|Shares Out. (in M):||22||P/E||11.0x||7.9x|
|Market Cap (in M):||208||P/FCF||10.7x||18.4x|
|Net Debt (in M):||251||EBIT||47||57|
Why does this opportunity exist?
1) PT and TC are strong regional restaurant chains with great name recognition in the sweet spot of key restaurant industry trends today and in the near future.
Pollo Tropical is a 90-location, Caribbean-flavored grilled chicken chain with menu items such as black beans, yucca, and fried plantains. 70% of the company-owned restaurants are located in their "core market" of Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties, with about one-third alone in Miami-Dade. Carrols acquired PT in 1998 when the chain had just 36 restaurants.
In 2007, management decided to venture outside of Florida for the first time, and headed to heavily Puerto Rican and Cuban areas of New Jersey, and later Connecticut and Brooklyn. Their strategy at the time was to "plant the flag" in each area and then increase the restaurant density to leverage marketing and supply chain costs. With the onset of the recession in late 2007, they found that the lower socio-economic demographics in these new markets were unable to support the restaurants, and it didn't make sense to backfill with additional ones. In 2009, PT retrenched, reduced restaurant growth and capex, and focused on paying down debt. New restaurant capex in 2009 was 27% of 2008's amount.
Meanwhile, PT started experimenting in 2009 with a new store format to appeal to a broader, "more Anglo" market. Starting with a store in Tampa, they (a) improved the look and feel of the restaurant (more dark wood, less palm motif), (b) Anglicized the menu with items like mac & cheese, brown rice, and mashed potatoes, and (c) improved the service by adding table runners who bring the food to the table on real plates with real silverware. Seeing an immediate impact on same-store sales, even in the existing Hispanic neighborhoods, PT recognized the potential and rolled it out to the rest of their non-core markets, including Tampa/St. Pete, Orlando, and the few remaining restaurants in the Northeast. At the same time, PT introduced new menu items in all restaurants and heavily marketed a new $5 lunch combo deal - the latest promo is a chipotle chicken sandwich with split pea soup and a drink for $5. The results (in combination with significant improvements in their core markets) are quite strong.
|PT Avg Sales/Restaurant ($000)||$484||$486||$481||$459||$497||$515||$526||$517||$580||$585|
|PT EBITDA Margin (a)||14.6%||15.2%||14.3%||14.9%||14.8%||17.4%||15.7%||16.7%||19.3%||18.2%|
Taco Cabana is a Mexican chain well-known in Texas for its 24-hour operations, freshly-made tortillas, decent beer selection and frozen margaritas, and cheap tacos a step above Taco Bell. TC was founded in 1978 in San Antonio, and its tall pink signs are ubiquitous around the state, with 40 locations in Houston, 38 in the DFW metroplex, 32 in San Antonio, and 21 in Austin. Carrols acquired the brand in 2000, and has been consistently growing its store count since 2002 from 115 to 157. However, they had not done much with the brand image, which continued to be oriented around reliable late night, cheap food.
In late 2009, however, TC began to focus on enhancing their brand image by focusing on the "authentic flavors of Mexico" and started to update their menu and brought in a rotation of Mexico-inspired dishes like Street Tacos and Fajitas Puebla. At the same time, they began to renovate their DFW stores with an elevated service model like PT did outside their core markets (in conjunction with a slight price increase to pay for the increased labor cost). Once the renovations were largely complete, the DFW stores has same store sales comps about 400 bps higher than the rest of the TC system.
In addition, TC has started some innovative and brand-enhancing marketing through the use of social media. They hired Anjelah Johnson, a comedienne from MadTV who had a decent Facebook following, to do some funny ads (my favorite: goo.gl/TET5C). They also benefited by being a sponsor of the Dallas Mavericks during their NBA championship run last year. As a result, their Facebook fans now total over 80,000. For reference, Qdoba, which has over 3x the stores, has only about 102,000 fans.
|TC Avg Sales/Restaurant ($000)||$408||$414||$406||$388||$397||$412||$409||$397||$406||$437|
|TC EBITDA Margin (a)||13.1%||12.6%||10.6%||12.5%||10.9%||10.7%||10.2%||11.8%||10.2%||10.2%|
With the success in DFW, TC has taken their remodeling plan to Austin this year and to San Antonio and Houston in 2012-13. Many locations in San Antonio and Houston have not been renovated in over 10 years (unlike DFW, which was a newer market for them), so they should see a double bump from both an improving image as well as improving service.
