Noodles & Company (NASDAQ: NDLS) is not much of a secret to investors following its hot premiere onto the stock market stage in June 2013. While the stock continues to sell at a premium with a P/E of 182, despite shares falling 17% to below $40 since October, Noodles continues to draw comparisons to other fast-casual restaurant stars, primarily Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG). The future success of Noodles may stem from its noteworthy managerial connections with Chipotle.
A great idea can only go so far if it lacks support from innovative and visionary leadership. The fast-casual restaurant successes of Chipotle Mexican Grill and Buffalo Wild Wings have come in large part due to their unique dining concepts and an innovative and experienced management team capable of profitably executing national expansion. Steve Ells of Chipotle and Sally Smith of Buffalo Wild Wings, two leaders who have successfully propelled their chains into the national spotlight over the past decade, exemplify this point.
Noodles is opening new restaurants at a quick pace around the country, with locations now in 29 states and the District of Columbia. (Noodles has already expanded into four new states since April.) Between 2004 and 2012 the company increased its base of restaurants at an average rate of 16% per year, despite the recession, with 368 total locations as of October 1.
Chairman and CEO Kevin Reddy, who joined Noodles in 2005, has had a lot to do with that success. When Restaurant Business magazine named Reddy the Entrepreneur of the Year in 2009, the magazine observed that Reddy had "assembled a management team that together has bucked the recent industrywide inclination to hunker down and play defense" since taking the helm of Noodles in 2005.
Just who else makes up this management team? For starters, it is important to note that Reddy joined Noodles after spending seven years in various leadership roles with Chipotle, including chief operating officer, chief operations officer and restaurant support officer. (Reddy also spent fifteen years with McDonald's) But the Chipotle connections do not stop there.
Keith Kinsey, Noodles' Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer, also spent five years with Chipotle before joining Noodles with Reddy in 2005. Kinsey served as Chipotle's Pacific Regional Director, playing a leadership role in Chipotle's operations and expansion on the West Coast.
In 2009, the Denver Business Journal named Kinsey the CFO of the Year, noting Kinsey's work ethic, experience with both finances and operations, and a commitment to personal integrity and business vision. "From a character perspective, integrity is important," says Kinsey, "and from a business perspective, vision is important."
Finally, Phil Petrelli, Noodles' Executive Vice President of Operations, spent thirteen years with Chipotle before joining Noodles in 2012. While at Chipotle Petrelli filled a variety of operations positions, most notably as Regional Director for the Northeast Region where he oversaw 268 Chipotle restaurants.
These three gentlemen bring to Noodles & Company a combined 25 years of experience from Chipotle. This is significant because Chipotle is arguably the success story of the restaurant industry, and particularly fast-casual restaurants, over the past decade.
Reddy believes Noodles can open 2,500 restaurants in the United States over the next 15-20 years, a seven-fold increase from current levels. Ambitious? Yes. This management team, however, has the experience to give these projections some substance.
In its three quarters so far this year, Noodles has seen its net income increase 21.4% to $4.3 million compared to the same period in 2012. Operating cash flow has increased 27.5% to $32.36 million, although that still is not enough to cover management's projected $46-50 million in capital expenditures for 2013. The fact that Noodles manages to turn a profit and produce positive cash flow at this young stage of growth is notable, but it remains to be seen whether the company can generate sufficient cash flow to fund such ambitious growth plans.
Noodles' P/E of 182 will scare away some investors. The stock is priced for perfection and shares are bound to be volatile going forward. Long-term investors, however, should keep an eye on Noodles. The high caliber management team assembled under Kevin Reddy just might profitably transition and expand Noodles into the national spotlight in the coming decade.
Fool contributor David Kretzmann owns shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill. The Motley Fool recommends Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and McDonald's. The Motley Fool owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle Mexican Grill, and McDonald's. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.