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Filed Pursuant to Rule 424(b)(4)
Registration No. 333-200075

 

PROSPECTUS

6,000,000 Shares

 

LOGO

El Pollo Loco Holdings, Inc.

Common Stock

This is a public offering of our common stock. The selling stockholders named in this prospectus are offering 6,000,000 shares of our common stock and we will not receive any proceeds from the sale of shares by the selling stockholders.

Our common stock is listed on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “LOCO.” On November 19, 2014, the last reported sale price of our common stock on the NASDAQ Global Select Market was $29.62 per share.

 

 

Investing in our common stock involves a high degree of risk. Please read the “Risk Factors” section beginning on page 14 of this prospectus.

We are an “emerging growth company” under applicable federal securities laws and are subject to reduced public company reporting requirements.

Neither the Securities and Exchange Commission nor any state securities commission has approved or disapproved of these securities or determined if this prospectus is truthful or complete. Any representation to the contrary is a criminal offense.

 

      PER SHARE      TOTAL  

Public offering price

   $ 27.00       $ 162,000,000   

Underwriting discounts and commissions*

   $ 1.1475       $ 6,885,000   

Proceeds, before expenses, to the selling stockholders

   $ 25.8525       $ 155,115,000   

* We refer you to “Underwriting” beginning on page 103 of this prospectus for additional information regarding underwriting compensation.

Delivery of the shares of common stock is expected to be made on or about November 25, 2014. The selling stockholders have granted the underwriters an option for a period of 30 days to purchase up to 900,000 additional shares of our common stock. If the underwriters exercise the option in full, the total underwriting discounts and commissions payable by the selling stockholders will be $7,917,750, and the total proceeds to the selling stockholders, before expenses, will be $178,382,250.

 

Jefferies

  Baird

   

Morgan Stanley

William Blair  

 

Stifel

 

Prospectus dated November 19, 2014


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We are responsible for the information contained in this prospectus and in any related free-writing prospectus we may prepare or authorize to be delivered to you. We have not, and the underwriters and the selling stockholders have not, authorized anyone to give you any other information, and we and the underwriters and the selling stockholders take no responsibility for any other information that others may give you. We are not, and the underwriters and the selling stockholders are not, making an offer of these securities in any jurisdiction where the offer is not permitted. You should not assume that the information contained in this prospectus is accurate as of any date other than the date on the front of this prospectus.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Market and Industry Data and Forecasts

     ii   

Basis of Presentation

     ii   

Trademarks and Copyrights

     iv   

Prospectus Summary

     1   

Organizational Structure

     8   

The Offering

     10   

Summary Consolidated Financial and Other Data

     11   

Risk Factors

     14   

Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

     33   

Use of Proceeds

     35   

Price Range of Our Common Stock

     36   

Dividend Policy

     37   

Capitalization

     38   

Selected Historical Consolidated Financial Data

     39   

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

     41   

Business

     65   

Management

     78   

Executive Compensation

     83   

Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions

     87   

Principal and Selling Stockholders

     91   

Description of Capital Stock

     93   

Shares Eligible for Future Sale

     98   

Certain United States Federal Income Tax Consequences to Non-U.S. Holders

     100   

Underwriting

     103   

Legal Matters

     110   

Experts

     110   

Where You Can Find More Information

     110   

Index to the Consolidated Financial Statements

     F-1   

Through and including December 14, 2014 (the 25th day after the date of this prospectus), all dealers that effect transactions in these securities, whether or not participating in this offering, may be required to deliver a prospectus. This is in addition to a dealer’s obligation to deliver a prospectus when acting as an underwriter and with respect to unsold allotments or subscriptions.


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MARKET AND INDUSTRY DATA AND FORECASTS

Certain market and industry data included in this prospectus, including industry data derived from information provided by Technomic, Inc. (“Technomic”), has been obtained from third party sources that we believe to be reliable. Market estimates are calculated by using independent industry publications, government publications and third party forecasts in conjunction with our assumptions about our markets. We have not independently verified such third party information. While we are not aware of any misstatements regarding any market, industry or similar data presented herein, such data involves risks and uncertainties and is subject to change based on various factors, including those discussed under the headings “Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements” and “Risk Factors” in this prospectus.

BASIS OF PRESENTATION

In this prospectus, unless the context otherwise requires:

 

    “we,” “us,” “our,” the “Company” or “Holdings” refers collectively to El Pollo Loco Holdings, Inc., a Delaware corporation, incorporated in 2005, the issuer of the common stock in this offering, and its subsidiaries;

 

    “Intermediate” refers to our direct, wholly owned subsidiary, EPL Intermediate, Inc.;

 

    “EPL” or “El Pollo Loco” refers to El Pollo Loco, Inc., which does not have any subsidiaries and is Intermediate’s sole subsidiary;

 

    “Trimaran” refers to Trimaran Capital Partners, its predecessors and, where applicable, certain funds managed by Trimaran;

 

    “Freeman Spogli” refers to Freeman Spogli & Co. and, where applicable, certain funds managed by Freeman Spogli;

 

    “LLC” refers to Trimaran Pollo Partners, L.L.C., an affiliate of Trimaran and Freeman Spogli and our majority stockholder;

 

    “our restaurant system” refers to both company-operated and franchised restaurants, and the number of restaurants presented in our restaurant system, unless otherwise indicated, is as of September 24, 2014;

 

    “our restaurants” or results or statistics attributable to one or more restaurants without expressly identifying them as company-operated, franchised or the entire restaurant system, refers to our company-operated restaurants only;

 

    “system-wide sales” refers to restaurant-level sales for company-operated restaurants plus sales reported to us by our franchisees; and

 

    “El Pollo Loco” is Spanish for “The Crazy Chicken.”

We use a 52- or 53-week fiscal year ending on the last Wednesday of each calendar year. Fiscal 2011, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 ended on December 28, 2011, December 26, 2012 and December 25, 2013, respectively.

In a 52-week fiscal year, each quarter includes 13 weeks of operations; in a 53-week fiscal year, the first, second and third quarters each include 13 weeks of operations and the fourth quarter includes 14 weeks of operations. Approximately every six or seven years a 53-week fiscal year occurs. Fiscal 2011, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013 were 52-week fiscal years. Fiscal 2014 is a 53-week fiscal year.

Comparable restaurant sales growth reflects the change in year-over-year sales for the comparable restaurant base. A restaurant enters our comparable restaurant base the first full week after its 15-month anniversary. System-wide comparable restaurant sales include restaurant sales at all comparable company-operated restaurants and at all

 

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comparable franchised restaurants, as reported by franchisees. While we do not record franchised restaurant sales as revenue, our royalty revenue is calculated based on a percentage of franchised restaurant sales.

We measure company-operated average unit volumes (“AUVs”) on both a weekly and an annual basis. Weekly AUVs consist of comparable restaurant sales over a seven day period from Thursday to Wednesday. Annual AUVs are calculated using the following methodology: First, we divide our total net sales for all company-operated restaurants for the fiscal year by the total number of restaurant operating weeks during the same period. Second, we annualize that average weekly per-restaurant sales figure by multiplying it by 52. An operating week is defined as a restaurant open for business over a seven day period from Thursday to Wednesday. This measurement allows management to assess changes in consumer spending patterns at our restaurants and the overall performance of our restaurant base.

Restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin are neither required by, nor presented in accordance with, United States generally accepted accounting principles (“GAAP”). Restaurant contribution is defined as company-operated restaurant revenue less company restaurant expenses. Restaurant contribution margin is defined as restaurant contribution as a percentage of net company-operated restaurant revenue. Restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin are supplemental measures of operating performance of our restaurants and our calculations thereof may not be comparable to those reported by other companies. Restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin have limitations as analytical tools, and you should not consider them in isolation or as substitutes for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. Management believes that restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin are important tools for investors because they are widely-used metrics within the restaurant industry to evaluate restaurant-level productivity, efficiency and performance. Management uses restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin as key metrics to evaluate the profitability of incremental sales at our restaurants, to evaluate our restaurant performance across periods and to evaluate our restaurant financial performance compared with our competitors. See “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” for a discussion of restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin and other key performance indicators.

The restaurant industry is divided into two segments: full service and limited service. Full service is comprised of the casual dining, mid-scale and fine dining sub-segments. Limited service is comprised of the quick-service restaurant (“QSR”) and fast casual sub-segments. “QSRs” are defined by Technomic as traditional “fast-food” restaurants with average check sizes of $3.00 to $8.00. “Fast casual” is defined by Technomic as a limited or self-service format with average check sizes of $8.00 to $12.00 that offers food prepared to order within a generally more upscale and developed establishment. We refer to ourselves as “QSR+” because we believe that we offer the food and dining experience of a fast-casual restaurant and also offer the speed, value and convenience of a QSR.

Certain monetary amounts, percentages and other figures included in this prospectus have been subject to rounding adjustments. Percentage amounts included in this prospectus have not in all cases been calculated on the basis of such rounded figures but on the basis of such amounts prior to rounding. For this reason, percentage amounts in this prospectus may vary from those obtained by performing the same calculations using the figures in our consolidated financial statements. Certain other amounts that appear in this prospectus may not sum due to rounding.

Unless otherwise indicated, the information presented in this prospectus assumes that the underwriters will not exercise their option to purchase additional shares.

Unless otherwise indicated, all references to “dollars” and “$” in this prospectus are to, and amounts are presented in, U.S. dollars.

Unless otherwise indicated or the context otherwise requires, financial and operating data in this prospectus reflect the consolidated business and operations of Holdings and its subsidiaries.

Unless otherwise indicated, the information presented in this prospectus gives effect to an 8.56381-for-1 common stock split effected on July 14, 2014.

 

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TRADEMARKS AND COPYRIGHTS

We own or have rights to trademarks or trade names that we use in connection with the operation of our business, including our corporate names, logos and website names. In addition, we own or have the rights to copyrights, trade secrets and other proprietary rights that protect the content of our products and the formulations for such products. Solely for convenience, some of the copyrights, trade names and trademarks referred to in this prospectus are listed without their ©, ® and ™ symbols, but we will assert, to the fullest extent under applicable law, our rights to our copyrights, trade names and trademarks.

 

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PROSPECTUS SUMMARY

This summary highlights information contained elsewhere in this prospectus and is qualified in its entirety by the more detailed information and the consolidated financial statements and the notes to those statements included elsewhere in this prospectus. You should read the entire prospectus carefully, including the section entitled “Risk Factors” and our financial statements and the related notes included elsewhere in this prospectus, before making a decision to purchase shares of our common stock.

