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One Small Restaurant Company Is Primed for Big Success

By Philip Saglimbeni - Mar 8, 2014 at 7:00AM

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As a smaller alternative to industry leaders like Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread, Buffalo Wild Wings represents one of the best ways to invest in the restaurant space.

In the current investing landscape, Buffalo Wild Wings ( BWLD ) stands alone in the restaurant industry. A public company for over a decade, the owner, operator, and franchisor of sports, wings, and beer-infused restaurants remains the only major national sports-bar chain for investors to consider.

In comparison with more popular investments in the restaurant space like Chipotle Mexican Grill ( CMG -1.20% ) and Panera Bread ( PNRA ), Buffalo Wild Wings appears to be a more aggressive long-term play.

Source: Company Facebook Page 

Atmosphere is everything
While Buffalo Wild Wings may not have many direct competitors on a national level, the company constantly competes with local sports bars. However, sheer size allows Buffalo Wild Wings to maintain an edge.

The company maintains approximately 50 big screen televisions in each restaurant and favors wide-open seating arrangements, which allows each of its locations to cater to large groups of viewers. Since the restaurants can seat more people than your average local bar can, Buffalo Wild Wings' locations rarely struggle to find patrons during popular sporting events.

For this reason, shares of Buffalo Wild Wings are appealing, since the company is just as popular for beer and sports as it is for its food. In this way, the company is a more diverse investment than traditional fast-casual companies like Chipotle and Panera.

In order to differentiate the company's lineup of stores even more, however, management has taken on several initiatives in 2013, which are expected to continue going forward. The first, Stadia, is the company's general rebranding of restaurants. Each restaurant that undergoes the Stadia transition will feature a redesigned central bar area littered with big-screen televisions. 

Buffalo Wild Wings President and Chief Executive Officer Sally Smith explained in the company's most recent earnings conference, "14 Stadia restaurants opened in 2013 and guests feedback has been tremendous. We continue to roll out the guest experience business model to our restaurants, which we believe enhances guest engagement and differentiates our restaurants further." 

Another way in which management has been making Buffalo Wild Wings locations stand out is through various customer enhancement experiences such as holding fantasy football draft parties and the Bick Kick Challenge, a contest in which the company sent six winners to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Arizona. 

Post-football
Since the popularity of the NFL in recent years seems to have only been on the rise, Buffalo Wild Wings has done well to capitalize on the sport's popularity. However, with the 2013 football season having just ended, what's next for Buffalo Wild Wings?

The answer is basketball! The company does very well with college basketball, particularly March Madness. In a deal announced last year, Buffalo Wild Wings partnered with the NCAA to become the "Official Hangout of March Madness." To capitalize on this, the company hosts bracket challenges in which customers can compete online to win prizes. 

Industry-leading growth
Buffalo Wild Wings is still very small in comparison with aforementioned peers Chipotle Mexican Grill and Panera Bread. Not only is the company's market capitalization of $2.7 billion minuscule in comparison with Chipotle's $17.2 billion and Panera's $4.9 billion, the company's current store count is much smaller as well.

Just in January, Buffalo Wild Wings opened its 1,000th store. At the end of each of their recently reported quarters, Chipotle had 1,595 locations and Panera had 1,777. In the company's recent earnings release, CEO Sally Smith stated that Buffalo Wild Wings could achieve 1,700 stores in North American markets alone. 

Not surprisingly, the company's small stature means more robust growth for the most part in comparison with larger peers like Chipotle and Panera. The following table breaks down all three companies' projected growth for 2014: 

CompanyRevenue Growth 2014EPS Growth 2014
Buffalo Wild Wings 16.7% 26.9%
Chipotle Mexican Grill 18% 23.3%
Panera Bread 7.4% 4%

Aside from Chipotle's impressive projected revenue growth of 18% this year, Buffalo Wild Wings is expected to lead its larger peers in 2014.

Bottom line
While still small in comparison with industry peers like Chipotle and Panera, Buffalo Wild Wings is growing in a big way. The company's growth has come as a direct result of management's successful approach of catering directly to sports fanatics.

As long as sporting events remain popular, which is almost assured, Buffalo Wild Wings seems like an ideal candidate for continued expansion and robust shareholder returns going forward.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis – even one of our own – helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

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Stocks Mentioned

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Stock Quote
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.
CMG
$1,592.10 (-1.20%) $-19.34
Buffalo Wild Wings, Inc. Stock Quote
Buffalo Wild Wings, Inc.
BWLD
Panera Bread Company Stock Quote
Panera Bread Company
PNRA

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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