A History of Restaurant Initial Public Offerings

A slew of restaurant chains have made their initial public offerings in the past few decades. For some, the move has paid off. But for others, the future is a little more murky.

Below, we round up the restaurant Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) of the past two decades, with an emphasis on the most recent stock exchange dining debuts and who’s rumored to go next.

THE PAST FEW DECADES OF RESTAURANT IPOs

Investors have a lot of faith in restaurants, as evidenced by the sheer number of chains that have gone public in the past twenty years. Still, those that have hit the market most recently are struggling to counter the efforts of chains that went public decades ago. Just 14% of the current restaurant market capitalization can be attributed to companies that went public in 2010 or later, and 28% of the current market cap in restaurants corresponds to companies who launched IPOs after the year 2000 (as of 2022). 

By comparison, McDonald’s and Starbucks, which together account for about 58% of all restaurant market cap, went public in 1978 and 1992, respectively.

Since the year 2000, we’ve seen several high-profile IPOs, from Domino’s to Sweetgreen. Much of it, though, has occurred in spurts. There was a span of nearly two years (2008-2010), for instance, in which only one restaurant made its initial public offering, which can be largely attributed to the recession.

Between 2011 and 2015, though, the tables had turned, with dozens of big names (Dave & Buster’s, Potbelly’s, Bojangle’s, etc.) cropping up on stock exchanges in what some analysts dubbed “the restaurant IPO craze.”

Logos and IPO value of restaurant chains going public between 2000 and 2022

There wasn’t a significant restaurant IPO between 2016–2018. IPOs, in general, saw a downtick in 2016, so the fact that no restaurant chains went public was hardly surprising (106 companies went public on U.S. exchanges in 2016, down from 164 in 2015). But that doesn’t mean 2016-2017 was a bad span for capital markets. On the contrary, we’ve seen plenty of activity on the Private Equity side, with angel investors, PE funds, and seed capital making their way into restaurant chains large and small. 

There was a new flurry of restaurant chains going public in 2021, including unicorn Sweetgreen and Portillo’s, First Watch, Dutch Bros, and Krispy Kreme. 

RESTAURANT IPO STATISTICS

  • Since 2002 there has been at least 1 restaurant initial public offering every year except for 2009.
  • 2021 was the best year for Restaurant IPOs since 2015 and classifies as one of the second-best years along with 2015 and 1992, each with 5 IPOs.
  • Five companies went public in 2021: drive-thru coffee chain Dutch Bros, casual dining First Watch, Krispy Kreme, QSR hot-dogs chain Portillos, and fast-casual salad focused Sweetgreen.
  • 2014 was the year with most restaurant IPOs with 8 stocks going public including Dave and Buster’s, Del Taco, El Pollo Loco, One Group, Papa Murphy’s, Restaurant Brands International, Habit, and Zoe’s Kitchen.
  • Except for years without restaurants’ initial public offerings, there are many with only one foodservice IPO: 1966, 1976, 1978, 1981, 1982, 1985, 1997, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020.

Number of restaurants going public in 1966-2022 by year

FOODSERVICE MARKET CAPITALIZATION

  • The total market capitalization of foodservice stocks in the U.S. as of July 2022 is $485.5 billion (51 stocks between NASDAQ and NYSE, excluding over-the-counter stocks).
  • There is a high level of concentration with the largest three restaurant chains McDonalds, Starbucks, and Chipotle accounting for 66% of foodservice market capitalization.

restaurant public companies market cap ranked

  • The current market capitalization of McDonald’s (IPO 1978) is the largest in the history of the industry. So much so that it makes the initial public offerings of years 2017-2020 almost insignificant.
  • The further in the past an IPO, the larger today’s market capitalization.
  • Restaurant companies whose initial public offering was before 2000 have a much larger market capitalization than the other periods. Even though this is largely driven by McDonald’s (1978) and Starbucks (1992), the percentage of market cap by timeframe doesn’t change much if we exclude these two giants.
  • It must be noted that the pre-2000 period is composed of IPOs since 1966 (34 years) while the following two are roughly decade periods.
  • There were 24 foodservice companies’ IPOs in the last decade (2011-2022), which surpasses the number of public companies currently in the market that went public before the 2000s.
  • Between 2000 and 2010 there were a low number of IPOs (6) that have a current market cap of $59B. In contrast, between 2011 and 2022 there have been 24 (400% more) IPOs with a market cap of $69B (17% more)

Share of market capitalization by decade (and before 2000)

  • The recent foodservice IPOs are significantly smaller than established companies that IPOed before the 2000s (even excluding giants like McDonald’s and Starbucks). On average, the market cap of restaurant IPOs in the last decade has been $2.9b while companies that went public before the 2000s have current market caps averaging $17.5b. Part of this difference could be related to the maturity of those that have been public for more than two decades. But it also seems to be indicating smaller IPOs in recent years.