Our Company

It All Starts with Our Chicken

El Pollo Loco is a differentiated and growing restaurant concept that specializes in fire-grilling citrus-marinated chicken in front of our customers. We operate within the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry, the limited service restaurant (“LSR”) segment. We believe we offer the quality of food typical of fast casual restaurants while providing the speed, convenience and value typical of traditional QSRs, a combination which we call “QSR+” and which provides a value-oriented fast casual dining experience. Our distinctive menu features our signature product—citrus-marinated fire-grilled chicken—and a variety of Mexican-inspired entrees that we create from our chicken. Every day in every restaurant’s kitchen we marinate and fire-grill our chicken over open flames, hand-slice whole tomatoes, avocados, serrano peppers and cilantro to make our salsas, guacamole and cilantro dressings from scratch. The open design of our kitchens reveals our Mexican-inspired cooking process and allows our customers to watch our Grill Masters and team members fire-grill and hand-cut our signature chicken, as well as make burritos, salads, tostadas, bowls, stuffed quesadillas and chicken entrees.

We offer our customers healthier alternatives to traditional food on the go, served by our engaging team members in a colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environment. We serve individual and family-sized chicken meals, a variety of Mexican-inspired entrees, sides, and, throughout the year, on a limited-time basis, alternative proteins like shrimp, carnitas and beef. Our entrees include favorites such as our Poblano Burrito, Under 500 Calorie Mango Grilled Tostada, Ultimate Pollo Bowl, Grand Baja Shrimp Tacos and Chicken, Bacon and Guacamole Stuffed Quesadilla. Our freshly-prepared salsas and dressings are prepared daily allowing our customers to create their favorite flavor profiles to enhance their culinary experience. Our distinctive menu with healthier alternatives appeals to consumers across a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds and drives our balanced composition of sales throughout the day (our “day-part mix”), including at lunch and dinner.

El Pollo Loco is Spanish for “The Crazy Chicken.” We opened our first location on Alvarado Street in Los Angeles, California in 1980, and have grown our restaurant system to 405 restaurants, comprised of 166 company-operated and 239 franchised restaurants as of September 24, 2014. Our restaurants are located in California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah. Our typical restaurant is a free-standing building with drive-thru service that ranges in size from 2,400 to 3,000 square feet with seating for approximately 70 people. Our restaurants generated company-operated restaurant revenue of $294.3 million and $238.4 million and system-wide sales of $657.6 million and $537.7 million, for the year ended December 25, 2013 and the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, respectively.

We believe the quality of our food and dining experience and the affordable prices we offer our customers drive our operating results, as illustrated by the following:

 

    we achieved positive comparable restaurant sales growth in 13 consecutive quarters through our fiscal quarter ended September 24, 2014;

 

    our annual AUVs grew from $1.5 million in 2011 to $1.8 million in 2013;

 

    from 2011 to 2013, we increased our restaurant contribution margin for our company-operated restaurants by 230 basis points to 21.0%, and for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, we increased our restaurant contribution margin for our company-operated restaurants by 60 basis points to 21.8%, as compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013; and

 

 

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    from 2011 to 2013, we increased our total revenue by 15.2% to $314.7 million, increased our Adjusted EBITDA (as defined under “—Summary Consolidated Financial and Other Data” below) by 39.2% to $55.0 million, and decreased our net loss from $32.5 million to $16.9 million. Included in our net loss figures for 2011 and 2013 were expenses for early extinguishment of debt totaling $20.2 million and $21.5 million, respectively.

System-Wide Comparable Restaurant Sales Growth

13 Consecutive Quarters of Growth

 

LOGO

Our Industry

According to Technomic, 2013 total sales increased 3.8% to $193.3 billion for restaurants in the Technomic Top 500 categorized as LSRs—establishments where customers generally pay up-front for selected food items that generally cost between $3.00 and $12.00 and are later consumed on-premises, taken-out, or delivered. In 2013, the Mexican and chicken menu categories for LSRs in the Technomic Top 500 grew 6.8% and 4.6%, respectively, outpacing the broader LSR category. We operate within the broader LSR segment, and we believe that we offer the food and dining experience of a fast-casual restaurant and the speed, value and convenience of a QSR. We believe our value-oriented fast casual positioning best aligns with the overall growth characteristics of the fast-casual restaurants because we believe we offer the method of preparation, quality of food and dining experience typical of fast casual restaurants. According to Technomic, the fast casual sub-segment grew 11% in 2013, to $27.1 billion in total sales. Technomic projects the total fast-casual sub-segment to grow to $50 billion by 2017. We believe our differentiated menu, colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environments and convenient locations position us to compete successfully against other fast-casual and QSR concepts, providing us with a large addressable market.

We believe we are also well positioned to benefit from a number of culinary and demographic trends in the United States. We expect that the trend towards healthier eating will attract and increase consumer demand for fresh and hand-prepared dishes, leading to a positive impact on our sales. Furthermore, as indicated by recent high growth in the Mexican restaurant segment, we expect to benefit from increased acceptance of Mexican food in the United States in the general market. Finally, we also anticipate benefits from the continued growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has grown from 50.5 million people in 2009 to 53.0 million people in 2012, and is projected to reach 78.7 million in 2030. The growth of the Hispanic population is expected to outpace overall population growth, and the Hispanic population as a percentage of the total U.S. population is expected to increase from 16.3% in 2011 to 21.9% by 2030.

 

 

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Our Competitive Strengths

Putting the “Loco” in El Pollo Loco

We believe the following strengths differentiate us from our competitors and serve as the foundation for our continued growth:

“Loco-ly” Differentiated Restaurant Concept with Broad Appeal.  We believe our food, served in colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environments at reasonable prices, positions us well to satisfy the needs of a large segment of time-pressured mainstream food enthusiasts who seek real food, real fast and at reasonable prices. We provide our customers with the opportunity to enjoy citrus-marinated fire-grilled chicken and Mexican-inspired entrees containing distinctive ingredients such as avocados, mangos and Serrano peppers at price points that appeal to a broad consumer base. Our per-person spend of approximately $5.83 for the year ended December 25, 2013, is competitive not only within the fast-casual segment, but also within the QSR segment. We prepare our entrees to order in approximately four minutes and allow our customers the option to create their favorite flavor profiles using our freshly-prepared salsas before they enjoy their meal in one of our dining rooms or take their meals to go from the counter or the drive-thru. We also believe that our concept, which integrates the complexity of creating real food in real kitchens with the speed of our service model and the skill of our trained and certified Grill Masters, provides a layer of competitive insulation around our restaurant model. We refer to “real food” herein as food that is minimally processed and maintains its integrity, such as our salsas that are prepared with fresh whole tomatoes, peppers and cilantro. We refer to “real kitchens” herein as kitchens that generally prepare food from scratch and cook raw ingredients into meals, as opposed to re-heating pre-processed food. Based on an external research report and a customer satisfaction survey, we believe our positioning appeals to a broad customer base, and that our brand crosses over traditional age, ethnic and income demographics; giving today’s consumers the best of both the fast casual dining and QSR segments. Our differentiated QSR+ positioning sources traffic from both dining segments and as a result continues to fuel our organic transaction growth.

Mexican-Inspired, Fresh-Made “Crazy You Can Taste” Fire-Grilled Chicken and Entrees.  Our signature product is our chicken marinated with a proprietary recipe of citrus, garlic and spices, which serves as the foundation of our distinctive menu of flavorful bone-in chicken meals and Mexican-inspired entrees. With menu items such as our Chicken Avocado Burrito, Chicken Tostada Salad, Pollo Bowl and Chicken Avocado Stuffed Quesadilla, we believe we offer our customers a healthier alternative to traditional food on-the-go. Our entrees are prepared using fresh ingredients in recipes inspired by Mexican cuisine. The majority of our menu items are made from scratch, including our bone-in chicken and chicken breasts, rice, salsas, guacamole and cilantro dressing, meaning that we make them without pre-prepared ingredients. These items start with our chicken, which is marinated in our restaurants daily. From there, our Grill Masters fire-grill and hand-chop our chicken, forming the foundation of our entrees. To complement our entrees, our team members slice whole tomatoes, avocados, serrano peppers and cilantro to create our salsas, guacamole and cilantro dressings. In addition, our rice is sautéed, seasoned and simmered in our restaurants daily. Our salsas and dressings complement our recipes and allow our customers to enhance their culinary experience with customized flavor profiles.

Our strategic approach to menu design has resulted in a balanced menu with broad appeal, as demonstrated by our balanced day-part mix. Our bone-in chicken meals and Mexican-inspired entrees accounted for 47% and 53% of our company-operated restaurant sales, respectively, for the year ended December 25, 2013. Our individual and family-sized chicken meals appeal to customers looking to dine at the restaurant or take out during dinner time, while our more-portable Mexican-inspired entrees draw traffic from customers at lunch time or for an afternoon snack, enabling us to generate sales almost equally between lunch and dinner. We believe our family-sized chicken meals provide a healthier and convenient alternative for mothers and families looking to solve the “dinnertime dilemma” of providing their families with high-quality meals without investing significant time or money. For the year ended December 25, 2013 approximately 28% of our company-operated sales were generated from family-sized meals.

Inviting Experience That Welcomes Our Customers.  We believe our new Hacienda restaurant design creates an inviting restaurant environment. The exteriors of our restaurants feature a signature grill architectural element

 

 

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that reinforces our core brand, and our interiors feature large, open kitchens that allow customers to watch our Grill Masters prepare our fire-grilled chicken. Our restaurants also feature complimentary self-serve salsa bars that are located at the front of our restaurants for added convenience. The salsa bar invites customers to customize their meals with several salsas prepared fresh every day. Our colorful and contemporary dining rooms include both comfortable booths and chairs, while large windows and soft lighting fill our restaurants with light and warmth. Our customers are responding positively to our new Hacienda design, as comparable restaurant sales have increased on average an additional 3% at remodeled locations. We expect to have remodeled over 50% of our restaurant system by the end of 2014 and to have completed the remodeling program by 2018.

We believe the atmosphere and quality of service we provide our customers encourages repeat visits and brand advocacy and drives increased sales. Our team members are trained to engage with our customers in a genuine way to provide a personalized experience and strive to make each experience in our restaurant better than the last.

Well-Developed Operations Infrastructure that Allows for Real-time Control, Fast Feedback and Innovation.  We believe satisfying our customers’ dining needs is the foundation of our business and we have a well-developed operations platform that allows us to measure our performance in meeting and exceeding those needs. We utilize a state-of-the-art operations dashboard that aggregates real-time, restaurant level information from nearly every aspect of our business. The dashboard provides corporate and field management, as well as restaurant-level operators, insight into how we are performing both from the customer’s perspective but also through the eyes of experienced internal auditors. To put the metrics into perspective, we are able to measure current performance against benchmarks derived from a broad selection of fast casual and QSR brands. At the restaurant level, we use sophisticated technology to constantly monitor key operational data regarding sales performance, speed of service metrics, and food and labor cost controls. The intelligence provided by our operations infrastructure allows both our company-operated and our franchised restaurant managers to make rapid and objective decisions to maintain our standards for food and service.

