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.

DENN LT Debt Chart DENN LT Debt data by YCharts

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.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Jonathan Heller, CFA, is president of KEJ Financial Advisors, his fee-only financial planning company. Jon spent 17 years at Bloomberg Financial Markets in various roles, from 1989 until 2005. He ran Bloomberg's Equity Fundamental Research Department from 1994 until 1998, when he assumed responsibility for Bloomberg's Equity Data Research Department. In 2001, he joined Bloomberg's Publishing group as senior markets editor and writer for Bloomberg Personal Finance Magazine, and an associate editor and contributor for Bloomberg Markets Magazine. In 2005, he joined SEI Investments as director of investment communications within SEI's Investment Management Unit.

Jon is also the founder of the Cheap Stocks Web site, a site dedicated to deep-value investing. He has an undergraduate degree from Grove City College and an MBA from Rider University, where he has also served on the adjunct faculty; he is also a CFA charter holder.

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