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Basch Report
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jun. 11, 202005:20 AM EST

Maple Street outperforms Cracker Barrel

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Comp store sales at Cracker Barrel drop 41.7% in the third quarter ended May 1 amid pandemic.
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Like every other restaurant chain, Maple Street Biscuit Company lost sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Maple Street did outperform the main brand of its parent company, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc., in the latest quarter.

“We believe they experienced less severe declines than Cracker Barrel due to their higher off-premise mix and the fact that the fast-casual segment was less impacted than casual dining,” CEO Sandy Cochran said during Cracker Barrel’s quarterly conference call last week.

The company did not give data for Maple Street. But it said sales at restaurants excluding Maple Street open for more than one year dropped 41.7% in the third quarter ended May 1.

Cracker Barrel acquired Maple Street in October for $36 million and moved the Maple Street offices from Orange Park to Cracker Barrel’s headquarters near Nashville, Tennessee.

“Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, the integration has progressed well and I’ve been impressed with how they’ve managed through the crisis,” Cochran said.

Maple Street has 34 restaurants in seven states, while Cracker Barrel has 664 restaurants in 45 states.

Cracker Barrel intends to grow the Maple Street chain.

The company is continuing with plans to convert six other restaurants under its Holler & Dash brand to the Maple Street chain and during the conference call, Chief Financial Officer Jill Golder said it expects to open 15 new Maple Street restaurants in fiscal 2021.

“We believe Maple Street has attractive unit economics with AUVs (average unit volumes) over $1 million in a normal non-COVID environment and an investment cost below $750,000,” Holder said.

“We remain excited about the future of Maple Street Biscuit Co.,” Cochran said.

“The resilience they’ve demonstrated in recent months has reinforced the attractiveness of their brand and their business model and we look forward to accelerating their growth,” she said.

Ex-Comptroller Otting joins Black Knight board

Less than two weeks after leaving his position as the top regulator of national banks, Joseph Otting was elected to the board of directors of mortgage technology company Black Knight Inc. on June 8.

Otting served as U.S. Comptroller of the Currency from November 2017 until May 29.

The Comptroller’s office is an arm of the U.S. Treasury Department that regulates nationally chartered banks.

Otting did not give a reason for his departure but it was announced last month after his office completed an overhaul of the Community Reinvestment Act, a federal law aimed at prohibiting discrimination in lending practices.

News reports said overhauling the CRA was a top priority for Otting.

His election increases Jacksonville-based Black Knight’s board to nine directors.

Analyst says Rayonier AM markets pressured

RBC Capital Markets analyst Paul Quinn downgraded his rating on struggling Rayonier Advanced Materials Inc. last week, saying the Jacksonville-based company’s industry faces “increasing headwinds.”

“Covid-19 has had an outsized negative impact on fiber markets, resulting in viscose, cotton, and polyester all trading near all-time lows,” Quinn said in his research note.

“We attribute this to the sharp decline in retail sales from clothing companies,” he said.

Quinn said pulp product companies benefited from a pandemic-related surge in demand for tissue products.

“However, we believe that the surge is already showing signs of slowing and will likely decline further as the economy normalizes and people use more away-from-home tissue (which is made with more recovered paper),” he said.

Quinn downgraded Rayonier AM from “outperform” to “sector perform.”

Barclays Capital analyst touts CSX

While market volatility makes it difficult to invest in the short term, Barclays Capital analyst Brandon Oglenski last week touted Jacksonville-based railroad company CSX Corp. for the long term.

“Industry-leading profitability and cash flow coupled with a targeted growth strategy make CSX shares a compelling long-term opportunity for long-term investors,” Oglenski said in a research note.

“Following several years of operational improvement, CSX now delivers near industry-leading profitability and service levels,” he said.

Oglenski raised his price target for CSX from $67 to $76, with the stock trading at $70.87 at the time of his report.

He expects the company’s freight volume to increase.

“While difficult to detect since the beginning of freight market challenges last year and continuing headwinds during the pandemic, we suspect CSX’s strategy to leverage lower cost and improve service outcomes will lead to future volume expansion,” he said.

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