Potbelly shares soar 120 percent during IPO


A Potbelly Sandwich Shop is seen on October 4, 2013 in New York City. The company’s initial public offering is another win for food companies going public. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
October 4, 2013

Potbelly Corp.’s shares more than doubled in their debut as investors rushed to grab a piece of the sandwich maker whose low-priced menus have appealed to consumers in a tough economy.

The company’s initial public offering was another win for food companies going public. Shares of Sprouts Farmers Market rose 123 percent in the natural and organic grocery’s August IPO. Restaurant chain Noodles & Co.’s stock more than doubled in its June debut.

Potbelly’s stock rose $16.77, or 120 percent, to close at $30.77, after the IPO raised $105 million — more than the company expected.

Restaurant chains such as Potbelly and Noodles are attracting diners by using higher quality ingredients than fast-food chains and offering meals at lower prices than casual dining chains such as Darden Restaurants’ Olive Garden.

Investors also have taken a liking to these chains, often categorized as “fast-casual.” Noodles shares doubled in their debut in June and are up 34 percent.

“The overall trend is to go for speed and money,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst of the market research firm NPD Group.

Sales at fast-casual eateries jumped 13.2 percent in 2012, more than double the pace at which fast-food chains increased their sales, according to the consulting firm Technomic. Casual dining sales rose just 2 percent during the period.

Potbelly’s sales were brisk in 2012, with revenue rising more than 15 percent to $274.9 million and profit tripling to $24 million. The company has posted positive same-store sales growth in 12 of the last 13 quarters.

The stock was trading at a multiple of about 40 times trailing 12-month earnings, higher than that of most competing casual restaurant chains but below Noodles, which trades at a whopping multiple of 113.

Potbelly started in 1977 as a food counter in a small antiques store in Chicago. Its 295 outlets are mostly concentrated in the Midwest, although it is also a popular fast meal in Washington, where it has a cluster of outlets within a few blocks of the White House.

“It is gaining a lot of interest in areas outside the Midwest, where it seems to be focused currently, and expansion potential seems to be reminiscent of popular food chains that are going to succeed in markets,” said David Menlow, president of IPOFinancial.com.

The company is headed by Aylwin B. Lewis, whose résuméincludes titles such as chief executive of Sears Holdings Corp. and chief operating officer of Yum Brands. He is also on the board of Walt Disney Co. and Starwoods Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

Other casual-dining chains readying to go public include the Mediterranean-style restaurant chain Zoe’s Kitchen and hamburger chain Checkers Drive-In Restaurants.

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