As of the latest quarter-end, total debt stood at $186 million, down from $453 million at the end of 2006. Denny's has also been buying back stock, a good sign, in my view, and has reduced shares outstanding by about 7% since the beginning of 2011. At year-end, the company still owned 88 properties, which presents Denny's with some options.
Currently trading at 24 times trailing earnings, not exactly cheap, consensus estimates are calling for 2014 earnings per share of 38 cents, putting the forward PE at about 15.
At nearly 1,700 restaurants, this is no small chain. In fact, it is probably much larger than some investors might believe. It's also one that has been growing, with an estimated 45 to 55 new locations for 2013. Several years ago, when it appeared as though the company might disappear, that was unthinkable.This is one of the more remarkable turnarounds I've seen in recent years, in one of the most competitive industries. There's more work to be done for sure, but so far, so good. Investors have been rewarded with a 300% move since early 2009, and we'll see if Denny's can continue delivering. At the time of publication, Heller had no positions in stocks mentioned. Follow @JonMHellerCFA This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.