Developing High AUVs and Strong Unit Economics One Chicken at a Time.  We believe our differentiated QSR+ positioning drives restaurant operating results that are competitive with other leading restaurant concepts in both the fast-casual and QSR industry segments. We believe our restaurant model is designed to generate strong cash flow, consistent restaurant-level financial results and high returns on invested capital. For the year ended December 25, 2013, our company-operated restaurants generated an average annual sales per restaurant of approximately $1.8 million and restaurant level contribution margins of 21.0%.

Experienced Leadership.  Our senior management team has extensive operating experience, with an average of over 20 years of experience each in the restaurant industry. We are led by our Chief Executive Officer, Steve Sather, who joined us in 2006. Since naming Steve our CEO in January 2011, we have further enhanced our senior leadership team by adding Larry Roberts as our Chief Financial Officer, Ed Valle as our Chief Marketing Officer and Kay Bogeajis as our Chief Operating Officer. Under Steve’s direction, the team has added new layers of revenue through menu innovation, as well as redefined our marketing strategy and enhanced the customer experience. These initiatives have resulted in comparable restaurant sales growth that has outperformed both the QSR and the fast casual segments in each of the past 13 quarters. We believe our senior management team is a key driver of our success and has positioned us well for long-term growth.

Our Growth Strategy

This Bird is “En Fuego”

We believe we are well-positioned to take advantage of significant growth opportunities because of our differentiated QSR+ positioning, signature fire-grilled chicken, disciplined business model and strong unit economics. We plan to continue to expand our business and drive restaurant sales growth, improve margins and enhance our competitive positioning by executing on the following strategies:

Expand Our Restaurant Base. We believe we are in the early stages of our growth story with 405 current locations in five states, as of September 24, 2014, and estimate, based on internal analysis and a study prepared

 

 

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by Buxton Co., a long-term total restaurant potential in the United States of approximately 2,300 locations. For the year ended December 25, 2013, we opened two new company-operated and five new franchised restaurants, and in 2014 we intend to open ten to eleven new company-operated and four new franchised restaurants across California, Nevada and Texas. Over the long term, we plan to grow the number of El Pollo Loco restaurants by 8% to 10% annually. There is no guarantee that we will be able to increase the number of our restaurants. We may be unsuccessful in expanding within our existing or into new markets for a variety of reasons described herein under “Risk Factors” below, including competition for customers, sites, franchisees, employees, licenses and financing.

We believe our restaurant model is designed to generate strong cash flow, attractive restaurant-level financial results and high returns on invested capital. Our current investment model targets an average new unit cash investment of $1,400,000, net of tenant allowances, an AUV of approximately $1.8 million and a cash-on-cash return in excess of 25% in a restaurant’s third full year of operations, although there is no guarantee that these targets will be met. We closed six restaurants in 2011, did not close any in 2012, closed three in 2013, and have closed one in 2014 to date. We did not open any new restaurants in 2011, but opened four in 2012, two in 2013, and eight in 2014 to date. For the year ended December 25, 2013, the new restaurants opened in 2012 and 2013 had weekly AUVs averaging $33,900 and annualized cash-on-cash returns of over 25%. For the period from December 26, 2013 through September 24, 2014, they had weekly AUVs averaging $35,740 and annualized cash-on-cash returns of 34%. While most of our growth in 2014 has been derived from the expansion of our company-operated restaurant base, we will continue to strategically develop our franchisee relationships and grow our franchised portfolio within existing and new markets. For example, during July and August of 2014, we entered into exclusive franchise development agreements with AA Pollo, Inc. and the owners thereof (“AA Pollo”) for eight restaurants in the greater San Antonio area and twelve restaurants in the Houston area, and in September 2014 we completed the sale of six company-operated restaurants in the greater San Antonio area to AA Pollo, as a franchisee. We view our franchise program as an important tool for expanding the brand that allows us to increase our restaurant penetration.

In our existing markets, where we believe we possess strong brand awareness and a loyal following, we have identified over 325 potential new trade areas for restaurant development. As we continue to increase and strengthen our position in our core markets, we also intend to expand our presence into key, contiguous new markets. We believe a contiguous market expansion strategy will provide us with an attractive opportunity to leverage our brand awareness and infrastructure while increasing our geographic presence. After thoroughly researching potential new markets in the Southwest region, we have selected Houston, Texas as our next new market. In Houston, we have identified an initial 80 trade areas for potential restaurant development by us or our franchisees over the next several years, and we believe that there are additional development opportunities beyond this. In furtherance of this strategy, in August 2014 we entered into an exclusive franchise development agreement with AA Pollo for twelve restaurants in the Houston area and on October 6, 2014 we opened our first location in Houston.

Increase Our Comparable Restaurant Sales.  Our system has experienced 13 straight quarters of comparable restaurant sales growth through our fiscal quarter ended September 24, 2014. We aim to build on this momentum by increasing customer frequency, attracting new customers and improving per person spend. Furthermore, we are well positioned to benefit from shifting culinary and demographic trends in the United States.

Menu Strategy and Evolution.   We will continue to adapt our menu to create entrees that complement our signature fire-grilled chicken and that reinforce our differentiated QSR+ positioning. We believe we have opportunities for menu innovation as we look to provide customers more choices through customization and limited time alternative proteins, such as carne asada. In addition, we will continue to tap in to the need for healthier offerings by building on the success of our recently launched “Under 500 Calorie” menu and other “better for you” products. Our marketing and operations teams collaborate to ensure that the items developed in our test kitchen can be executed to our high standards in our restaurants with the speed and value that our customers have come to expect.

 

 

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Increase Brand Awareness and Consumer Engagement.  We engage consumers through our 10-module product calendar which features seasonal favorites from our “Under 500 Calorie” low calorie menu for New Year’s resolutions to Signature Salads in Spring, and carnitas for the winter holiday season. Our key points of differentiation are communicated through our new advertising campaign “Crazy You Can Taste,” which highlights the lengths we go through to deliver real food throughout the year. We tailor our message from television and direct mail, which garners broad exposure, to our cost effective e-mail marketing program My Loco Rewards and social media platform where we engage in one-on-one conversation to solicit new ideas and deepen the relationship between our customers and our brand. Within our restaurants we continue to engage our customers at various points along their path to purchase to further drive our differentiation. We believe our messaging and communication channels work synergistically and have resulted in a 9% increase in new and lapsed users from 2012 to 2014. These new and lapsed users now account for approximately 15% of total visits.

Hacienda Remodel Program.  In 2011, we launched our new Hacienda remodeling program, which has resulted on average in an additional 3% comparable restaurant sales for remodeled restaurants. The redesigned Hacienda restaurants highlight our roots, while offering a more modern feel and upscale dining experience. We and our franchisees have remodeled 197 restaurants as of September 24, 2014. We expect to have remodeled over 50% of our restaurant system by the end of 2014 and to have completed the remodeling program by 2018.

Enhance Restaurant Operations and Leverage Our Infrastructure.  Since 2011, we have increased our restaurant contribution margin by 310 basis points, to 21.8% for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014. We believe we can further improve our margins by maintaining fiscal discipline, increasing fixed-cost leverage and enhancing our purchasing efforts. We currently have an infrastructure that allows us and our franchisee partners to grow and manage the productivity of each restaurant on a real-time basis. Additionally, we believe, as our restaurant base matures and AUVs increase, we will be able to leverage corporate costs and improve margins, as general and administrative expenses grow at a slower rate than our revenues.

Recent Developments

On November 5, 2014, EPL entered into a commitment letter with Bank of America, N.A., as Administrative Agent, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., as Syndication Agent, and Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Incorporated and Wells Fargo Securities, LLC, as joint lead arrangers and joint book runners (the “Joint Lead Arrangers”), which provides that the Joint Lead Arrangers will use their commercially reasonable efforts to form a syndicate of lenders to extend in aggregate financing of $200,000,000 in the form of a senior secured revolving facility (the “New Senior Credit Facility”). This New Senior Credit Facility will include a sub-limit of $15,000,000 for the issuance of standby letters of credit and a sub-limit of $15,000,000 for swing line loans. The closing of the New Senior Credit Facility is subject to, among other customary conditions, the negotiation and execution of definitive documents relating thereto.

We expect to enter into the New Senior Credit Facility documents with a syndicate of lenders including Bank of America, N.A., and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. The New Senior Credit Facility will expire on the fifth anniversary of the date of execution of definitive loan documentation (the “Closing Date”), and any outstanding principal amounts, together with interest accrued thereon, will be due in full on that date. The proceeds of the New Senior Credit Facility will be used (a) to refinance and terminate EPL’s existing credit facility, and (b) for working capital, capital expenditures, permitted acquisitions and other lawful corporate purposes. We anticipate that we will incur an extinguishment of debt charge of approximately $4.8 million in connection with our entry into the New Senior Credit Facility, consisting of approximately $4.0 million of deferred financing costs and approximately $0.8 million of unamortized discount.

The borrowings under the New Senior Credit Facility (other than any swing line loans) will bear interest rates per annum equal to, at EPL’s option, either (i) LIBOR plus the Applicable Margin for LIBOR loans, or (ii) the Base Rate. The Base Rate will be calculated as the highest of (a) the Federal Funds Rate plus  12 of 1.0%, (b) the Bank of America prime rate and (c) LIBOR plus 1.0%, plus Applicable Margin for the Base Rate loans.

 

 

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Applicable Margin will be calculated based on a pricing grid that will in each case be linked to the Lease Adjusted Consolidated Leverage Ratio. We anticipate, for Eurodollar Rate Loans, Applicable Margin will be in the range of 1.75% to 2.5%, and for Base Rate loans it will be between 0.75% and 1.5%. The Applicable Margin is anticipated to be initially set at 2.0% for Eurodollar Rate Loans or at 1.0% for Base Rate Loans until the delivery of financial statements and a compliance certificate for the period ending on or about March 31, 2015. Borrowings under our existing Revolving Credit Facility bear interest at rates per annum equal to 4.25% plus the greater of LIBOR or 1.0%.

The New Senior Credit Facility will be secured by a first priority lien on substantially all of the assets of EPL, the Company and Intermediate (including a pledge of all of the capital stock and equity interests of EPL and Intermediate). In addition, the New Secured Facility will be guaranteed by the Company and Intermediate.

