Shares of DENN recently broke through the $5 level for the first time since 2007. That might draw the name some more institutional interest, if it can hold above $5.
Cracker Barrel (CBRL - Get Report), embroiled in an activist fight with Biglari Holdings (BH) has also been on fire. The company is now trading at an all-time high, after reporting a better than expected fourth quarter last week.
Perhaps surprisingly, the best performing restaurant stock year-to-date (market cap greater than $400 million) has been Popeye's chicken parent AFC Enterprises (AFCE), which is up 70% year to date. Among the worst performers, essentially flat year to date is phenomenon Chipotle (CMG - Get Report), which was up nearly nine-fold between early 2009 and this past April. AFCE data by YCharts
There has been a lot of money made in this sector over the past three or four years, but it appears as though the rules may have changed. Despite the bad economic conditions during most, if not all of that period, consumers have not seemed to give up eating out. I do admit, however, that the specter of rising commodity costs still concerns me for the sector. At the time of publication, the author was long DENN, RT and BH. This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.