I've previously dubbed Middleby (NASDAQ:MIDD) a boring, behind-the-scenes stock, since it operates in the thrilling, fast-paced world of ... commercial ovens. The sector may be sleepy, but the company's returns over the past few years have admittedly been smoking hot. Last week, Middleby got a wee bit less boring -- and cooled off considerably -- as its stock dropped 13.4% following its first-quarter earnings report.

Middleby's net income increased 23% to $13.2 million, or $0.77 per share. Revenue jumped 52% to $160.9 million. Investors had three reasons to get nervous: The weak economy poses short-term problems, the company's top line missed analysts' expectations, and nearly all of Middleby's sales growth was due to acquisitions.

In the short run, it makes sense for investors to get cold feet. With the exception of success stories like McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), which has been firing on all cylinders, many restaurant companies are having problems with high commodity costs while struggling to lure in budget-minded customers. Amid these conditions, they probably won't be in the market for new ovens anytime soon.

Given Middleby's performance over the years, though, I can see why many other investors are now eager to snag Middleby shares at slightly cheaper prices. After all, Middleby is a three-time Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation, returning 520% from the original recommendation, and 143%, and 74% respectively from each subsequent re-up.

Meanwhile, Middleby appears to be beating the pants off historically unprofitable rival TurboChef (NASDAQ:OVEN), which recently reported a wider-than-expected first quarter loss. Starbucks' (NASDAQ:SBUX) recent caffeinated dramas aren't helping TurboChef; the coffee giant will no longer need its ovens, since it's axing its warm breakfast sandwiches.

All told, Middleby's stock is down 20% over the last six months. That does sound like an opportunity to get in on a small-cap performer, although ongoing economic pressures might create further opportunities for even deeper bargains. Then again, Middleby still seems well-positioned for the long term. Perhaps this oven maker won't stay cool for long.

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