The New Senior Credit Facility will require us to comply with customary affirmative, negative and financial covenants, including, without limitation, those limiting, subject to certain exceptions, the Company and its subsidiaries’ ability to (i) incur additional indebtedness, (ii) issue preferred stock, (iii) create liens on assets, (iv) engage in mergers or consolidations, (v) sell assets, (vi) make investments, loans or advances, (vii) make certain acquisitions, (viii) engage in certain transactions with affiliates, (ix) authorize or pay dividends and (x) change its lines of business or fiscal year. In addition, it is anticipated that the terms of the New Senior Credit Facility will require the Company to initially maintain, on a consolidated basis, a minimum lease adjusted consolidated leverage ratio of 5.25:1 (with step downs in such ratio to be agreed in the definitive documentation) and a minimum fixed charge coverage ratio of 1.75:1 (the definition of such terms will be as agreed in the definitive documentation).

There can be no assurance that we will enter into the New Senior Credit Facility on the terms described above or at all, and the closing of this offering is not conditioned on our entering into the New Senior Credit Facility.

Corporate and Other Information

Our executive offices are located at 3535 Harbor Blvd., Suite 100, Costa Mesa, California 92626 and our telephone number is (714) 599-5000. Our internet website address is www.elpolloloco.com. Information on, or accessible through, our website is not part of or incorporated into this prospectus or the registration statement to which it forms a part.

Implications of Being an Emerging Growth Company

As a company with less than $1.0 billion in revenue during our last fiscal year, we qualify as an “emerging growth company,” as defined in the Jumpstart our Business Startups Act of 2012 (the “JOBS Act”). An emerging growth company may take advantage of specified reduced reporting requirements and is relieved of certain other significant requirements that are otherwise generally applicable to public companies. As an emerging growth company, among other things:

 

    we may present only two years of audited financial statements and only two years of related disclosure in our “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations”;

 

    we are exempt from the requirement to obtain an attestation and report from our auditors on the assessment of our internal control over financial reporting pursuant to the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002;

 

    we are permitted to provide less extensive disclosure about our executive compensation arrangements;

 

    we are not required to give our stockholders non-binding advisory votes on executive compensation or golden parachute arrangements; and

 

    we are not required to comply with any requirement that may be adopted by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board regarding mandatory audit firm rotation or a supplement to the auditor’s report providing additional information about the audit and the financial statements.

 

 

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We may take advantage of these provisions for up to five years or until such earlier time that we are no longer an emerging growth company. We will cease to be an emerging growth company if we have more than $1.0 billion in annual revenue, have more than $700 million in market value of our common stock held by non-affiliates, or issue more than $1.0 billion of non-convertible debt securities over a three-year period. We may choose to take advantage of some but not all of these reduced burdens. In addition, the JOBS Act provides that an emerging growth company can take advantage of an extended transition period for complying with new or revised accounting standards, delaying the adoption of these accounting standards until they would apply to private companies. We have irrevocably elected not to avail ourselves of this exemption and, therefore, we will be subject to the same new or revised accounting standards as other public companies that are not emerging growth companies.

ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE

The following chart illustrates our organizational structure upon completion of this offering (assuming no exercise of the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares of our common stock from the selling stockholders)(1):

 

LOGO

 

(1) Does not include any outstanding stock options or shares reserved for issuance under our equity incentive plan, other than those stock options to be exercised by the selling stockholders in connection with this offering.

Principal Investors

Trimaran is a private asset management firm, headquartered in New York. Since 1995, Trimaran has completed over 60 private equity investments totaling over $1.3 billion of equity capital, including investments in the manufacturing, health care, restaurant, retail, education, media, financial services and utilities sectors. Following the completion of this offering, Trimaran will beneficially own, through LLC, approximately 35.7% of our outstanding common stock, or 34.6% if the underwriters fully exercise their option to purchase additional shares.

 

 

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Freeman Spogli is a private equity firm dedicated exclusively to investing and partnering with management in consumer-related and distribution companies in the United States. Since its founding in 1983, Freeman Spogli has invested $3.3 billion of equity in 50 portfolio companies with aggregate transaction values of $20 billion. Following the completion of this offering, Freeman Spogli will beneficially own, through LLC, approximately 20.5% of our outstanding common stock, or 19.8% if the underwriters fully exercise their option to purchase additional shares.

Trimaran and Freeman Spogli engage in a range of investing activities, including investments in restaurants and other consumer-related companies in particular. In the ordinary course of their business activities, Trimaran and Freeman Spogli may engage in activities where their interests conflict with our interests or those of our stockholders. See “Risk Factors—The interests of Trimaran and Freeman Spogli may conflict with ours or yours in the future.”

In connection with our initial public offering (the “IPO”), we entered into an income tax receivable agreement with our existing stockholders. As of September 24, 2014, we have an accrued payable related to this agreement of approximately $40 million.

 

 

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THE OFFERING

 

Shares of common stock offered by the selling stockholders

   6,000,000 shares (or 6,900,000 shares if the underwriters exercise their option to purchase additional shares in full).

Option to purchase additional shares

   The selling stockholders have granted the underwriters an option for a period of 30 days to purchase up to 900,000 additional shares of common stock.

Shares of common stock to be issued and outstanding after this offering

   37,254,265 shares.

Use of proceeds

   The selling stockholders will receive all of the proceeds, after deducting underwriting discounts, from this offering. We will not receive any proceeds from this offering.

Dividend policy

   We do not expect to pay dividends on our common stock for the foreseeable future. Instead, we anticipate that all of our earnings in the foreseeable future, if any, will be used for the operation and growth of our business.
   Any future determination to pay dividends on our common stock will be at the discretion of our board of directors and will depend upon many factors, including our financial position, results of operations, liquidity, legal requirements and restrictions imposed by our senior secured credit facilities. See “Dividend Policy” and “Risk Factors—We do not anticipate paying any dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future.”

Risk factors

   Investment in our common stock involves substantial risks. Please read this prospectus carefully, including the section entitled “Risk Factors” and the consolidated financial statements and the related notes to those statements included elsewhere in this prospectus before deciding to invest in our common stock.

NASDAQ symbol

   “LOCO”

The number of shares of our common stock to be issued and outstanding after the completion of this offering is based on 36,948,887 shares of our common stock issued and outstanding as of November 14, 2014 and an additional 305,378 shares to be issued upon exercise of stock options by certain of the selling stockholders in connection with this offering but excludes an additional 4,077,791 shares reserved for issuance under our equity incentive plan.

Except as otherwise indicated, all information in this prospectus gives effect to an 8.56381-for-1 common stock split effected on July 14, 2014.

 

 

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SUMMARY CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL AND OTHER DATA

The following table contains summary historical consolidated historical financial and other data as of and for the fiscal years ended December 25, 2013 and December 26, 2012, derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus. The selected consolidated statement of operations and cash flow data set forth below for the year ended December 28, 2011, are derived from audited consolidated financial statements of ours not included in this prospectus. The summary consolidated statements of operations and cash flow data for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, and September 25, 2013, and the consolidated balance sheet data as of September 24, 2014, have been derived from our unaudited interim condensed consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus. Results from interim periods are not necessarily indicative of results that may be expected for the entire year. The information below is only a summary and should be read in conjunction with the information contained under the headings “Use of Proceeds,” “Capitalization,” “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and “Business” and in our audited consolidated financial statements and the related notes included elsewhere in this prospectus.

 

      Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended     Fiscal Year Ended(1)  
      September 24,
2014
    September 25,
2013
    2013     2012     2011  
     (Amounts in thousands, except per share data)  

Statement of Operations Data:

      

Revenue

          

Company-operated restaurant revenue

   $ 238,432      $ 223,059      $ 294,327      $ 274,928      $ 255,361   

Franchise revenue

     16,456        15,430        20,400        18,682        17,877   

Total revenue

     254,888        238,489        314,727        293,610        273,238   

Cost of operations

          

Food and paper costs

     75,834        70,608        93,589        85,428        78,873   

Labor and related expenses

     59,552        57,260        75,669        73,406        69,584   

Occupancy and other operating expenses

     51,091        47,791        63,150        61,636        59,269   

Company restaurant expenses

     186,477        175,659        232,408        220,470        207,726   

General and administrative expenses

     20,974        18,754        25,506        24,451        22,828   

Franchise expenses

     2,827        2,930        3,841        3,647        3,862   

Depreciation and amortization

     8,271        7,570        10,213        9,530        9,615   

Loss on disposal of assets

     609        734        868        966        197   

Asset impairment and close-store reserves

     415        126        (101     1,494        2,014   

Total expenses

     219,573        205,773        272,735        260,558        246,242   

Gain on sale of restaurant

     2,658               400                 

Income from operations

     37,973        32,716        42,392        33,052        26,996   

Interest expense, net

     15,286        29,443        36,334        38,890        37,715   

Early extinguishment of debt

     5,082               21,530               20,173   

Income tax receivable agreement expense

     40,119                               

Income (loss) before benefit (provision) for income taxes

     (22,514     3,273        (15,472     (5,838     (30,892

Benefit (provision) for income taxes

     60,402        (2,005     (1,401     (2,027     (1,579

Net income (loss)

   $ 37,888      $ 1,268      $ (16,873   $ (7,865   $ (32,471

Per Share Data:

      

Net income (loss) per share

          

Basic

   $ 1.24      $ 0.04      $ (0.59   $ (0.27   $ (1.35

Diluted

   $ 1.13      $ 0.04      $ (0.59   $ (0.27   $ (1.35

Weighted average shares used in computing net income (loss) per share

          

Basic

     30,549,979        28,712,622        28,712,622        28,712,194        24,106,380   

Diluted

     33,499,820        29,564,795        28,712,622        28,712,194        24,106,380   

Consolidated Statement of Cash Flows Data:

          

Net cash provided by operating activities

   $ 29,842      $ 12,528      $ 19,700      $ 19,409      $ 6,454   

Net cash used in investing activities

     (13,979     (10,154     (13,787     (14,993     (3,709

Net cash provided by (used in) financing activities

     8,947        (1,443     (10,385     (1,920     (6,469

 

 

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      As of September 24, 2014  

Balance Sheet Data—Consolidated (at period end):

  

Cash and cash equivalents

   $ 41,825   

Net property(2)

     79,806   

Total assets

     477,025   

Total debt(3)

     188,720   

Total stockholders’ equity

   $ 199,332   

 

      Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended     Fiscal Year Ended(1)  
      September 24,
2014
    September 25,
2013
    2013     2012     2011  
     (Dollar amounts in thousands, except per share data)  

Other Operating Data:

          

Number of restaurants

          

Company-operated

     166        168        168        169        165   

Franchised

     239        231        233        229        229   

System-wide

     405        399        401        398        394   

Comparable restaurant sales growth(4)

          

Company-operated

     5.6     5.2     5.3     8.6     1.9

Franchised

     7.7     9.1     8.8     11.0     0.8

System-wide

     6.8     7.2     7.0     9.9     1.3

Restaurant contribution(5)

