Slowing growth at Zoe's Kitchen (NYSE:ZOES) continues to weigh on the brokerage balances of its investors. Shares of Zoe's Kitchen plunged 14.1% last week, after another disappointing quarterly report.
The restaurant chain specializing in Mediterranean cuisine saw revenue climb 17.6% to $62 million, Zoe's Kitchen's weakest top-line growth as a public company. Decelerating year-over-year revenue growth isn't a surprise, as it's what we've now seen in nine of the past 10 quarters. However, analysts were holding out for 19% in revenue growth.
New restaurants accounted for the lion's share of the growth at Zoe's Kitchen. The number of company-owned restaurants went from 163 to 201 in 2016. It's probably not a good sign to see the 23% gain in unit count outpace the 18% growth in revenue, but at least comps remained positive for the period. Comparable-restaurant sales rose 0.7% for the fourth quarter, keeping an impressive streak of 28 straight quarters of positive comps alive. However, the marginal uptick was also Zoe's Kitchen's weakest showing on that front as a public company.
The news only gets worse as we work our way down the income statement. Zoe's Kitchen posted a quarterly operating loss for the first time in two years. Zoe's Kitchen's adjusted net loss of $0.07 a share was slightly worse than the $0.06-per-share deficit that analysts were forecasting.
Saving room for dessert
Zoe's Kitchen has seen its stock take a beating since topping out at $46.61 two summers ago. The shares have now surrendered 58% of their peak value.
There are some pockets of consolation beyond keeping its streak of positive comps alive. It's important to remember that this is a seasonal business, and the fourth quarter has historically been Zoe's Kitchen's lightest period. Investors should also reframe the seemingly lukewarm 0.7% rise in comps against a backdrop of the crummy climate for restaurant operators where many former darlings are clocking in with negative unit-level sales. Zoe's Kitchen's performance also comes after a 7.7% surge during the prior year's holiday quarter, so we're eyeing an impressive two-year spike in comps of nearly 8.5% for the fourth quarter.
Unlike many of the eateries that went public alongside Zoe's Kitchen three years ago, this isn't a broken IPO. Zoe's Kitchen stock is still trading above its IPO price of $15. The stock nearly doubled on its first day of trading, and Friday was the first time ever the stock fell into the teens.
Zoe's Kitchen's outlook isn't very scintillating, though. It sees $325 million to $327 million in revenue for 2017, and top-line growth of 17% to 18%. It sees slightly positive comps -- up between 1% and 2% -- and plans to add 38 to 40 company-owned locations. The key here will be at least living up to those expectations. It lowered its guidance through the latter half of 2016, something that clearly weighed on the stock's performance.
Zoe's Kitchen's unique concept and track record of store-level growth warrant a market premium, but only if it's able to improve its bottom-line results.