Investors can't stop snatching up restaurant IPOs. As fast-casual franchises take over the mainstream, stocks like Chipotle have shot through the roof, prompting plenty of other restaurant chains to go public. In the last year or so, Noodles & Company, Potbelly, and El Pollo Loco have joined the ranks of publicly held fast-casual players, and Shake Shack could become the newest of the bunch. Rumor has it that the much-loved burger chain is preparing for its own IPO, which could value the company at up to $1 billion.
Bloomberg reported that the restaurant chain has selected JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley to underwrite the offering. Here's everything else you need to know about possibly getting your hands on some ShackBurger stock.
1. You're working with professionals here
Shake Shack is the most successful of several restaurants owned by the Union Square Hospitality Group. Among its other restaurants is Union Square Cafe, which has won five James Beard Awards and been ranked as New York's most popular restaurant an unprecedented nine times by Zagat. Founded in 1985, the company is run by Danny Meyer, one of the most respected restaurateurs in the world. The New York Times recently called Meyer the "Greatest restaurateur Manhattan has ever seen."
2. The growth potential is huge
Unlike some other restaurant stocks that have recently debuted, Shake Shack is still in its infancy. The burger chain started as a modest kiosk in New York's Madison Square Park in 2004. Its burgers, fries, and shakes gained a fanatical following. Over the years, that buzz fueled expansion in far-flung locations including Miami, London, and Dubai. Despite its international presence, however, Shake Shack only has 56 locations.
Considering that rival Five Guys has grown to over 1,000 locations in North America, and In-N-Out Burger numbers about 300 on the West Coast, it's easy to see Shake Shack growing its number of locations by 10 or 20 times, or even more. Fast-casual star Chipotle now has grown to 1,700 restaurants and shows no signs of slowing. If Shake Shack can maintain its level of popularity, it could certainly follow suit. Thus far, the chain has nailed down choice real estate locations, and its recent openings continue to garner rave reviews. A Shake Shack that opened by Brooklyn's Barclays Center two months ago rates 4.5 stars on Yelp.
3. The price could be nice
While the $1 billion valuation might seem pricey on a per-restaurant basis, valuing each location at about $20 million, the company has been highly profitable -- earnings are projected at $20 million this year. That gives Shake Shack a relatively modest P/E for an IPO at just 50. By comparison, Chipotle stock trades at a P/E of 60, eight years after its IPO, and more recently public chains like Noodles & Company and Potbelly also command a higher valuation.
Shake Shack has not yet publicly confirmed the IPO and so has not addressed any potential expansion plans with the new cash flow. However, the company does not franchise and says it has no plans to do so in the future, a strategy I consider a positive for investors. Though franchising can lead to greater profits earlier on as the parent company reaps rewards from royalties and selling territories, it sacrifices the long-term revenue it would get from operating those stores itself. Not franchising also allows the parent to remain in full control of the brand. In other words, restaurant chains that don't franchise, such as Chipotle, will be more profitable over the long run.
4. This could be the exception that proves the rule
Though investors have been gobbling up restaurant IPOs lately, many have wound up with upset stomachs. After more than doubling on its opening day and then reaching nearly $50 a share, Noodles & Company shares have come up limp, trading today at just $19. Potbelly stock took a similar path, rising to over $30, but worth less than $12 today.
After the success of stocks like Chipotle and Panera, it's easy to see why investors are hungry for the "next Chipotle," but companies like Noodles and Potbelly simply don't have the same fan base. Shake Shack does.
That's no guarantee that its expected expansion will proceed smoothly, but it's a reason to get excited about the stock offering. We'll learn more about the company's post-IPO aspirations when its S-1, the SEC registration statement of a company's plans to go public, is released. Stay tuned. This could be one juicy stock worth wrapping your hands around.