Benihana Inc. Comps Grow For Ninth Consecutive Quarter

Benihana Inc. on Friday reported a 73-percent decline in profits for the fourth quarter despite continued same-store sales and traffic growth for the company's teppanyaki brand.

For the fourth quarter ended April 1, the Miami-based operator of the Benihana Teppanyaki chain reported net income of $81,000, or nil per share, compared with $289,000, or 2 cents per share, in the year-earlier period. Excluding a $2.6 million impairment charge related to the closure of an underperforming restaurant during the fourth quarter, however, net income was $2.5 million, or 14 cents per share.

Systemwide same-store sales rose 4.8 percent for the fourth quarter, lead by the namesake teppanyaki brand, which reported comparable sales growth of 6.1 percent that included a 5.7-percent increase in traffic, the company said.

The quarter was the company's ninth consecutive quarter of company-wide same-store sales growth.

Among secondary brands, same-store sales were up 2.1 percent at RA Sushi during the quarter and up 2.2 percent at Haru.

Revenues increased 12.8 percent to $92.3 million, including the benefit of an extra week during the quarter.

In May, Benihana Inc. entered into an agreement to go private in a $296 million deal with Angelo, Gordon & Co. Private Equity Group, operating under the name Safflower Holdings Corp. and Safflower Acquisition Corp. The deal is expected to close in the second half of the calendar year.

Richard Stockinger, Benihana's chair, president and chief executive, said he was extremely pleased with the results, especially given commodity cost pressures.

"Maintaining our comparable sales momentum in the midst of a very difficult economic and consumer environment is a significant achievement for our team," he said in a statement. "The Benihana Teppanyaki brand has especially excelled during this time frame, as evidenced by its No. 1 ranking in the Knapp-Track sales survey for calendar year 2011."

For the full year, net income was $3.6 million, or 21 cents per share, compared with $251,000, or 2 cents per share, the prior year. Excluding the impairment charge, net income for the year was $5.9 million, or 33 cents per diluted share.

Revenues for the 53-week year were up 7.5 percent to $352.1 million.

Systemwide same-store sales were up 6 percent for the year, including increases of 7.7 percent for Benihana Teppanyaki, 3.5 percent at RA Sushi and 0.8 percent for Haru.

Based in Miami, Benihana Inc. operates 95 restaurants nationwide, including 62 Benihana Teppanyaki locations, 25 RA Sushi and eight Haru units. Another 16 Benihana locations are franchised and operated in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.

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