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BJ's Restaurants Inc. now plans to open only two new units this year.

BJ’s cuts back unit growth amid coronavirus pandemic

CEO Greg Trojan cites ‘challenging times’ for delays, cancellations

BJ’s Restaurants Inc. is cutting back this year’s plans for new units as it begins to open casual-dining restaurant to in-store seating as coronavirus restrictions ease, the company said Thursday. The Huntington Beach, Calif.-based casual-dining brand has opened dining rooms, with limited capacity, in five states, but is canceling or delaying the planned openings of as many as eight new restaurants this year, the company said in releasing first-quarter earnings.

In the first quarter, BJ’s opened a new restaurant in North Attleboro, Mass., the first in that state, but, with the impact of coronavirus, it now will open just one more restaurant and delay or cancel the remainder.

“While we manage through these challenging times with all other restaurant concepts,” said Greg Trojan, BJ’s CEO, in a statement, “we are as optimistic as ever that BJ’s will continue to grow and expand our market share. Once we have resumed normal operations, as conditions permit, we expect to resume our restaurant opening objectives as we continue our national expansion to at least 425 BJ’s restaurants.”

Trojan said BJ’s opened dining rooms last week in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas with limited capacity and this week opened additional dining rooms in Florida and Kansas.

The company now has 55 restaurants with dining rooms open, or about 27% of its total. Next week, BJ’s expects six restaurants in Indiana, six restaurants in Arizona and two restaurants in Arkansas to reopen their dining rooms, also in a limited capacity.

“Guests are now being served in dining rooms in more than a quarter of our 205 open restaurants,” Trojan said. “We are encouraged by early dine-in sales trends, as well as the continued elevated off-premise sales levels at our recently opened locations.

“As more BJ’s dining rooms begin to reopen with limited capacity,” he said, “we believe that our large restaurants and flexible seating layouts provide us a strong advantage to take care of our guests’ needs and grow sales as we transition back to more regular operations.”

BJ’s said same-store sales in the week ended May 5 were down 67.6%, an improvement from the worst comparison week of March 24, when same-store sales declines were 81.7%

“This recent improvement has been driven by growth in the company’s off-premise sales from both take-out and delivery channels and more recently the reopening of certain dining rooms,” the company said. For the week ended May 5, average off-premise sales improved to $31,688, or 4% over the prior week.

For the first quarter ended March 31, BJ’s net income swung to a loss of $4.3 million, or 22 cents a share, from a profit of $12.9 million, or 60 cents a share, in the same period las year. Total revenues decreased 12.4% to $254.6 million from $290.6 million in the prior-year quarter.

Same-store sales declined 15.5%. In the first eight weeks of the quarter, before the pandemic was declared, same-store sales had been up 1.5% but they were down 40.4% in the last five weeks of the period.

BJ’s also said it had closed its previously announced $70 million common stock sale to Act III Holdings LLC and funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates. Act III is an investment fund run by former Panera CEO Ron Shaich.

As of May 5, BJ’s said it had $134 million of cash and cash equivalents on hand.

BJ’s, founded in 1978, owns and operates 209 casual-dining restaurants in 29 states.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless


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