The buttery steaks aren't the only thing sizzling at Ruth's Chris
Reality isn't that flattering, though it's still impressive. An insurance settlement boosted the bottom line, and new openings and the acquisition of seven franchised locations fueled top-line growth. However, even when you wipe away all of the flash, you're still left with that seasoned sizzle.
As for earnings, sure, the storms that forced the company to relocate from New Orleans in 2005 came back to reward it financially once its insurer paid up. But even if you back that out, adjusted profitability would have increased 90%, to $0.38 a share.
Expansion is part of any restaurant stock investing strategy, but Ruth's Chris is doing just fine at the unit level. For the quarter, comps rose 7.4%, and that's stacked on top of an 8.5% gain a year earlier.
That positive trend has been evident at other upscale chains. Smith & Wollensky
Looking ahead, Ruth's Chris won't be showing the same kind of growth in 2007 as it did in 2006. It will tack on enough steakhouses to grow its restaurant operating weeks by 20%. Factor in a projected 3% to 4% increase in comps, and revenue should grow at half the pace it did last year.
Earnings per share will clock in between $1.05 and $1.09, representing a modest 14% to 19% gain from last year's pro forma profitability.
Despite its storied history, Ruth's Chris still has room to grow. Not every market can support an upscale steak house like Ruth's Chris, yet the company still sees its presence doubling domestically over the next several years. It also believes that its brand is strong enough to make a bigger push worldwide.
Restaurant stocks -- especially chains that are growing nicely, like Ruth's Chris -- often make for solid investments. Buffalo Wild Wings
Growth is never enough, of course. Rival Smith & Wollensky has maintained its unit popularity but struggled with profitability. As a result, its stock has never made it out of the single digits. Thankfully, Ruth's Chris has avoided the profit trap. It's coming along nicely.
And as for those buttery steaks, I mean that as the ultimate compliment.
For other steak stories:
Join Tom Gardner and other investors like you on the Hidden Gems discussion boards -- available for 30 days with a free trial.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys a good steak every now and then, and relishes having a Ruth's Chris just a couple of miles away. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.