(BNHN) Benihana Sales Increase After Being Hurt by Hurricane Irene

Benihana Inc (BNHN), the largest operator of Japanese restaurants in the U.S, posted restaurant sales of $24.9 million in the four-week period ending September 11, 2012, up 5.6% from $23.5 million delivered in the year-ago period.

The company’s comparable restaurant sales grew 6.7% in the second four-week period of the second quarter of 2012, representing the twentieth consecutive period of growth.

The upside in sales was primarily driven by improved comparable restaurant sales at both Benihana Teppanyaki and RA Sushi restaurants due to higher traffic. However, sales at the other 12 restaurants were hurt by Hurricane Irene. As a result, comps plunged by 0.7% for the period.

The comparable restaurant sales jumped 8.2% at Benihana Teppanyaki restaurants on the back of higher guest count (up 6.2%) resulting from the Benihana Teppanyaki Renewal Program. Moreover, same-store sales during the period leaped 5.9% at RA Sushi due to a 2.5% rise in traffic. Though comps at both the restaurants fell 0.2%, respectively, due to Hurricane Irene.

Comparable restaurant sales at Haru declined 1.6% as severe weather conditions affected all the 8 restaurants resulting in lower traffic of 5.4%. Excluding the impact of Irene, the comps were up 3.0%.

Store operating weeks during the period were 1.3% lower than the year-ago period.

The Miami-based company generates 99.5% of its revenues from restaurant sales (67% from Benihana Teppanyaki, 24% from RA Sushi and 9% from Haru) and the remaining 0.5% from franchise fees and royalties.

The company started the first four-week period of the second quarter on an encouraging note, but the second four-week period results decreased due to the Hurricane Irene. Hence, we believe that the company’s sales result for the second quarter will be below expectations. However, the company continues to undertake promotional and marketing initiatives to drive traffic.

Benihana operates 96 restaurants, including 63 Benihana Teppanyaki restaurants, 25 RA Sushi Bar restaurants and 8 Haru sushi restaurants. Additionally, the company has 18 franchised Benihana Teppanyaki restaurants, which are operational in the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean.

We reiterate our long-term Neutral recommendation on the stock. Its prime competitors are McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants Inc. (MSSR) and P.F. Chang’s China Bistro Inc. (PFCB).

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