   $ 51,955      $ 47,400      $ 61,919      $ 54,458      $ 47,635   

as a percentage of restaurant revenue

     21.8     21.2     21.0     19.8     18.7

EBITDA(6)

   $ 1,043      $ 40,286      $ 31,075      $ 42,582      $ 16,438   

Adjusted EBITDA(6)

   $ 46,577      $ 42,000      $ 55,019      $ 46,834      $ 39,536   

as a percentage of revenue

     18.3     17.6     17.5     16.0     14.5

Capital expenditures(7)

   $ 19,414      $ 10,169      $ 13,822      $ 14,993      $ 3,718   

 

(1) We use a 52- or 53-week fiscal year ending on the last Wednesday of each calendar year. Fiscal 2013, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2011 ended on December 25, 2013, December 26, 2012 and December 28, 2011, respectively. In a 52-week fiscal year, each quarter includes 13 weeks of operations; in a 53-week fiscal year, the first, second and third quarters each include 13 weeks of operations and the fourth quarter includes 14 weeks of operations. Approximately every six or seven years a 53-week fiscal year occurs. Fiscal 2013, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2011 were 52-week fiscal years.
(2) Net property consists of property owned, net of accumulated depreciation and amortization.
(3) Total debt consists of borrowings under our First Lien Credit Agreement (as defined under “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Debt and Other Obligations—Senior Secured Credit Facilities”) (the “Senior Credit Facilities”) and capital lease obligations.
(4) Comparable restaurant sales growth reflects the change in year-over-year sales for the comparable restaurant base. A restaurant enters our comparable restaurant base the first full week after its 15-month anniversary. System-wide comparable restaurant sales include restaurant sales at all comparable company-operated and at all comparable franchised restaurants, as reported by franchisees. While we do not record franchised restaurant sales as revenue, our royalty revenue is calculated based on a percentage of franchised restaurant sales.
(5) Restaurant contribution is neither required by, nor presented in accordance with, GAAP, and is defined as company-operated restaurant revenue less company-operated restaurant expenses. Restaurant contribution is a supplemental measure of operating performance of our restaurants and our calculation thereof may not be comparable to that reported by other companies. Restaurant contribution has limitations as an analytical tool, and you should not consider it in isolation or as a substitute for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. Management believes that restaurant contribution is an important tool for investors because it is a widely-used metric within the restaurant industry to evaluate restaurant-level productivity, efficiency and performance. Management uses restaurant contribution as a key metric to evaluate the profitability of incremental sales at our restaurants, to evaluate our restaurant performance across periods and to evaluate our restaurant financial performance compared with our competitors. See “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” for a discussion of restaurant contribution and other key performance indicators.

 

     A reconciliation of restaurant contribution to company-operated restaurant revenue is provided below:

 

      Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended      Fiscal Year Ended  
      September 24,
2014
     September 25,
2013
     2013      2012      2011  
     (Amounts in thousands)  

Company-operated restaurant revenue

   $ 238,432       $ 223,059       $ 294,327       $ 274,928       $ 255,361   

Company restaurant expenses

     (186,477      (175,659      (232,408      (220,470      (207,726

Restaurant contribution

   $ 51,955       $ 47,400       $ 61,919       $ 54,458       $ 47,635   

 

(6) EBITDA represents net income (loss) before interest expense, benefit (provision) for income taxes, depreciation and amortization. Adjusted EBITDA represents net income (loss) before interest expense, benefit (provision) for income taxes, depreciation, amortization and items that we do not consider representative of our ongoing operating performance, as identified in the reconciliation table below.

 

 

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EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA as presented in this prospectus are supplemental measures of our performance that are neither required by, nor presented in accordance with, GAAP. EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA are not measurements of our financial performance under GAAP and should not be considered as alternatives to net income (loss), operating income or any other performance measures derived in accordance with GAAP or as alternatives to cash flow from operating activities as a measure of our liquidity. In addition, in evaluating EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA, you should be aware that in the future we will incur expenses or charges such as those added back to calculate EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA. Our presentation of EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA should not be construed as an inference that our future results will be unaffected by unusual or nonrecurring items.

EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA have limitations as analytical tools, and you should not consider them in isolation, or as substitutes for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. Some of these limitations are (i) they do not reflect our cash expenditures, or future requirements for capital expenditures or contractual commitments, (ii) they do not reflect changes in, or cash requirements for, our working capital needs, (iii) they do not reflect the significant interest expense, or the cash requirements necessary to service interest or principal payments, on our debt, (iv) although depreciation and amortization are non-cash charges, the assets being depreciated and amortized will often have to be replaced in the future, and EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA do not reflect any cash requirements for such replacements, (v) they do not adjust for all non-cash income or expense items that are reflected in our statements of cash flows, (vi) they do not reflect the impact of earnings or charges resulting from matters we consider not to be indicative of our ongoing operations, and (vii) other companies in our industry may calculate these measures differently than we do, limiting their usefulness as comparative measures.

We compensate for these limitations by providing specific information regarding the GAAP amounts excluded from such non-GAAP financial measures. We further compensate for the limitations in our use of non-GAAP financial measures by presenting comparable GAAP measures more prominently.

We believe EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA facilitate operating performance comparisons from period to period by isolating the effects of some items that vary from period to period without any correlation to core operating performance or that vary widely among similar companies. These potential differences may be caused by variations in capital structures (affecting interest expense), tax positions (such as the impact on periods or companies of changes in effective tax rates or net operating losses) and the age and book depreciation of facilities and equipment (affecting relative depreciation expense). We also present EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA because (i) we believe these measures are frequently used by securities analysts, investors and other interested parties to evaluate companies in our industry, (ii) we believe investors will find these measures useful in assessing our ability to service or incur indebtedness, and (iii) we use EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA internally as benchmarks to evaluate our operating performance or compare our performance to that of our competitors.

The following table sets forth reconciliations of EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA to our net income (loss):

 

      Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended      Fiscal Year Ended  
      September 24,
2014
    September 25,
2013
     2013     2012     2011  
     (Amounts in thousands)  

Net income (loss)

   $ 37,888      $ 1,268       $ (16,873   $ (7,865   $ (32,471

Non-GAAP adjustments:

           

(Benefit) provision for income taxes

     (60,402     2,005         1,401        2,027        1,579   

Interest expense, net

     15,286        29,443         36,334        38,890        37,715   

Depreciation and amortization

     8,271        7,570         10,213        9,530        9,615   

EBITDA

   $ 1,043      $ 40,286       $ 31,075      $ 42,582      $ 16,438   

Stock based compensation expense(a)

     635        191         822        860        40   

Management fees(b)

     343        465         624        612        674   

Loss on disposal of assets(c)

     609        734         868        966        197   

Impairment and closures(d)

     415        126         (101     1,494        2,014   

Debt extinguishment expense(e)

     5,082                21,530               20,173   

Gain on sale of restaurants(f)

     (2,658                             

Income tax receivable expense(g)

     40,119                                

Tax credit expense(h)

     316                                

Pre-opening costs(i)

     673        198         201        320          

Adjusted EBITDA

   $ 46,577      $ 42,000       $ 55,019      $ 46,834      $ 39,536   

 

  (a) Includes non-cash, stock-based compensation.
  (b) Includes management fees and other out-of-pocket costs paid to affiliates of Trimaran and Freeman Spogli.
  (c) Loss on disposal of assets includes the loss on disposal of assets related to retirements and replacement or write-off of leasehold improvements or equipment.
  (d) Includes costs related to impairment of long-lived assets and closing restaurants. In 2013, we reversed a portion of the close-store reserves established in 2012, due to our subleasing, in 2013, of one of the reserved restaurants at a lower net cost than originally estimated.
  (e) Includes costs associated with our debt refinancing transactions in July 2011 and October 2013 and the repayment of our Second Lien Term Loan (as defined under “—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Debt and Other Obligations—Senior Secured Credit Facilities”) with the proceeds of our IPO in July 2014.
  (f) On September 24, 2014, we completed an agreement to sell six company-operated restaurants in the greater San Antonio area. This sale resulted in cash proceeds of $5.4 million, a decrement to goodwill of $650,000 and a net gain of $2.7 million. These six restaurants will now be franchised.
  (g) On July 30, 2014, we entered into an income tax receivable agreement. This agreement calls for us to pay to our pre-IPO Stockholders 85% of the savings in cash that we realize in our taxes as a result of utilizing our net operating losses and other tax attributes attributable to preceding periods.
  (h) Consists of the cost to obtain the tax credits recorded in the third quarter of 2014. $5.4 million of tax benefits were recorded to tax provision in the quarter.
  (i) Pre-opening costs are a component of general and administrative expenses, and consist of costs directly associated with the opening of new restaurants and incurred prior to opening, including management labor costs, staff labor costs during training, food and supplies used during training, marketing costs and other related pre-opening costs. These are generally incurred over the three to five months prior to opening. Pre-opening costs also include occupancy costs incurred between the date of possession and opening date of our restaurants.

 

(7) Capital expenditures consist of cash paid related to new restaurant construction, the remodel and maintenance of existing restaurants and other corporate expenditures.

 

 

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RISK FACTORS

Investing in our common stock involves a high degree of risk. You should carefully consider the following risk factors, as well as other information contained in this prospectus, including our financial statements and related notes to those statements, before deciding to invest in our common stock. The occurrence of any of the following risks could materially and adversely affect our business, prospects, financial condition, results of operations and cash flow, in which case the trading price of our common stock could decline and you could lose all or part of your investment.

Risks Related to Our Business and Industry

The recent economic crisis adversely impacted our business and financial results and a prolonged economic downturn could materially affect us in the future.

The restaurant industry is dependent upon consumer discretionary spending. The recession from late 2007 to mid-2009 reduced consumer confidence to historic lows, impacting the public’s ability and desire to spend discretionary dollars as a result of job losses, home foreclosures, significantly reduced home values, investment losses, bankruptcies and reduced access to credit, resulting in lower levels of customer traffic and lower average check sizes in our restaurants. As a result, our losses during the economic crisis increased significantly due, to a large extent, to lower revenues and impairment charges. If the economy experiences another significant decline, our business, results of operations and ability to comply with the terms of our senior secured credit facilities could be materially adversely affected and may result in a deceleration of the number and timing of new restaurant openings by us and our franchisees. Deterioration in customer traffic or a reduction in average check size would negatively impact our revenues and our profitability and could result in further reductions in staff levels, additional impairment charges and potential restaurant closures.

We are vulnerable to changes in consumer preferences and economic conditions that could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flow.

