Maple Street Biscuit Co. weekend business is picking up

The restaurants were closed Sundays before the 2019 acquisition by Cracker Barrel.

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The Maple Street Biscuit Co. restaurant in Florence, Kentucky, opened in March. The chain now has 60 locations.
The Maple Street Biscuit Co. restaurant in Florence, Kentucky, opened in March. The chain now has 60 locations.
Maple Street Biscuit Co.
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Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. reported lower sales and earnings for its first quarter ended Oct. 27 but said business is increasing at its Maple Street Biscuit Co. subsidiary, particularly on weekends.

“Over the course of the quarter, we have seen really solid traffic improvements at Maple Street,” Chief Financial Officer Craig Pommells said in a Nov. 30 conference call with analysts.

“The weekdays do continue to be softer but instead, we’ve actually doubled down on the weekends,” he said.

“We’ve extended our operating hours on the weekends because the demand is so high, and we’re seeing really good progress there, particularly for weekend lunch.”

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. Chief Financial Officer Craig Pommells,

Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel acquired Orange Park-based Maple Street in October 2019. The chain started with one Jacksonville restaurant in the San Marco neighborhood in 2012 and had 33 at the time of the deal.

Those restaurants were closed Sundays when Maple Street was an independent company but under Cracker Barrel’s ownership, they opened seven days a week for breakfast and lunch and Cracker Barrel has expanded the chain.

Cracker Barrel does not report sales data for the Maple Street restaurants.

The company said total revenue in the first quarter fell 1.9% to $823.8 million and adjusted earnings dropped 48% to $11.3 million, or 51 cents a share.

Restaurant sales at Cracker Barrel stores open for more than one year fell 0.5%, with retail sales at those locations falling 8.1%.

Julie Felss Masino, who joined Cracker Barrel as CEO on Nov. 1, said in the conference call the holiday season was off to a good start for the company.

“We set a company record for total sales in a single week during Thanksgiving week with over $110 million in sales, and we served approximately 6 million guests,” she said.

Even before Masino started, Cracker Barrel began new marketing initiatives to boost sales, including a customer rewards program.

“Cracker Barrel is a mature brand that has faced many challenges in recent years and like all companies in full-service dining, we’ll continue to face pressure going forward,” she said.

“While we need to and will control costs and maintain operational discipline to drive bottom-line results, I firmly believe that the only way we can sustainably grow is through the top line.”

The company is planning to expand Maple Street at a faster rate than Cracker Barrel locations this year.

It had 661 Cracker Barrel stores at the end of the first quarter and plans to add just two more this fiscal year.

Meanwhile, the company opened its 60th Maple Street restaurant in the quarter and expects to add nine to 11 new units in the fiscal year.

Maple Street’s growth is running behind schedule. The company had said it expected to add four to five restaurants in the first quarter but only opened one.

“That was more a function of construction delays than anything else,” Pommells said.

“As we think about the long term, we’re really excited about the (Maple Street) business,” he said.

“We’re continuing to grow the business at a moderate pace, but we also realize that there is more work to do on the business model, in particular on the weekdays.”

Fidelity tells SEC cybersecurity breach contained

Fidelity National Financial Inc. said in a Nov. 30 Securities and Exchange Commission filing that after becoming aware of a cybersecurity breach Nov. 19, the incident was contained Nov. 26 and it was resuming normal business operations.

The Jacksonville-based title insurer had said in a Nov. 21 SEC filing that it was still assessing the impact of the breach.

In the Nov. 30 filing, it said after learning of the breach, “we promptly commenced an investigation, retained leading experts to assist the Company, notified law enforcement authorities, regulatory authorities and other stakeholders and followed our incident response plans.”

“In addition, we took containment measures such as blocking access to certain of our systems resulting in varying levels of disruption to our businesses,” it said.

Fidelity gave no further details but a report by mortgage and housing market news site HousingWire said “ransomware gang” AlphV/BlackCat claimed responsibility for the attack in an online post.

Fidelity did not say anything about the financial impact of the breach.

Patriot sets Dec. 19 shareholders meeting

Patriot Transportation Holding Inc. has scheduled its shareholders meeting for Dec. 19 to vote on a $66 million buyout offer from Oklahoma City-based United Petroleum Transports Inc.

The two trucking companies agreed Nov. 1 on an offer by UPT to buy Jacksonville-based Patriot for $16.26 a share, which was more than twice Patriot’s trading price at the time.