PT and TC are well-positioned in these difficult days for the restaurant industry. These are difficult times for restaurants in general. Commodity prices are volatile and the consumer is stretched. In such an environment, fast casual chains win over both the casual dining segment (i.e.: Applebees, TGI Fridays, Chili's) and independent operators. Fast casual will win over casual dining because of an inherent price advantage not only from labor but also because of the lack of tipping (incidentally, there is a small sign on the wall of the PT stores with the elevated service model that says "Please no tipping. We need the jar for sangria"). Chains in general will win over independents due to their ability to gain scale in purchasing and supply chain, leverage marketing costs, and most importantly in this environment, experiment with price increases. Furthermore, each brand's appeal to the Hispanic consumer is an asset as that demographic continues to grow faster than the rest of the population. Finally, PT's food is quite healthy (there's even a PT 21-day diet plan), which positions it well when nutrition information is required to be on menu boards.
2) The spin off makes a lot of sense so each entity can focus on the right strategic approach. Despite the progress with PT and TC, Carrols still has more BK units than PT and TC combined, and the poor performance at BK has dragged the overall valuation down. BK has been weak as a result of poor marketing performance of the franchisor, as both McDonald's and Wendy's have improved operations and menu and taken share. As can be seen below, while Carrols' performance has been weak, they've actually done better than the whole Burger King system in 7 out of the past 10 quarters.
|BK (TAST) Comps||5.1%||-4.7%||-6.1%||-3.0%||-6.4%||-1.4%||-3.2%||-6.1%||-5.0%||-3.6%|
|BK System Comps||1.6%||-4.9%||-4.6%||-3.3%||-6.1%||-1.5%||-4.2%||-5.8%||-6.0%||-5.3%|
|BK (TAST) Avg Sales/Restaurant ($000)||$300||$305||$302||$310||$282||$302||$295||$282||$268||$292|
|BK (TAST) EBITDA Margin (a)||7.4%||9.5%||9.4%||7.9%||4.3%||5.9%||7.1%||4.7%||1.4%||5.8%|
The recent debt refinancing created a lot of value, even though the market didn't recognize it. In July, Carrols refinanced its credit facility by getting some bank debt for Carrols (RemainCo) and floating some bonds for the soon-to-be Fiesta Restaurant Group. More than just one more thing on the pre-spin to-do list, this was extremely important because it separated the collateral for the deal. Now, even if the spin doesn't happen and BK can go BK (sorry, had to get that in) without affecting FRG.
3) Strong management with significant insider alignment (42% insider ownership): Carrols as a whole is currently led by Alan Vituli, an industry veteran who helped take the company private in 1986 (when it was just a BK franchisee). Prior to getting into the restaurant business in the 1980s, Vituli was an investment banker and an accountant. Post-spin, Vituli will be chairman.
Below is a table of the key members of management, their insider ownership percentages, tenure, and expected position post-spin. In addition to the large ownership percentages, their longevity with the business clearly stands out. This is a highly experienced group.
|Pre-Spin Position||Ownership %||Carrols since||Current Position since||Post-Spin Position|
|Alan Vituli||CEO||7.3%||1986||1992||Chairman, Carrols and FRG|
|Dan Accordino||COO||3.1%||1972||1993||CEO, Carrols|
|Paul Flanders||CFO||0.4%||1997||1997||CFO, FRG? (TBA)|
|Joseph Zirkman||General Counsel||0.4%||1993||1993||TBA|
|Jim Tunnesen||President, PT||0.3%||1972||2003||President, PT|
|Mike Biviano||President, TC||0.4%||1973||2002||President, TC|
|Others and Individual Directors||0.5%|
|Subtotal, Management and Individual Directors||12.4%|
Finally, the single-largest shareholder is Jefferies, with 30% ownership and two seats on the board. They got their position in 2008 by buying out the stakes of Madison Dearborn and Bahrain Investment Bank (which had bought control of Carrols from management in 1996 and then sold half their stake to Madison Dearborn in 1997). So far, Jefferies seems to be helping make some sensible strategic and capital allocation decisions.