Food service businesses depend on consumer discretionary spending and are often affected by changes in consumer tastes, national, regional and local economic conditions and demographic trends. Factors such as traffic patterns, weather, fuel prices, local demographics and the type, number and locations of competing restaurants may adversely affect the performances of individual locations. In addition, economic downturns, inflation or increased food or energy costs could harm the restaurant industry in general and our locations in particular. Adverse changes in any of these factors could reduce consumer traffic or impose practical limits on pricing that could harm our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flow. There can be no assurance that consumers will continue to regard chicken-based or Mexican-inspired food favorably or that we will be able to develop new products that appeal to consumer preferences. Our business, financial condition and results of operations depend in part on our ability to anticipate, identify and respond to changing consumer preferences and economic conditions.

Our business is geographically concentrated in the greater Los Angeles area, and we could be negatively affected by conditions specific to that region.

Our company-operated and franchised restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area generated, in the aggregate, approximately 80% of our revenue in fiscal 2013 and approximately 81% in fiscal 2012. During the recent economic crisis and recession, our business was materially adversely affected by a significant decrease in revenues from these restaurants due to adverse economic conditions in Southern California, including declining home prices and increased foreclosures. Adverse changes in demographic, unemployment, economic or regulatory conditions in the greater Los Angeles area or the State of California, including but not limited to enforcement policies for and changes in immigration law, have had and may continue to have material adverse effects on our business. As of September 2014, unemployment in California was 7.3% compared to the U.S. unemployment rate of 5.9%. We believe increases in unemployment will have a negative impact on traffic in our restaurants. As a result of our concentration in this market, we have been disproportionately affected by these adverse economic conditions compared to other national chain restaurants.

Furthermore, prolonged or severe inclement weather could affect our sales at restaurants in locations that experience such conditions, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of

 

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operations. It is possible that weather conditions may impact our business more than other businesses in our industry because of our significant concentration of restaurants in the greater Los Angeles area. We may also suffer unexpected losses resulting from natural disasters or other catastrophic events affecting these areas, such as earthquakes, fires, droughts, local strikes, terrorist attacks, increases in energy prices, explosions, or other natural or man-made disasters. The incidence and severity of catastrophes are inherently unpredictable and our losses from catastrophes could be substantial.

Our growth strategy depends in part on opening new restaurants in existing and new markets and expanding our franchise system. We may be unsuccessful in opening new company-operated or franchised restaurants or establishing new markets, which could adversely affect our growth.

One of the key means to achieving our growth strategy will be through opening new restaurants and operating those restaurants on a profitable basis. We opened two new restaurants in fiscal 2013 and plan to open an estimated ten to eleven new company operated restaurants in fiscal 2014, of which eight have opened to date. Our franchisees opened five new restaurants in fiscal 2013 and plan to open four in fiscal 2014. Our ability to open new restaurants is dependent upon a number of factors, many of which are beyond our control, including our or our franchisees’ ability to:

 

    identify available and suitable restaurant sites;

 

    compete for restaurant sites;

 

    reach acceptable agreements regarding the lease or purchase of locations;

 

    obtain or have available the financing required to acquire and operate a restaurant, including construction and opening costs;

 

    respond to unforeseen engineering or environmental problems with leased premises;

 

    avoid the impact of inclement weather, natural disasters and other calamities;

 

    hire, train and retain the skilled management and other employees necessary to meet staffing needs;

 

    obtain, in a timely manner and for an acceptable cost, required licenses, permits and regulatory approvals and respond effectively to any changes in local, state or federal law and regulations that adversely affect our and our franchisees’ costs or ability to open new restaurants; and

 

    control construction and equipment cost increases for new restaurants.

There is no guarantee that a sufficient number of suitable restaurant sites will be available in desirable areas or on terms that are acceptable to us in order to achieve our growth plan. If we are unable to open new restaurants or sign new franchisees, or if restaurant openings are significantly delayed, our earnings or revenue growth could be adversely affected and our business negatively affected as we expect a portion of our growth to come from new locations.

As part of our longer term growth strategy, we may enter into geographic markets in which we have little or no prior operating or franchising experience through company-operated restaurant growth and through franchise development agreements. The challenges of entering new markets include: difficulties in hiring experienced personnel; unfamiliarity with local real estate markets and demographics; consumer unfamiliarity with our brand; and different competitive and economic conditions, consumer tastes and discretionary spending patterns that are more difficult to predict or satisfy than in our existing markets. Consumer recognition of our brand has been important in the success of company-operated and franchised restaurants in our existing markets. In addition, restaurants we open in new markets may take longer to reach expected sales and profit levels on a consistent basis and may have higher construction, occupancy or operating costs than restaurants we open in existing markets, thereby affecting our overall profitability. Any failure on our part to recognize or respond to these challenges may adversely affect the success of any new restaurants. Expanding our franchise system could require the implementation, expense and successful management of enhanced business support systems, management information systems and financial controls as well as additional staffing, franchise support and capital expenditures and working capital.

 

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At the end of fiscal 2009, we had 21 system-wide restaurants, all originally developed by franchisees, open east of the Rockies. However, by 2012, all of these restaurants had been closed. We may encounter similar issues with our current growth strategy, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flow.

Due to brand recognition and logistical synergies, as part of our growth strategy, we also intend to open new restaurants in areas where we have existing restaurants. The operating results and comparable restaurant sales for our restaurants could be adversely affected due to close proximity with our other restaurants and market saturation.

Changes in food and supply costs, especially for chicken, could adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

Our profitability depends in part on our ability to anticipate and react to changes in food and supply costs. We are susceptible to increases in food costs as a result of factors beyond our control, such as general economic conditions, seasonal economic fluctuations, weather conditions, global demand, food safety concerns, infectious diseases, fluctuations in the U.S. dollar, product recalls and government regulations. The costs of many basic foods for humans and animals, including corn, wheat, corn flour and other flour, rice and cooking oil, have increased markedly in recent years, resulting in upward pricing pressures on almost all of our raw ingredients including chicken and increasing our food costs. Food prices for a number of our key ingredients escalated markedly at various points in fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013, and we expect that there will be additional pricing pressures on some of those ingredients in fiscal 2014. Weather related issues, such as freezes or drought, may also lead to temporary spikes in the prices of some ingredients such as produce or meats. Any increase in the prices of the ingredients most critical to our menu, such as chicken, corn, cheese, avocados, beans, rice and tomatoes, would adversely affect our operating results. Alternatively, in the event of cost increases with respect to one or more of our raw ingredients, we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas, rather than paying the increased cost for the ingredients. Any such changes to our available menu may negatively impact our restaurant traffic, business and comparable restaurant sales during the shortage and thereafter.

Our principal food product is chicken. In the first thirty-nine weeks of fiscal 2014 and in fiscal 2013, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2011, the cost of chicken included in our product cost was approximately 12.6%, 13.0%, 12.7% and 12.7%, respectively, of our revenue from company-operated restaurants. Material increases in the cost of chicken could materially adversely affect our business, operating results and financial condition. Changes in the cost of chicken can result from a number of factors, including seasonality, increases in the cost of grain, disease and other factors that affect availability and greater international demand for domestic chicken products. A major driver in the price of corn, which is the primary feed source for chicken, has been the increasing demand for corn by the ethanol industry as an alternative fuel source, as most ethanol plants in the United States use corn as the primary source of grain to make ethanol. This increased demand on the nation’s corn crop has had and may continue to have an adverse impact on chicken prices. We currently do not engage in futures contracts or other financial risk management strategies with respect to potential price fluctuations in the cost of chicken or other inputs, food and supplies, which we purchase at prevailing market or contracted prices. We have implemented menu price increases in the past to significantly offset the higher prices of chicken, due to competitive pressures and compressed profit margins. We may not be able to offset all or any portion of increased food and supply cost through higher menu prices in the future. If we implement further menu price increases in the future to protect our margins, average check size and restaurant traffic could be materially adversely affected, at both company-operated and franchised restaurants.

Negative publicity could reduce sales at some or all of our restaurants.

We are, from time to time, faced with negative publicity relating to food quality, the safety, sanitation and welfare of chicken, which is our principal food product, restaurant facilities, customer complaints or litigation alleging illness or injury, health inspection scores, integrity of our or our suppliers’ food processing and other policies, practices and procedures, employee relationships or other matters at one or more of our restaurants. Negative publicity may adversely affect us, regardless of whether the allegations are valid or whether we are held to be responsible. In addition, the negative impact of adverse publicity relating to one restaurant may extend far beyond the restaurant involved to affect some or all of our other restaurants, including our franchised restaurants. The risk of negative publicity is particularly great with respect to our franchised restaurants because we are limited in the manner in which we can regulate them, especially on a real-time basis. A similar risk exists with respect to food service businesses

 

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unrelated to us, if customers mistakenly associate such unrelated businesses with our operations. Employee claims against us based on, among other things, wage and hour violations, discrimination, harassment or wrongful termination may also create not only legal and financial liability but negative publicity that could adversely affect us and divert our financial and management resources that would otherwise be used to benefit the future performance of our operations. These types of employee claims could also be asserted against us, on a co-employer theory, by employees of our franchisees. A significant increase in the number of these claims or an increase in the number of successful claims could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

Food safety and quality concerns may negatively impact our business and profitability, our internal operational controls and standards may not always be met and our employees may not always act professionally, responsibly and in our and our customers’ best interests. Any possible instances of food-borne illness could reduce our restaurant sales.

Incidents or reports of food- or water-borne illness or other food safety issues, food contamination or tampering, employee hygiene and cleanliness failures or improper employee conduct at our restaurants could lead to product liability or other claims. Such incidents or reports could negatively affect our brand and reputation as well as our business, revenues and profits. Similar incidents or reports occurring at quick service restaurants unrelated to us could likewise create negative publicity, which could negatively impact consumer behavior towards us.

We cannot guarantee to consumers that our internal controls and training will be fully effective in preventing all food-borne illnesses. Furthermore, our reliance on third-party food processors makes it difficult to monitor food safety compliance and may increase the risk that food-borne illness would affect multiple locations rather than single restaurants. Some food-borne illness incidents could be caused by third-party food suppliers and transporters outside of our control. New illnesses resistant to our current precautions may develop in the future, or diseases with long incubation periods could arise, that could give rise to claims or allegations on a retroactive basis. One or more instances of food-borne illness in one of our company-operated or franchised restaurants could negatively affect sales at all of our restaurants if highly publicized. This risk exists even if it were later determined that the illness was wrongly attributed to one of our restaurants. A number of other restaurant chains have experienced incidents related to food-borne illnesses that have had material adverse impacts on their operations, and we cannot assure you that we could avoid a similar impact upon the occurrence of a similar incident at one of our restaurants. Additionally, even if food-borne illnesses were not identified at El Pollo Loco restaurants, our restaurant sales could be adversely affected if instances of food-borne illnesses at other restaurant chains were highly publicized. In addition, our restaurant sales could be adversely affected by publicity regarding other high-profile illnesses such as avian flu that customers may associate with our food products.

