In this segment of the Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill, Million Dollar Portfolio's Matt Argersinger, David Kretzmann of Motley Fool Rule Breakers and Supernova, and Total Income's Ron Gross reflect on the recent history of Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD), which included a rough patch due partly to business decisions -- and partly to higher wholesale wing prices, over which it has no control; the entrance of Marcato Capital pushing for changes as an activist investor, and the exit of the longtime CEO. Then, they consider the future of the company, and the industry as a whole. Speaking of which, the founder and head of former fast-casual fave Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG -1.29%) is headed for the door -- sort of. He's staying on as chairman.
A full transcript follows the video.
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This video was recorded on Dec. 1, 2017.
Chris Hill: Another restaurant chain taken private this week. Roark Capital Group, a private equity firm that appears to specialize in restaurants, is buying Buffalo Wild Wings for $2.5 billion. What did you think, Ron?
Ron Gross: Something to give here. Marcato Capital, an activist investor, was really putting the pressure on. They gained some board seats, they wanted them to refranchise the whole business. Sally Smith had been kind of forced out, the longtime CEO of BWLD. So, something had to give, and I think this makes sense. I actually think it's a relatively fair price at $157 in cash. The board has voted unanimously in favor of it. Another mediocre chicken wing bites the dust.
Hill: Let's not give too much credit to Marcato Capital, because they were putting pressure on Sally Smith last summer, when it was $167 a share.
Gross: That's true. They voted in favor of it, so they're not fighting it and trying to get more money out of it, but I'm sure it's not where they wanted it to be.
Hill: Between this and Panera Bread and Ruby Tuesday, Krispy Kreme, these restaurants being taken private, if you're an investor, is this an industry that you maybe just want to put to the side for the foreseeable future? Or are there still opportunities here?
Matt Argersinger: For me, it's also a little bit of a sign that we might be in a little bit of later stages of a bull market. There's still a lot of cheap money sloshing around there, but the returns have been tough to get by. So, you look at restaurant companies where there's obvious franchising opportunities, obvious opportunities to load on some debt, pay out a dividend to private equity investors, things like that, I wouldn't be surprised if it keeps happening. I think, if you're a strong brand in that space and you have a cheaper valuation, you're definitely a target.
Gross: Some of the private equity deal specifically in the restaurant space where there was real estate as part of the valuation scenario makes more sense to me. BWLD, you don't really see that specifically, so you're really betting on being able to turn the business and be able to make a return by really improving the business.
Hill: Shares of Chipotle up more than 8% this week on the news that CEO Steve Ells is leaving the corner office. He will remain as Chipotle's chairman of the board. In a written statement, Ells said, "We need to move faster and execute better." Which is interesting, Matty, because Steve Ells was the person in charge this whole time.
Argersinger: Yes. [laughs] Well, I think with Steve Ells, you have the founder, the original innovator behind the concept, the brand. But when Chipotle was trying to grow too fast, opening 200, 250 stores a year, trying to expand across the nation, and not really focusing on things you need to do to do that, like your supply chain and marketing, and I think that's probably where he fell short. And of course, Chipotle, we know the last few years have been just about as disastrous for any company as ever. But, I think it's the right move. For one, and I was surprised to relearn this, but Steve Ells owns less than 1% of the shares of Chipotle, which is surprising to me. Chipotle is not a massive company. He did found it. Yet, he owns about 0.7% of the outstanding shares. So, he's not going to be a person who's going to get in the way, I think, of a new CEO or a new team to come in and try to reinvigorate the brand. So, I'm not surprised the stock is up.
David Kretzmann: I think some new blood at the CEO level makes sense. They've brought in some other new executives from Arby's and Yum! Brands to oversee operations and communications, some areas where Chipotle has clearly struggled over the past couple of years. But, I think the issues that chipotle is facing, they are fixable. The company has over $500 million in cash, no debt, free cash flow production, margins still not where they were a few years ago at the peak but they are ticking in the right direction. So, I like the steps that they're taking, and I think it's worth a look at these levels.
Hill: Regardless of who the next CEO is, how quickly does that person pull the trigger on breakfast at Chipotle? Because it seems like --
Gross: Right after they kill the burger concept that they announced a couple of years ago. Breakfast is right after that.
Kretzmann: I hope the pizza concept rolls out. I'm ready for that.