The agreement included a 30-day go-shop period to see if any party would make a higher offer. But Patriot said in an updated proxy statement filed Dec. 1 that no other potential buyers expressed interest in a transaction.

The shareholders meeting will be held virtually through a webcast.

The companies hope to complete the deal by the end of this year or early in 2024.

ParkerVision says it didn’t promote stock before price rise

After a recent spike in its stock price, Jacksonville-based ParkerVision Inc. issued a news release saying it was not responsible for promotional materials touting the stock.

The company said in the Nov. 22 release it received a request from the OTC Markets Group Inc. to make a statement about the promotional activity. ParkerVision’s stock trades on the OTCQB market.

“The (promotional) material was in the form of an email communication distributed by on November 20, 2023, and includes false and misleading statements regarding receipt of media support and payments from the Company, or parties under contract with the Company, to publish and/or distribute advertisements on behalf of the Company,” ParkerVision said.

“The Company had no knowledge of the promotional material until notified by OTC Markets Issuer Compliance Team.”

According to the Penny Stock Pros website, “we select penny stocks with significant upside potential that we believe are about to explode, and we send you an email alert so you can buy before the curve takes off.”

ParkerVision has no products on the market and is focused on several patent infringement lawsuits against major telecommunications product manufacturers alleging they are illegally using wireless technology developed by ParkerVision.

The company’s stock has traded below $1 since January 2022.

The stock rose from 9 cents at the close Nov. 9 to a high of 23 cents Nov. 22, when ParkerVision issued its news release.

Analyst upgrades Regency Centers

With the stock down slightly this year, Compass Point analyst Floris van Dijkum upgraded his rating on Jacksonville-based shopping center developer Regency Centers Corp. from “neutral” to “buy.”

Regency’s stock was trading at $61.47 at the time of his Nov. 30 report, down 2.8% on the year, but it rose as much as $2.82 to $64.29 in the two days after van Dijkum’s upgrade.

Compass Point analyst Floris van Dijkum

“Looking at 2024, we expect Regency to have FFO (funds from operations) growth of 5.1% compared to sector peers at 3.4%, based on our estimates,” van Dijkum said in his research note.

“The recent UBP acquisition has helped boost REG’s 2024 FFO growth while the transaction also improves its exposure to the metro NYC markets to 19%,” he said.

In August, Regency acquired Urstadt Biddle Properties Inc., which operated 77 properties mainly in the New York metropolitan area.

With the addition of that portfolio, Regency had 481 properties across the country at the end of the third quarter, mainly grocery-anchored shopping centers.

“We believe investors will seek REITs with earnings growth in 2024 and Regency should fit that profile,” van Dijkjum said.

With the Regency upgrade, van Dijkum said he has “buy” ratings on all five large-cap shopping center owners.

“All five owners stand to benefit from the best retail operating environment over the past two decades, while trading at multiples below the REIT index average,” he said.

Cenntro files scheme booklet to incorporate in U.S.

Cenntro Electric Group Ltd. is sending shareholders a scheme booklet before a vote on changing its incorporation from Australia to the U.S.

The company, which produces electric vehicles and began operations at a Jacksonville plant this year, is headquartered in Freehold, New Jersey.

Cenntro has no business operations in Australia.

A scheme booklet may be an unfamiliar term for many Americans but is apparently more common in Australia to explain a scheme of arrangement.

According to Cenntro’s booklet filed with the SEC, a scheme of arrangement “is a statutory procedure that is commonly used to enable one company to acquire another company, including to effect an internal reconstruction or re-domiciliation.”

Cenntro’s stock is traded on the Nasdaq market, but it said redomiciling to the U.S. will reduce some operating costs and, it hopes, increase its valuation.

The stock has been trading below $1 and recently announced a 1-for-10 reverse stock split to increase its trading price and keep its Nasdaq listing.

Cenntro reported revenue of $13.5 million in the first nine months of this year, almost double its revenue the previous year. But it recorded a net loss of $41.3 million in the nine-month period.

The company is incorporating in Nevada, which has “nominal annual fees, no state corporate income tax, and does not impose income tax on corporate shares,” the scheme booklet said.

Also, “Nevada Laws are more permissive as compared to other jurisdictions in the U.S. in respect of the issue of shares,” it said.

The shareholder meeting to vote on the scheme is scheduled for Jan. 25.



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