We rely on only one company to distribute substantially all of our products to company-operated and franchised restaurants, and on a limited number of companies to supply chicken. Failure to receive timely deliveries of food or other supplies could result in a loss of revenue and materially and adversely impact our operations.

Our and our franchisees’ ability to maintain consistent quality menu items and prices significantly depends upon our ability to acquire fresh food products, including the highest quality chicken and related items, from reliable sources in accordance with our specifications on a timely basis. Shortages or interruptions in the supply of fresh food products caused by unanticipated demand, problems in production or distribution, contamination of food products, an outbreak of poultry diseases, inclement weather or other conditions could materially adversely affect the availability, quality and cost of ingredients, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows. We have contracts with a limited number of suppliers for the chicken, other food and supplies for our restaurants. In addition, one company distributes substantially all of the products we receive from suppliers to company-operated and franchised restaurants. If that distributor or any supplier fails to perform as anticipated or seeks to terminate agreements with us, or if there is any disruption in any of our supply or distribution relationships for any reason, our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows could be materially adversely affected. If we or our franchisees temporarily close a restaurant or remove popular items from a restaurant’s menu, that restaurant may experience a significant reduction in revenue during the time affected by the shortage and thereafter if our customers change their dining habits as a result.

 

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We have a history of net losses and may incur losses in the future.

We have incurred net losses in each of the last seven fiscal years. We may continue to incur net losses in the future and we cannot assure you that we will achieve or sustain profitability.

The failure to comply with our debt covenants or the volatile credit and capital markets could have a material adverse effect on our financial condition.

Our ability to manage our debt is dependent on our level of positive cash flow from company-operated and franchised restaurants, net of costs. The recent economic downturn negatively impacted our cash flows. Credit and capital markets can be volatile, which could make it more difficult for us to refinance our existing debt or to obtain additional debt or equity financings in the future. Such constraints could increase our costs of borrowing and could restrict our access to other potential sources of future liquidity. Our failure to comply with the debt covenants in our senior secured credit facilities or to have sufficient liquidity to make interest and other payments required by our debt could result in a default of such debt and acceleration of our borrowings which would have a material adverse effect on our business and financial condition.

Our substantial level of indebtedness could materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.

We have substantial debt service obligations. At September 24, 2014, our total debt was approximately $188.7 million (including capital lease obligations), which represented approximately 48.6% of our total capitalization, and we had $15.0 million of credit available under our revolving credit facility, which was reduced by approximately $7.3 million from outstanding letters of credit. At September 24, 2014, we had no other borrowings against our revolving credit facility.

Our high level of indebtedness could have significant effects on our business, such as:

 

    limiting our ability to borrow additional amounts to fund working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions, debt service requirements, execution of our growth strategy and other purposes;

 

    requiring us to dedicate a substantial portion of our cash flow from operations to pay principal and interest on our debt, which would reduce availability of our cash flow to fund working capital, capital expenditures, acquisitions, execution of our growth strategy and other general corporate purposes;

 

    making us more vulnerable to adverse changes in general economic, industry and competitive conditions, in government regulation and in our business by limiting our ability to plan for and react to changing conditions;

 

    placing us at a competitive disadvantage compared with our competitors that have less debt; and

 

    exposing us to risks inherent in interest rate fluctuations because our borrowings are at variable rates of interest, which could result in higher interest expense in the event of increases in interest rates.

In addition, we may not be able to generate sufficient cash flow from our operations to repay our indebtedness when it becomes due and to meet our other cash needs. If we are not able to pay our debts as they become due, we will be required to pursue one or more alternative strategies, such as selling assets, refinancing or restructuring our indebtedness or selling additional debt or equity securities. We may not be able to refinance our debt or sell additional debt or equity securities or our assets on favorable terms, if at all, and if we must sell our assets, it may negatively affect our ability to generate revenue.

Our senior secured credit facilities contain a number of covenants that, among other things, restrict, subject to certain exceptions, EPL’s ability to (i) incur additional indebtedness, (ii) issue preferred stock, (iii) create liens on assets, (iv) engage in mergers or consolidations, (v) sell assets, (vi) make investments, loans, or advances, (vii) make certain acquisitions, (viii) engage in certain transactions with affiliates, (ix) authorize or pay dividends, and (ix) change

 

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EPL’s lines of business or fiscal year. In addition, our senior secured credit facilities require EPL to maintain, on a consolidated basis, a minimum interest coverage ratio and not to exceed a maximum total leverage ratio. Our ability to borrow under our revolving credit facility depends on our compliance with this test. Events beyond our control, including changes in general economic and business conditions, may affect our ability to meet this test. We cannot assure you that we will meet this test in the future, or that the lenders will waive any failure to meet this test.

We may not be able to compete successfully with other quick service and fast casual restaurants. Intense competition in the restaurant industry could make it more difficult to expand our business and could also have a negative impact on our operating results if customers favor our competitors or we are forced to change our pricing and other marketing strategies.

The food service industry, and particularly its quick service and fast casual segments, is intensely competitive. In addition, the greater Los Angeles area, the primary market in which we compete, consists of what we believe to be the most competitive Mexican-inspired quick service and fast casual market in the United States. We expect competition in this market and each of our other markets to continue to be intense because consumer trends are favoring limited service restaurants that offer healthier menu items made with better quality products and many limited service restaurants are responding to these trends. Competition in our industry is primarily based on price, convenience, quality of service, brand recognition, restaurant location and type and quality of food. If our company-operated and franchised restaurants cannot compete successfully with other quick service and fast casual restaurants in new and existing markets, we could lose customers and our revenue could decline. Our company-operated and franchised restaurants compete with national and regional quick service and fast casual restaurant chains for customers, restaurant locations and qualified management and other staff. Compared with us, some of our competitors have substantially greater financial and other resources, have been in business longer, have greater brand recognition or are better established in the markets where our restaurants are located or are planned to be located. Any of these competitive factors may materially adversely affect our business, financial condition or results of operations.

Our marketing programs may not be successful, and our new menu items, advertising campaigns and restaurant designs and remodels may not generate increased sales or profits.

We incur costs and expend other resources in our marketing efforts on new menu items, advertising campaigns and restaurant designs and remodels to raise brand awareness and attract and retain customers. These initiatives may not be successful, resulting in expenses incurred without the benefit of higher revenues. Additionally, some of our competitors have greater financial resources, which enable them to spend significantly more on marketing and advertising and other initiatives than we are able to. Should our competitors increase spending on marketing and advertising and other initiatives or our marketing funds decrease for any reason, or should our advertising, promotions, new menu items and restaurant designs and remodels be less effective than our competitors, there could be a material adverse effect on our results of operations and financial condition.

The challenging economic environment may affect our franchisees, with adverse consequences to us.

We rely in part on our franchisees and the manner in which they operate their locations to develop and promote our business. As of December 25, 2013, our top 10 franchisees operated over 62% of our franchised restaurants and two franchisees (the “Significant Franchisees”) operated approximately 33% of our franchised restaurants. Due to the continuing challenging economic environment it is possible that some franchisees could file for bankruptcy or become delinquent in their payments to us, which could have significant adverse impacts on our business due to loss or delay in payments of royalties, information technology (“IT”) support service fees, contributions to our advertising funds, and other fees. Our top 10 franchisees accounted for approximately 57% of our total franchise revenue in fiscal 2013, and the Significant Franchisees accounted for approximately 29% of total franchise revenue in fiscal 2013. Bankruptcies by our franchisees could prevent us from terminating their franchise agreements so that we can offer their territories to other franchisees, negatively impact our market share and operating results as we may have fewer well-performing restaurants, and adversely impact our ability to attract new franchisees.

As of September 24, 2014, we had executed development agreements that represent commitments to open 44 franchised restaurants at various dates through 2018. Although we have developed criteria to evaluate and screen prospective developers and franchisees, we cannot be certain that the developers and franchisees we select will

 

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have the business acumen or financial resources necessary to open and operate successful franchises in their franchise areas, and state franchise laws may limit our ability to terminate or modify these franchise arrangements. Moreover, franchisees may not successfully operate restaurants in a manner consistent with our standards and requirements, or may not hire and train qualified managers and other restaurant personnel. The failure of developers and franchisees to open and operate franchises successfully could have a material adverse effect on us, our reputation, our brand and our ability to attract prospective franchisees and could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

Franchisees may not have access to the financial or management resources that they need to open the restaurants contemplated by their agreements with us, or be able to find suitable sites on which to develop them. Franchisees may not be able to negotiate acceptable lease or purchase terms for restaurant sites, obtain the necessary permits and government approvals or meet construction schedules. Any of these problems could slow our growth and reduce our franchise revenue. Additionally, our franchisees typically depend on financing from banks and other financial institutions, which may not always be available to them, in order to construct and open new restaurants. For these reasons, franchisees operating under development agreements may not be able to meet the new restaurant opening dates required under those agreements. Also, we sublease certain restaurants to some existing California franchisees. If any such franchisees cannot meet their financial obligations under their subleases, or otherwise fail to honor or default under the terms of their subleases, we would be financially obligated under a master lease and could be materially adversely affected.

In February 2011, one franchisee filed a petition for relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code in the Central District of California. The resulting reorganization was completed in March 2013 and involved the sale of seven of the franchisee’s 13 restaurants located in the Central Valley of California to new owners. All 13 restaurants continued to conduct business throughout the reorganization. The franchisee retained ownership of six of the 13 restaurants owned by it prior to the bankruptcy, but closed one of those restaurants in August 2013, due to its inability to renew the lease. The franchisee has the option to relocate that restaurant to a new site within a two-mile radius of the closed location or continue to pay monthly royalties pursuant to the terms of a settlement agreement entered into as part of the reorganization.

Another franchisee with two restaurants was placed in receivership in March 2013. One restaurant owned by that franchisee prior to being placed in receivership was purchased by one of our largest franchisees in January 2014, and the second restaurant was sold to a new owner on July 31, 2014. Both of the restaurants have remained open during this process.

We have limited control with respect to the operations of our franchisees, which could have a negative impact on our business.

Franchisees are independent business operators and are not our employees and we do not exercise control over the day-to-day operations of their restaurants. We provide training and support to franchisees, and set and monitor operational standards, but the quality of franchised restaurants may be diminished by any number of factors beyond our control. Consequently, franchisees may not successfully operate restaurants in a manner consistent with our standards and requirements, or may not hire and train qualified managers and other restaurant personnel. If franchisees do not operate to our expectations, our image and reputation, and the image and reputation of other franchisees, may suffer materially and system-wide sales could decline significantly.

