Can Texas Roadhouse Keep Cooking?

Texas Roadhouse's (NASDAQ: TXRH  ) strategy makes this casual steak chain primed for continued sales and earnings growth for the rest of the year. Currently operating more than 410 restaurants, the company is on track to open 25-30 new locations while also modestly adjusting menu prices to offset rising food costs.

Currently, a key challenge for Texas Roadhouse is maintaining its market share. The retail chain's rivals like Bloomin' Brands (NASDAQ: BLMN)-which operates Outback Steakhouse, and the bit more upscale Ruth's Hospitality Group have also carved out healthy niches in the retail steakhouse game. But Texas Roadhouse is primed for solid earnings and share price growth in the long run, here's why.

A glance at Texas Roadhouse's first quarter
The casual steakhouse saw revenues stir by 10%, due in part to new restaurant openings, while same-store sales grew by 2.8%. The company can boast of 16 straight quarters of positive same-store sales. Moreover, sales also climbed by 3.8% at franchise locations.

Texas Roadhouse opened six new restaurants and one franchise location during the quarter. The company appears to be on track to meet its target of 25 to 30 steakhouses and franchises this year. Moreover, margins saw a modest improvement, up 25 basis points to 19.2%. This is due in part to higher menu prices and lower food costs so far in 2014, though high beef costs will continue to be a challenge.

Chief Executive Officer Kent Taylor noted that "positive comparable restaurant sales growth, including solid traffic growth, once again drove our top-line results and we are pleased to see our sales momentum extend into the second quarter."

Texas Roadhouse's rivals
Texas Roadhouse faces stiff competition from more upscale chains like Ruth Hospitality Group as well as Bloomin' Brands.

Ruth owns and operates Ruth's Chris Steak House and Mitchell's Fish Market. The retail restaurant company reported fiscal first-quarter results in April where total revenue rose 3.6% to $109.7 million. Moreover, same-store sales at its Ruth's Chris Steak House concept grew by 2.6%.

However, Mitchell's Fish Market saw a decline of 4.3% which was triggered by a 9.1% fall in guests. This steep decline was partially offset by a 5.3% rise the average check size. The decline follows a trend from 2013. The steakhouse concept has a four year history of sales and traffic growth that has fed earnings growth, however. This trend also helped Ruth to post solid net income-rising by 16% to $8.9 million, or $0.25 per diluted share.

Michael P. O'Donnell, chairman and CEO, stated that the steakhouse positive sales came despite the severe winter weather and a "challenging environment in the first quarter." However, the company experienced a solid sales rebound in April that also spilled over from the seafood chain with "low to mid digit" positive same store sales.

Meanwhile, Bloomin' Brands owns and operates Outback Steakhouse, Carraba's Italian Grill, and Bonefish Grill, all of which experienced same-store sales declines in 2013. For the first quarter of 2014, the declines in same-store sales have continued, coming in down $16.3 million. The company attributes this to losses of $7.7 million from 25 restaurant closings since March 31, 2013.

However, consolidation from its joint venture of the Outback concept with its partner in Brazil announced in November 2013 helped it to modestly grow revenue by 1.5% to $967.6 million and partially offset the declines in domestic same-store sales. 

What lies further up the road?
Texas Roadhouse reported that comps for the first four weeks of its second quarter have risen about 1.6% compared to the prior-year period. Moreover, the company affirmed its guidance for the rest of the year with positive same-store sales growth, 25 to 30 company restaurant openings, and low "single digit" food cost inflation.

Texas Roadhouse and Ruth's Hospitality Group believe in their brands, and each seems well positioned to feast on positive same-store sales. Texas Roadhouse's share price is currently hovering at $25 per share, a bit shy of the 52-week high of $29 and change. With a price-to-earnings ratio of 22.20 and a forward P/E of 17.05, Texas Roadhouse should be on the road to stronger earnings.

Foolish left overs

Generally, the casual dining space provides investors with a varied menu of chains from which to choose. Obviously, continued growth depends on consumer behavior in an uncertain economy. Consumers shop around for the best menu options, and investors in this space should also pick and choose their spots carefully. 

Texas Roadhouse has its eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel and its earnings and share price momentum make the steakhouse a prime choice for investors with a long-term view.

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