Average restaurant IPO size by decade and before the year 2000

RECENT RESTAURANT IPOs, FOODSERVICE TECH IPOs, AND POTENTIAL FUTURE ACTIVITY

The most recent flurry of restaurant IPOs occurred in 2021, and offered a variety of restaurant industry segments (fast-casual, QSR, casual dining) and menu types (salad, hot-dogs, coffee, breakfast). 

It’s the second time the company goes public (it had gone public in April 2000 until it was acquired by JAB Holdings in 2016 for $1.35 billion). The company has an enterprise value of $4.66 billion and a market capitalization of $2.7 billion. IPO was expected to be between $21 and $24 per share but the shares debuted at $17 on July 1st, 2021. Krispy Kreme adjusted EBITDA of $145 million put its valuation at a 32x EV/EBITDA multiple.

The Florida-based restaurant chain with over 441 locations in 28 states totaling over 10 thousand employees had a rough post IPO 2021 with a loss of $2.6M on December 26th. It’s award-winning Daytime Dining concept with made-to-order meals allowed it to turn a net income of $4.6 million in Q1 2022, compared to the net loss of $2 in the same period one year before. It also experienced a 35.6% increase in Q1 sales and expanded to 441 restaurant locations after 7 new openings. 

The fast-casual chain filed for an IPO in June 2021. The company is valued at $1.78 billion.

PTLO launched its IPO in October 2021 at $20 per share after which it peaked at $54 in November of the same year which generated a promising outlook for the stock. However, it began a slow but steady decline back to its first public offering levels to $21.56 by July 2022.  Profit levels have increased by 14.6% YoY to $134.5M driven by an 8.25% increases in same-restaurant sales and 5 new location openings. Inflation has generated a decrease in operating income to $6.8M (-37.2% YoY) but was compensated by a lower interest expense and an average menu increase of 1.5% which has resulted in a 500% net income increase.

Dutch Bros filed for a confidential IPO in June 2021. The company has 420 coffee shops. Estimates indicate the intended valuation would reach $3 billion.

One of the restaurant tech companies to go public in 2021 was Olo. The delivery and digital ordering platform raised $450 million in the NYSE. The company’s enterprise value is $5.08 billion (as of July 2021).

Early in 2019 there were rumors that the restaurant conglomerate was looking to take its coffee branch, the Acorn division,  public (including brands such as Peet’s Coffee, Stumptown Roasters, Intelligentsia and Mighty Leaf Tea).

The SPAC had its IPO in early 2021 with the aim of raising $150 million. The targets enterprise value are in the $400 million to $850 million range or higher.

The company went public as part of a merger with a SPAC (OPES Acquisition Corp.) in December 2020. The enterprise value is $142 million as of July 2021.

The delivery company debuted on the NYSE in December 2020. At pricing, the company ended with an enterprise value 28% higher than expected. Shares soared 85% on the first day of trading.

This as a $7.7 million “mini-IPO” in February 2020.

the company went public in July 2019, raising more than $40 million (lower than the initial expectation of $57.5 million).

This mini IPO valued the company at $200 million in early 2018. By mid-2019, the company filed for bankruptcy.

In April 2019, CEC Entertainment (the parent company to Chuck E. Cheese’s and Peter Piper Pizza)  announced plans to merge with Leo Holdings to go public. The deal was not completed.

In October 2017 FAT Brands went public, raising $24 million.

In May 2019 the plant-based maker went public. Share prices increased by 163% on the same day, a record since 2000.

The delivery company was considering an IPO but instead was acquired by Uber for $2.65 billion in July 2020.

