The Restaurant Investor

By Max Olson  |  November 25th, 2009 at 1:47 am  |  Business, General, Innovation, Investing, Long Form

I wrote the following article for partners of Braewick Holdings LP and readers of this blog. The article is on the story of Steak n Shake, Sardar Biglari, and what it takes for a restaurant to succeed. I’ve included the introduction here, but the entire article is in PDF format through the link below:

“The Restaurant Investor” by Max Olson

Phil Cooley and Sardar Biglari

In March, 2008, Sardar Biglari won the most important victory of his life. In an activist campaign to gain control of the board of directors of The Steak n Shake Company, Biglari and his partner received nearly triple the number of votes of the directors they were replacing.

It hadn’t been easy—their proxy fight with incumbent management had been going on for more than six months. Biglari and the entities he controlled first purchased seven percent of Steak n Shake during the summer of 2007. In August, the initial filing was made with the S.E.C. stating that Biglari had been in discussions with management. At this point, as with many activist investors, Biglari hoped that management would be open to his suggestions and criticisms of the company. He was the third largest owner of Steak n Shake at the time, holding more shares than all executive officers and directors combined. Only days earlier, C.E.O. Peter Dunn had unexpectedly resigned, stating his intent to “pursue other interests.” It seemed like the perfect time to reform the faltering restaurant chain.

Yet, after Biglari’s initial meeting with the Board and interim C.E.O., he was denied representation and otherwise rebuffed from any involvement with the company. To management, he was as a nuisance—one that if ignored, would go away. But Biglari was not the kind of investor to be ignored. While continuing to accumulate shares, he launched the first blow in the proxy fight on October 1. Along with an official solicitation to shareholders, Biglari wrote a brief letter outlining his intentions and frustration with the performance of Steak n Shake.

During the proxy fight, Biglari’s demands were relatively mild. His initial goal was to obtain two Board seats—one for himself, and one for Philip Cooley (Biglari’s mentor and business partner). But as the Board continued to fight, and Steak n Shake’s performance continued to decline, he determined that simple representation wasn’t enough. The current Chairman and interim C.E.O., along with the Lead Director, had to go. Biglari launched a website titled “Enhance Steak n Shake” and went as far as buying billboard space in the company’s hometown of Indianapolis.

After months of back-and-forth between Biglari and incumbent management, the minority share owners of Steak n Shake made the overwhelming choice to replace current leadership with Sardar Biglari and Phil Cooley. During the contest, some claimed that Biglari was nothing but a corporate raider, only interested in Steak n Shake to pursue short-term profits at the expense of the company. Now, he would have the chance to prove them wrong.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time Biglari had successfully launched a hostile Board takeover of a public company. Despite his relatively young age of thirty-years, this wasn’t even the first restaurant he had pursued.

Continue Reading “The Restaurant Investor”

  • http://www.StreetCapitalist.com Tariq

    Great stuff Max. I like to see that blogging hasn’t dissuaded you from long form writing!

  • http://www.manhattancalumet.com james moylan

    I have a web site where I give advise on penny stocks and stocks under five dollars. I have many years of experience with these type of stocks. If their is anyone that is interested in these type of stocks you can check out my web site by just clicking my name. I would like to comment MCdonald’s.. The key to making money in the stock market consistently is avoiding the most popular stocks. A good example is MCdonald’s while MCdonald may be a very solid company. I do not believe that it is anymore than a mediocre investment you could make maybe ten or twelve percent per year on your money over a ten year period which is about the average return for stocks. I know of low price stocks of decent quality that could easily appreciate at 30 to 40 percent a year over a five period without a tremendous amount of risk..
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  • http://www.manhattancalumet.com james moylan

    I have a web site where I give advise on penny stocks and stocks under five dollars. I have many years of experience with these type of stocks. If their is anyone that is interested in these type of stocks you can check out my web site by just clicking my name. I find that the best measurement of how undervalued a stock is is the price to sales ratio of a companies stock. The price to sales ratio is the market cap of a companies stock compared to the amount of sales the company does on an annual bases. A good example of a company with a low price to sales ratio is carrols restaurant group the company has a market cap of just 240 million dollars but does over 800 million dollars in annual sales the company is solidly profitable. In other words the price that the market is valuing the company at is 240 million dollars this is only one third of what the company does in annual sales 800+ million dollars. The stock currently trades at around 10.25 cents a share under the symbol {TAST} I think the stock could get to 50.00 dollars a share over the next five years. I base this on the current net profit margin of around 1.75% or 14 million dollars on sales of 800 hundred million dollars. If the companies sales were to increase by 50% or 400 million dollars to 1.2 billion dollars over the next five years’ and if the companies net profit margin were to expand from 1.75% to 5% or 60 million dollars over the next five years than if the companies stock increased in price to where it was trading at a price earnings ratio of 20 this would put the stock at 50 dollars a share. This may seem to be a somewhat optimistic scenario but not really that much’ there are many stocks that trade at much higher price earnings ratios when they become popular than 20 times earnings. I find that companies like carrols restaurant group are very rare. I also find that companies that have low price to sales ratios that are profitable or of decent quality tend to become takeover targets or get taken private by private equity firms or the management of the company’ or other companies in the same business.
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