4) Good unit economics leads to attractive growth plans for new stores - especially if other new stores are like Jacksonville. For a small-cap company with three distinct brands, Carrols provides an extraordinary amount of disclosure, so it's relatively easy to determine unit economics. When possible, Carrols secures their locations by acquiring land, building the restaurant, and then after a few months, doing a sale/leaseback transaction at a ~9% cap rate.
Based on current system averages and using some conservative assumptions, I calculate that PT's levered IRR (post sale/leaseback) is 25% (vs. 40% according to the CFO). But if the Jacksonville store holds its volume, the IRR there will be closer to 70%!
My calculations show TC's levered IRR to be 17% (vs. 25-30% according to the CFO), but newer stores with the elevated service model in the DFW market must be significantly higher.
For reference, I have incorporated a comparison chart for PT and TC against Chipotle using Chipotle's definitions in their investor presentations. While PT and TC are certainly not on par with Chipotle, they do hold their own especially considering the maturity of their store base, and their margins should improve over time as they implement their individual strategies.
|Average LTM Sales/Restaurant||$1,885||$2,138||$1,624|
|Restaurant operating margin||26%||13%||7%|
|Investment cost (assumes lease)||$795||$600||$525|
5) Attractive valuation on an absolute and relative basis.
Currently, TAST trades at 6.0x LTM EBITDA, 11.1x P/E, and a 14% FCF yield (based on maintenance capex, which is clearly disclosed in the filings). As can be seen, PT has outperformed even Chipotle and Panera in the past two quarters (actually vs. Panera, it's four quarters), and TC has done pretty well, but the valuation is lower than almost all comparable fast casual/fast food restaurant chains. Looking at the company this way, it becomes more apparent how BK performance is dragging the rest of TAST down.
|Market Cap||EBITDA||EBITDA Margin||EV/ EBITDA||P/E||Net Debt/ EBITDA||Avg Comps, Last 2 Qs||Franchise %|
|Jack in the Box||1.7%|
|BH (Steak & Shake)||$438||$81||11%||5.8x||13.6||0.4x||4.6%||28%|
|LTM EBITDA (a)||$49||$25||$75|
|Upside from Current Price||70%|
Range of potential outcomes (based on LTM EBITDA):
|Price per Share||FRG Multiple|
|Δ from Current Price||FRG Multiple|
|Subject||CMG versus TAST|
|Entry||10/20/2011 06:23 PM|
Why are Chipotle's operating margins so much higher than Carroll's? I know there's not much they can do to change the BK franchise operations, but could they change their operating model in the other stores to be more like Chipotle's to get their margins up?
I didn't tweet about it, but I think Pollo Tropical is great.
|Entry||01/18/2013 12:42 PM|
elke or anyone else,
Anyone still follow FRGI?
You have any thoughts on FRGI valuation at these levels ($18.63 at present --> EV = $625mm)? Looking at 6% store growth (actually, less than 6% as unprofitable locations closed at almost same rate) and 4% SSS growth for 2013. $60mm EBITDA; steady-state (no new stores) unlevered FCF about $35-40mm (let's say $37mm). EBITDA probably a bit low due to store openings and D&A certainly greater than maintenance capex.
So, now trades at 10.4x EBITDA and 17x unlevered FCF. The SSS growth is respectable, but this strikes me as fully valued at this point. Anyone have thoughts as to why stock rallying so hard recently?