Hot Pizza, Coming Through

Just when you think that California Pizza Kitchen (Nasdaq: CPKI  ) is cooling down, it comes back hotter than one of its Jamaican jerk chicken pies. The casual-dining chain with a knack for eclectic pizzas posted preliminary third-quarter results this morning.

Revenue climbed 13.5% to $162 million in the three months ended Sept. 30. Comps clocked in 3.5% higher, stacked atop an impressive 5.6% spurt the year before. In other words, the typical CPK eatery is generating 9.3% greater unit-level sales than it was two years ago.

The performance is a bit more robust than CPK's original expectations. Back in August, it told shareholders to expect comps to climb somewhere between 2% and 3%. It also projected quarterly profits per share of $0.03 to $0.04, after a $0.19 hit for store closures. CPK's now looking to snag a profit of $0.04 to $0.05 per share.

Don't let the closures scare you. CPK continues to expand. It's only been weak at its CPK/ASAP concept, where the company has tried to simplify its casual-dining core by stressing a limited menu served quickly, particularly for takeout orders.

Curbside pickup has been a big trend in the industry. Everyone from Cheesecake Factory (Nasdaq: CAKE  ) to IHOP (NYSE: IHP  ) is offering the ability to preorder meals and have them delivered to parked cars. Even if McDonald's (NYSE: MCD  ) never got Boston Market to work, and the typically sharp Brinker (NYSE: EAT  ) sputtered on Eatzi's, home meal replacement is still huge. Convenience is a major plus, but CPK/ASAP may have taken things one step too far; CPK fans seem to be just fine with the takeout and curbside offerings at the company's namesake stores.

Now trading for less than 16 times next year's Wall Street profit target, the company is a compelling buy at this point. Comps keep growing, which can't be said for many of CPK's recently stumbling peers, such as Applebee's (Nasdaq: APPB  ) and P.F. Chang's (Nasdaq: PFCB  ) .

More Jamacian than jerk, CPK is starting to look spicy again.

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