-traditional units steadily recovering (though mores slowly) as well.
We have written about Noble Roman’s previously, and readers can use the SEARCH function on our Home Page to access previous articles. Recall that all company operated NRCPPs are in the Indianapolis metro area. The first four were in Westfield (now open for four years), followed by Whitestown, Carmel and Fishers. The three newest NRCPP locations are in Brownsburg, McCordsville & Greenwood, opened during calendar 2020, in combination materially improving the previous average unit volumes. The non-traditional locations were not affected as much by the pandemic as the NRCPPs, percentagewise (perhaps 50% at worst versus 75% for the NRCPPs. However, discussed further below, this segment, while steadily recovering, was still down about 30% YTY in the March quarter. Recall also that NROM received $941k of PPP funds in the March quarter, which was obviously a material contribution to the Operating Profit of $1.2M.
Total Revenues in the 3/31/21 quarter were $3.3M, up from $2.7M YTY. The Operating Profit was $1.2M vs. $589k. The Operating Income was improved as a result of the four original NRCPPs almost recovering their pre-pandemic AUVs, the three new NRCPPs doing even better, and the reimbursement of $941k in PPP qualifying expenses, partially offset by the lower fees from non-traditional franchisees ($890k vs. $1,278k). It should be noted that the non-traditional royalties were up sequentially from the $840k in Q4’20.
The total $941k of PPP funds were allocated as follows: $371k toward NRCPP labor, $211k toward NRCPP occupancy and other expenses, $140k toward non-traditional expenses, $29k toward company operated non-traditional, and $190k toward corporate expenses.
The NRCPPs generated $2,108k of Revenues vs. $1,092 last year, and $880k of store level EBITDA vs. $121k. Adjusting for $371k of PPP funds applied toward labor and about $210k toward occupancy expenses, indicated store level EBITDA would have been $299k or 14.2% of sales. This compares against 11.1% store level EBITDA in Q1’20. The Company points out that both quarters are not “normalized” since expenses were incurred, not necessarily reimbursed, to cope with the pandemic. In any case, the higher volumes from the most recently opened locations should point to improving average store level EBITDA in quarters to come.
The franchising venue, consisting mostly of non-traditional stores, secondarily-grocery store fees, lastly- revenue from the three franchised NRCPPs (in Lafayette, Kokomo and Evansville, IN) reported $1054k of royalties and fees vs. $1,467k. The grocery segment was down $25k to $164k. The non-traditional portion was $890k vs. $1278k. The margin contribution was $714k vs. $977k, after crediting $140k of the PPP funds, so the pre-PPP margin was $574k.
There is one company operated non-traditional location, in a hospital, that generated $116k of revenues and $27k of EBITDA margin, after applying $29k of PPP funds.
Net income in Q1’21 vs. a year ago, both quarters obviously affected by the pandemic, with a profit of $827k vs. a loss in ’20 of $255k. This year was still negatively affected by the pandemic, offset by the PPP receipt. Last year was affected much less by the pandemic but included a non-cash write-off of unamortized loan cost of $658k. Importantly, even without the PPP receipt, and in spite of the continuing operational distortions related to the pandemic, Operating Income was a positive $220k and $165k of D&A provided positive EBITDA of $385k.
In terms of future expectations, as described below from the conference call, operating margins at both the NRCPPs and non-traditional franchising can be expected to improve, from normal seasonality, pandemic effects unwinding, and the inclusion of three very successful newly opened NRCPPs.
THE CONFERENCE CALL
Paul Mobley, Executive Chairman and CFO, reviewed the financials, and Scott Mobley discussed operational considerations. Aside from the financial details described above, Paul Mobley pointed out that the $941k PPP receipt in Q1 is expected to be forgiven, just as the $715k received in ’20. He indicated that normalized Operating Income was about $700k in the quarter, since there were pandemic related operational adjustments, partially offset by the $941k PPP receipt. He indicated that the uncertainties related to the pandemic have created hesitancy among potential new franchisees of both the NRCPPs and the non-traditional venue. In spite of that, the first NRCPP franchisee (in Lafayette and Kokomo) is looking for a third location and 12 new non-traditional franchisees have signed up so far this year. Mr. Mobley pointed out that the balance sheet current ratio is a healthy 3.8 to 1 compared to 2.6 to 1 at 12/31/20. The $1.9M of cash plus expected cash flow allows for the Company to plan three new NRCPPs in ’21, each costing about $750k, while still maintaining adequate liquidity.
During the Q&A, Paul Mobley described how the first quarter, while encouraging, had additional pandemic-related expenses that were not fully covered by the PPP receipt, so sales and operating margins in the quarters to come should be more normalized and “significantly improved”.
Scott Mobley described how the break down between dine-in and off premise sales is now about 50-50, versus 35% dine-in just 4-6 weeks ago, varying between locations. He also indicated that lunch ran about 22.5%, dinner 77.5% Pre-Covid. Lunch fell off to about 15% early in the pandemic, and has recovered only to about 17.5% so is expected to build further as customers return to the workplace. Online ordering was only 8.5% Pre-Covid, grew to 35% and now is running about 20% of sales. Importantly, delivery, which the Company does not promote, ran under 10% of sales pre-Covid, jumped to 22.5% of sales and is now running about 18%. The Company has recently been “working with a third party alternative” which will reduce NROM’s cost by about 50%, thereby saving something over two points of store operating expense from what it ran in Q1’21 (4.5% of sales, up from 3.2% in ‘20). Scott described with pride how, in spite of the unprecedented labor shortage, the Company has met the challenge with recruiting, training and motivation. The Company has kept the labor expense under control. Adding back the $371k credit of PPP funds to the $229k of reported salaries and wages would indicate a labor expense of $600k or 28.4% of sales, versus 29.1% a year ago.
Also during the Q&A, Scott Mobley described how the Company has engineered the NRCPPs to provide speed (2.5 minutes for the traditional crust, about 6 minutes for Sicilian) along with a high quality end product. The stock equipment from the manufacturer was fine tuned to mesh with the long successful dough recipe that was also modified accordingly. He also described some aspects of the raw ingredient quality: 100% real meats with no fillers, tomatoes processed in the field and never frozen, as well as the never frozen dough. In terms of the varied menu, including pasta, sandwiches and salads, each ingredient can play multiple roles on the menu, which provides velocity for the distributor, higher volume and pricing control with the manufacturer and simplifies handling procedures for employees.
CONCLUSION: Provided at the beginning of this article