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Robert Trigaux

Tampa's OSI, parent of Outback and Carrabba's, emerging from recession faster than many



lizsmithceoosirestaurantpartners.jpgWake up and good morning. Apparently more of us are hungry and want someone else to feed us more often. That's good news for certain restaurant chains that are starting to emerge from the scary, battled-scarred 2008-2009 era when consumers hid in their homes and rarely ventured out for restaurant dining.

The bounceback is uneven, of course, with some chains like Chipotle and Panera Bread showing good gains and surprising resilience in growing through some earlier, tougher quarters when most restaurants suffered single and even double digit losses.

The wild card for 2011 for restaurants? Gas prices. The less people drive, the less will eat at restaurants. And chains that are not already perking up and on the minds of consumers may be hard pressed.

The good news for Tampa Bay business is that some of the key chains owned by Tampa's OSI Restaurant Partners are posting stronger numbers as of the fourth quarter of 2010. According to analysts at Trinity Capital, Outback Steakhouse registered its third quarter in a row of positive "same store sales" after more serious declines in 2009. Outback's gains are modest -- sales up just 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter. But the numbers are positive, at least.

OSI's Italian chain, Carrabba's Italian Grill, looked slightly more robust with four quarters in a row of sales gains. In the fourth quarter, its sales rose 5.4 percent. OSI's Bonefish Grill, which serves seafood, posted five straight quarters of gains, up 9.3 percent in the fourth quarter. And one of OSI's more upscale steakhouse chains, Fleming's, also bounced back with four quarters of positive sales, the last one (4th quarter) a hearty 18.4 percent.

That's all good news for OSI, which had suffered at the start of the recession, good for OSI CEO Liz Smith (photo, above) who was named to that position in lat e2009, and good for Tampa Bay to have one of its top headquarter corporations (once public, now private) to be on the mend.

Contrast those OSI chain gains with some familiar chains that are still struggling with sales losses, at least as of the fourth quarter. Trinity Capital reports that a number of big name chains were still reporting shrinking same store sales through the end of 2010. Among them? Chili's. Red Lobster (with the exception of first quarter 2010). Bob Evans

Some chains are showing sales momentum, including Pizza Hut and Pollo Tropical.

Will these trends continue? Cautions Trinity Capital: "The first quarter of 2011 may tell a different story as the price of gasoline has continued to rise, (along with) a shaky stock market, political unrest in the Middle East and much of the nation experiencing severe weather..." (but not Florida!) "... in January and February."

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, St. Petersburg Times

[Last modified: Friday, March 25, 2011 7:10am]


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