Despite an 11% rise in sales, hibachi and sushi restaurant operator Benihana (NASDAQ:BNHN) (NASDAQ:BNHNA) posted a 7.4% decline in earnings per share during its 2007 fiscal year. And while the company's remodeling and store expansion programs are proving expensive, that hasn't stopped the stock from rising as investors expect sizzling sales trends to eventually trickle down to the bottom line.

With the help of an extra week compared to last year, Benihana posted an impressive same-store sales improvement of 8.5%. Top-line results were strong at the namesake Benihana restaurants as comps rose 7.4%. These stores, which are hibachi-style where a chef cooks right at the table, accounted for almost 74% of total sales and 59 of the 79 stores currently owned and operated by the company.  

The company also operates seven Haru sushi restaurants and a hot, growing Ra Sushi Bar concept. Ra only had 13 stores under operation as of the end of the year, but management expects to rely on it for the bulk of new store openings going forward. Both concepts saw double-digit comps for all of fiscal 2007.

In regard to the namesake stores, management plans on opening four new restaurants and remodeling at least 17 more in the coming year. The remodeling program is intended to revitalize stores, some of which are more than 40 years old, and make other improvements to enhance store economics.

As a result of the new openings and older store remodelings, it's a bit difficult to determine how profitable Benihana is or will be going forward. While management stated it will no longer provide quarterly earnings guidance, the company's CEO, Joel Schwartz, did advise investors to expect a 74% increase in capital expendituresfor the coming year and stated it will begin drawing down some credit lines to assist in the "development [of] more locations than at any other time in our 43 year history."

Benihana definitely has some appealing growth prospects, thanks to a solid reputation for cash generation and a small store base from which to grow. As long as it prudently manages current growth ambitions and remodeling initiatives, Fools can put Benihana in a category with Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE:CMG), Buffalo Wild Wings (NASDAQ:BWLD), Texas Roadhouse (NASDAQ:TXRH), and P.F. Changs (NASDAQ:PFCB) as the current generation of fast-growing restaurant chains with tasty stock appreciation potential.                     

For related Foolishness:

Chipotle is both a Motley Fool Hidden Gems and a Rule Breakers recommendation, while Buffalo Wild Wings is a Hidden Gems selection.

Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further. The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.