The restaurant sector -- particularly the "fast casual" players personified by the likes of Shake Shack and longtime stock market darling Chipotle Mexican Grill -- has gotten a lot of investor love over the past few years. Combined with a frothy stock market, this popularity has resulted in a raft of IPOs.
The newest debut will be Bojangles', a fried-chicken restaurant chain based in North Carolina. It is slated to begin trading later this week on the Nasdaq. Here is a sample of what the company will be serving up to investors.
Four decades in the kitchen
The core menu items at Bojangles' are fried chicken and biscuits, served in a variety of configurations, including sandwiches, dinner combinations, and the like. The latter lends itself to breakfast items, and the chain has created a thriving business with that particular meal.
The company has been cruising along for some time -- founded in 1977, it has grown over the decades into a chain of over 620 restaurants. Around 60% of these outlets are franchised, with the company operating the rest. Locations are spread across 10 states in and near the home base of North Carolina, plus a single restaurant in Washington, D.C. and another in Roatan, Honduras.
Bojangles' has found a way to grow and profit in a competitive industry. The company proudly points to its 19 straight quarters of comparable sales growth, a feat that is challenging for even the top restaurant chains.
In terms of overall revenue, from 2011 to 2014, the top line grew from just under $300 million to $430 million. That is a 44% increase for the period.
It has also been consistently profitable, again a commendable achievement given its business. Last year it netted $26 million on that $430 million in revenue, up from $24 million the previous year.
The operational success at Bojangles' provides a good bullish case for the stock. However, other factors might make potential investors pause before taking a bite of the IPO.
At the moment, the company is effectively majority-owned by a private equity shop, Advent International, which will retain its control after the IPO, holding as much as 78% of the total shares.
Private equity firms like to hold assets until they can harvest their investment with healthy returns. As a result, it is possible that Advent will focus on short-term goals for the company, not necessarily in accord with those of the minority shareholders.
In addition, they often load up on debt to fund distributions to their owners. In each of the past two years, Bojangles' proceeds from borrowings on long-term debt totaled $50 million -- exactly the amount of its distributions to shareholders.
Although Bojangles' is not exactly drowning in debt, it has borrowed plenty of money. At the end of last year, its long-term debt amounted to $228 million, up from just under $200 million the previous year.
Shares on the menu
So there are enough reasons for investors to say yea or nay to the Bojangles' debut. For those in the former camp, the IPO is slated to begin trading this Friday, and the stock is to be listed on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol BOJA.
A total of 6.25 million shares will be sold, at a price of $15 to $17 per share. The lead underwriters are Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Jefferies.