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Food Inglorious Food

Thursday, 22 Oct 2009 | 4:29 PM ET

You gotta eat.

After the bell, Chipotle Mexican Grill annihilated street expectations with third quarter earnings of $1.08 a share, up 83 percent from a year ago, compared to the expected $.88 from analysts. The chain showed same store sales rose 2.7 percent, while revenues rose nearly 14 percent to $387.6 million (slightly below expectations). Chipotle even increased operating margins almost a half a point to 25.5 percent. The company plans to open 120-130 this fiscal year and another 120-130 stores next year.

The Cheesecake Factory also beat street expectations with earnings of $.27 a share, $.29 if you exclude a pre-tax charge, a more than 52 percent gain from a year ago. The street was expecting $.24. They also beat on the topline, with sales of $400.6 million for the quarter, better than the $397 million analysts were predicting. However, same store sales fell 2.8 percent.

"When we think about restaurants, we kind of have to split it between fast food, such as your McDonald's and Burger Kings of the world, and casual dining, like Brinker, which owns Chili's, and Darden, which owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden," says Steve West of Stifel Nicolaus. West says that the casual dining stocks did a good job beating expectations the first half of the year through cost cutting, but that investors may now move away from "higher beta, higher risk stocks back into the higher quality, like McDonald's." Investors now want to see profit growth based on consumer spending, not cost savings. For example, McDonald's beat the street on both earnings and same store sales, profiting handsomely from lower commodity costs, but also consumers looking for value. Brinker also beat the street this week, but the stock fell as profits seemed to come more from lower costs than from more traffic. "Deep discounting and promotion on some of their products is actually eating away at some of that savings," says West.

Steve West on Restaurants
CNBC's Jane Wells talks to Stifel Nicolaus analyst Steve West to get his view on restaurant stocks.

West has "Buy" ratings on McDonald's, Chipotle, and Panera.

"I do have a buy on Darden, but right now it's just not working with the shorter-term dynamic of the consumer," he says.

"But, with Darden, they will continue to outperform the industry average on their sales results." He says that's because the company focuses on segments in casual dining "that are underpenetrated--which is steak, seafood and Italian." In contrast, he says the "bar and grill segment" is overpopulated with perhaps as many as 7,500 stores. "Those are the kind of guys that I'd be staying away from," West says, "like a Brinker that owns Chili's, or a DineEquity that owns Applebee's. Those guys will continue to struggle on a same-store sales basis going forward."

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Here's more of our interview with Steve West.

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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