Shake Shack more than doubled its IPO price in its 2015 debut though, as we’ve noted before, it and others in the Better Burger segment have been wildly overvalued in the past. Shack’s IPO debuted around the same time as better-burger rival, Habit Burger (HABT in November 2014 and SHAK in January 2015). Smash Burger was rumored to be mulling an IPO, too, but those rumors were eventually put to rest by the company itself, which said it hoped to “double its number of locations” before going public. The chains typify the fast-casual trend that has taken over the restaurant industry over the last decade, though the burger segment has shown some signs of flagging.

The Brazilian steak chain priced its IPO at $20 on its debut, well above its expected price range. The company struggled to regain that footing (a story seen often among many other full-service operators) and was taken private by PE firm GP Investments.

RUMORED RESTAURANT IPOs ON THE HORIZON

restaurant IPO headlines

Bobby’s Burger Palace

In July, celebrity chef Bobby Flay announced he would take his fast-casual burger chain public in a mini-IPO. Bobby’s Burger Palace is expected to launch a Regulation A+ initial public offering, through which it seeks to raise some $15 million. The chain’s 17 locations compete with the likes of Shake Shack and Five Guys, though investors hope Flay’s star power will be enough to differentiate it from the pack. The company will be listed as “FLAY” at the New York Stock Exchange.

Chuck E. Cheese’s

The place “where a can be a kid” had encountered a few rough patches in recent years. In 2014, Chuck E. Cheese’s was acquired by Apollo Global Management, an alternative investment manager, in a PE deal worth $1.3 billion. Apollo’s turnaround plan — which included more sophisticated menu offerings and free Wi-Fi — made a mark, with revenues rising 11% to between 2014 and 2015. Revenue growth began to slump in 2016 and, in January 2017, reports indicated that Apollo had begun preparations for an IPO. The offering is expected to value the US restaurant chain at more than $1 billion, including debt.

 

THE BEST (AND WORST) RESTAURANT STOCK PERFORMERS

As of 2017, some of the best performers since their initial public offerings (IPOs) were Popeye’s, Domino’s, and Chipotle. Back in February, shares of Popeye’s spiked some 19% upon news that Burger King and Tim Horton’s owner Restaurant Brands International would acquire the company in a deal valued at $1.8 billion.

 
On the other end of the spectrum, Noodles & Co. and Potbelly haven’t lived up to expectations, with EV/EBITDA ratios falling for both. In terms of market capitalization, Buffalo Wild Wings saw an increase of 976% due to a huge hike in share prices (the stock price multiplied by roughly 12x between the chain’s 2003 IPO and 2016).

 

Of the four restaurant chains to go public in 2015, WING is the only to see a positive stock performance since its IPO, despite being well below the S&P 500. FOGO had the worst performance of the four, with a stock price decline of 48% since its IPO in 2015. SHAK had the highest volatility, at about four times the market benchmark (S&P 500) and almost twice as high as WING, which had the lowest variability of the four. Still, all of the restaurants to go public in 2015 had a higher variability than the market benchmark.

THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY IS RIPE FOR INVESTMENT

The restaurant and foodservice industry touts plenty of opportunity. The challenge for private equity firms looking to invest in a chain or restaurant company is, often, a lack of knowledge about the industry itself — an understanding of the trends and factors impacting restaurant chains around the world and what will shape them throughout the holding period.

Having consulted with a number of PE firms in the past, we offer a solid understanding of all of the above, and are adept at communicating with industry targets, speaking their lingo, and understanding both back-of-house and front-of-house operational implications on the financial performance of the business.

For those looking for help protecting, enhancing, and unlocking value throughout every phase of the investment lifecycle, we offer several service geared toward Private Equity firms, including: Deal Origination, Commercial Due Diligence and Operational Due Diligence, Operational Support and Value Creation Throughout the Holding Period, and Maximizing Value at Exit.

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ABOUT AARON ALLEN & ASSOCIATES:

Aaron Allen & Associates is a leading global restaurant industry consultancy specializing in growth strategy, marketing, branding, and commercial due diligence for emerging restaurant chains and prestigious private equity firms. We work alongside senior executives of some of the world’s most successful foodservice and hospitality companies to visualize, plan and implement innovative ideas for leapfrogging the competition. Collectively, our clients post more than $100 billion, span all 6 inhabited continents and 100+ countries, with locations totaling tens of thousands.