Here's the same calculation for some other restaurant names that own a significant amount of real estate; (this is by no means an exhaustive list of every chain):
- Wendy's (WEN - Get Report) Enterprise Value (EV): $3.21 billion Owned Locations (OL): 631 EV/OL= $5.09 million Note: WEN also owns the building only for another 515 locations, EV/OL does not account for this
- Denny's (DENN - Get Report) EV: $710 million OL: 88 EV/OL: $8.07 million
- Ruby Tuesday (RT - Get Report) EV: $730 million OL: 352 EV/OL: $2.07 million *Note: RT also owns the building only for another 253 locations
- Bob Evans (BOBE) EV: $1.76 billion OL: 489 EV/OL: $2.74 million *Note: BOBE also owns the building only for another 76 locations, a 937 acre farm on Ohio, and a 37 acre farm in Texas
- Sonic (SONC - Get Report) EV: $1.13 billion OL: 222 EV/OL: $5.09 million *Note: SONC also owns the building only for another 187 locations
- Luby's (LUB) EV: $250 million OL: 92 EV/OL: $2.71 million
- Frisch's Restaurants (FRS) EV: $106 OL: 79 EV/OL: $1.34 million *Also owns building only for 14 locations
- Jack in the Box (JACK) EV: $1.88 billion OL: 236 EV/OL: $7.97 million *Also owns building only for 638 locations
While I'd never buy a restaurant name solely based on real estate, it can sweeten the deal. Take Denny's for instance. There's no way that the company's real estate is worth anywhere near the $8 million EV/OL calculation. But, this real estate can still be sold; it still gives Denny's some options as the company continues to pay down debt, and rebuild the brand. I owned Denny's until late 2012, and had a very nice run with the name. When I took the position, the company was fighting its way back, and has done a nice job so far in re-establishing the brand.
In Cracker Barrel's case, we know that in 2009 the company did a sale/leaseback transaction for 15 stores for $45.2 million, or just over $3 million per store. Keep in mind, this calculation considers nothing other than real estate.
If nothing else, the EV/OL calculation can give you an idea of how the market is valuing a name based solely on real estate. It is far from a perfect measure, by any means. It's Just another tool in the arsenal. Company owned real estate will not put people in the seats, will not drive comparable same store sales, combat rising food costs or counter bad management.Finally, this piece is not intended to be bullish for restaurants. While I've owned WEN, DENN, RT, and CBRL in the past and made money in varying degrees on all of them, I have grown cautious with the sector, primarily because of the specter of rising food costs. At this point, I have exposure to two restaurant names, indirect ownership of Cracker Barrel though Biglari Holdings (BH) , and Cosi (COSI), which is a long-shot turnaround play. At the time of publication the author is long BH, Cosi. Follow @JonMHellerCFA This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.