Franchisees, as independent business operators, may from time to time disagree with us and our strategies regarding the business or our interpretation of our respective rights and obligations under the franchise agreement. This may lead to disputes with our franchisees and we expect such disputes to occur from time to time in the future as we continue to offer franchises. To the extent we have such disputes, the attention, time and financial resources of our management and our franchisees will be diverted from our restaurants, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

Our self-insurance programs may expose us to significant and unexpected costs and losses.

We currently maintain employee health insurance coverage on a self-insured basis. We do maintain stop loss coverage which sets a limit on our liability for both individual and aggregate claim costs.

 

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We currently record a liability for our estimated cost of claims incurred and unpaid as of each balance sheet date. Our estimated liability is recorded on an undiscounted basis and includes a number of significant assumptions and factors, including historical trends, expected costs per claim, actuarial assumptions and current economic conditions. Our history of claims activity for all lines of coverage is closely monitored and liabilities are adjusted as warranted based on changing circumstances. It is possible, however, that our actual liabilities may exceed our estimates of loss. We may also experience an unexpectedly large number of claims that result in costs or liabilities in excess of our projections and therefore we may be required to record additional expenses. For these and other reasons, our self-insurance reserves could prove to be inadequate, resulting in liabilities in excess of our available insurance and self-insurance. If a successful claim is made against us and is not covered by our insurance or exceeds our policy limits, our business may be negatively and materially impacted.

Information technology system failures or breaches of our network security could interrupt our operations and adversely affect our business.

We rely on our computer systems and network infrastructure across our operations, including point-of-sale processing at our restaurants. Our operations depend upon our ability to protect our computer equipment and systems against damage from physical theft, fire, power loss, telecommunications failure or other catastrophic events, as well as from internal and external security breaches, viruses and other disruptive problems. Any damage or failure of our computer systems or network infrastructure that causes an interruption in our operations could have a material adverse effect on our business and subject us to litigation or to actions by regulatory authorities.

If we are unable to protect our customers’ credit and debit card data, we could be exposed to data loss, litigation, liability and reputational damage.

In connection with credit and debit card sales, we transmit confidential credit and debit card information by way of secure private retail networks. Although we use private networks, third parties may have the technology or know-how to breach the security of the customer information transmitted in connection with credit and debit card sales, and our security measures and those of our technology vendors may not effectively prohibit others from obtaining improper access to this information. If a person were able to circumvent these security measures, he or she could destroy or steal valuable information or disrupt our operations. Any security breach could expose us to risks of data loss, litigation and liability and could seriously disrupt our operations and any resulting negative publicity could significantly harm our reputation.

The failure to enforce and maintain our trademarks and protect our other intellectual property could materially adversely affect our business, including our ability to establish and maintain brand awareness.

We have registered El Pollo Loco®, Pollo Bowl®, The Crazy Chicken® and certain other names used by our restaurants as trademarks or service marks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and in approximately 42 foreign countries. Our current brand campaign, Crazy You Can Taste™, has also been approved for registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In addition, the El Pollo Loco logo, website name and address and Facebook and Twitter accounts are our intellectual property. The success of our business strategy depends on our continued ability to use our existing trademarks and service marks in order to increase brand awareness and further develop our branded products. If our efforts to protect our intellectual property are not adequate, or if any third party misappropriates or infringes on our intellectual property, whether in print, on the Internet or through other media, the value of our brands may be harmed, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, including the failure of our brands and branded products to achieve and maintain market acceptance. There can be no assurance that all of the steps we have taken to protect our intellectual property in the United States and in foreign countries will be adequate. In addition, the laws of some foreign countries do not protect intellectual property rights to the same extent as do the laws of the United States.

We maintain the recipe for our chicken marinade, as well as certain proprietary standards, specifications and operating procedures, as trade secrets or confidential proprietary information. We may not be able to prevent the unauthorized disclosure or use of our trade secrets or proprietary information, despite the existence of confidentiality agreements and other measures. While we try to ensure that the quality of our brands and branded products is maintained by all of our franchisees, we cannot be certain that these franchisees will not take actions that adversely affect the value of our intellectual property or reputation. If any of our trade secrets or proprietary information were to

 

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be disclosed to or independently developed by a competitor, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected.

We depend on our board of directors, executive officers and key employees.

We rely upon the accumulated knowledge, skills and experience of the members of our board of directors, our executive officers and our key employees. Our executive officers have cumulative experience of 11 years with us and 95 years in the food service industry. If they were to leave us or become incapacitated, we might suffer in our planning and execution of business strategy and operations, impacting our brand and financial results. We also do not maintain any key man life insurance policies for any of our employees.

Matters relating to employment and labor law may adversely affect our business.

Various federal and state labor laws govern our relationships with our employees and affect operating costs. These laws include employee classifications as exempt or non-exempt, minimum wage requirements, unemployment tax rates, workers’ compensation rates, citizenship requirements and other wage and benefit requirements for employees classified as non-exempt. Significant additional government regulations and new laws mandating increases in minimum wages or mandated benefits such as health insurance could materially affect our business, financial condition, operating results or cash flow. Furthermore, the unionization of our employees and of the employees of our franchisees could materially affect our business, financial condition, operating results or cash flow.

We are also subject in the ordinary course of business to employee claims against us based, among other things, on discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, or violation of wage and labor laws. Such claims could also be asserted against us by employees of our franchisees. These claims may divert our financial and management resources that would otherwise be used to benefit our operations. The ongoing expense of any resulting lawsuits, and any substantial settlement payment or damage award against us, could adversely affect our business, brand image, employee recruitment, financial condition, operating results or cash flows.

Restaurant companies have been the target of class action lawsuits and other proceedings alleging, among other things, violations of federal and state workplace and employment laws. Proceedings of this nature are costly, divert management attention and, if successful, could result in our payment of substantial damages or settlement costs.

Our business is subject to the risk of litigation by employees, consumers, suppliers, stockholders or others through private actions, class actions, administrative proceedings, regulatory actions or other litigation. The outcome of litigation, particularly class action and regulatory actions, is difficult to assess or quantify. In recent years, restaurant companies, including us, have been subject to lawsuits, including class action lawsuits, alleging violations of federal and state laws regarding workplace and employment conditions, discrimination and similar matters. A number of these lawsuits have resulted in the payment of substantial damages by the defendants. Similar lawsuits have been instituted from time to time alleging violations of various federal and state wage and hour laws regarding, among other things, employee meal deductions, overtime eligibility of managers and failure to pay for all hours worked. In the past we have been a party to wage and hour class action lawsuits and are currently a party to such a lawsuit on behalf of a purported class. See “Business—Legal Proceedings.”

Occasionally, our customers file complaints or lawsuits against us alleging that we are responsible for some illness or injury they suffered at or after a visit to one of our restaurants, including actions seeking damages resulting from food-borne illness or accidents in our restaurants. We are also subject to a variety of other claims from third parties arising in the ordinary course of our business, including contract claims. The restaurant industry has also been subject to a growing number of claims that the menus and actions of restaurant chains have led to the obesity of certain of their customers. We may also be subject to lawsuits from our employees, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or others alleging violations of federal and state laws regarding workplace and employment conditions, discrimination and similar matters.

Regardless of whether any claims against us are valid or whether we are liable, claims may be expensive to defend and may divert time and money away from our operations. In addition, they may generate negative publicity, which could reduce customer traffic and sales. Although we maintain what we believe to be adequate levels of insurance,

 

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insurance may not be available at all or in sufficient amounts to cover any liabilities with respect to these or other matters. A judgment or other liability in excess of our insurance coverage for any claims or any adverse publicity resulting from claims could adversely affect our business and results of operations.

If we or our franchisees face labor shortages or increased labor costs, our results of operations and our growth could be adversely affected.

Labor is a primary component in the cost of operating our company-operated and franchised restaurants. If we or our franchisees face labor shortages or increased labor costs because of increased competition for employees, higher employee-turnover rates, unionization of restaurant workers, or increases in the federally-mandated or state-mandated minimum wage or other employee benefits costs (including costs associated with health insurance coverage or workers’ compensation insurance), our and our franchisees’ operating expenses could increase and our growth could be adversely affected.

We have a substantial number of hourly employees who are paid wage rates at or based on the applicable federal or state minimum wage and increases in the minimum wage will increase our labor costs and the labor costs of our franchisees. Since July 1, 2014, the State of California (where most of our restaurants are located) has had a minimum wage of $9.00 per hour. From January 1, 2008, to June 30, 2014, it had been $8.00 per hour. It is scheduled to rise to $10.00 per hour on January 1, 2016. The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since July 24, 2009. Either federally-mandated, state-mandated or locally-mandated minimum wages may be raised in the future. We may be unable to increase our menu prices in order to pass future increased labor costs on to our customers, in which case our margins would be negatively affected. Also, reduced margins of franchisees could make it more difficult to sell franchises. And if menu prices are increased by us and our franchisees to cover increased labor costs, the higher prices could adversely affect sales and thereby reduce our margins and the royalties that we receive from franchisees.

In addition, our success depends in part upon our and our franchisees’ ability to attract, motivate and retain a sufficient number of well-qualified restaurant operators, management personnel and other employees. Qualified individuals needed to fill these positions can be in short supply in some geographic areas. In addition, limited service restaurants have traditionally experienced relatively high employee turnover rates. Although we have not yet experienced any significant problems in recruiting or retaining employees, our and our franchisees’ ability to recruit and retain such individuals may delay the planned openings of new restaurants or result in higher employee turnover in existing restaurants, which could increase our and our franchisees’ labor costs and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. If we or our franchisees are unable to recruit and retain sufficiently qualified individuals, our business and our growth could be adversely affected. Competition for these employees could require us or our franchisees to pay higher wages, which could also result in higher labor costs.

We are locked into long-term and non-cancelable leases and may be unable to renew leases at the end of their terms.

Many of our restaurant leases are non-cancelable and typically have initial terms up to 20 years and up to three renewal terms of five years that we may exercise at our option. Even if we close a restaurant, we may remain committed to perform our obligations under the applicable lease, which could include, among other things, payment of the base rent for the balance of the lease term. In addition, in connection with leases for restaurants that we will continue to operate, we may, at the end of the lease term and any renewal period for a restaurant, be unable to renew the lease without substantial additional cost, if at all. As a result, we may close or relocate the restaurant, which could subject us to construction and other costs and risks. Additionally, the revenue and profit, if any, generated at a relocated restaurant may not equal the revenue and profit generated at the existing restaurant.

We and our franchisees are subject to extensive government regulations that could result in claims leading to increased costs and restrict our ability to operate or sell franchises.

We and our franchisees are subject to extensive government regulation at the federal, state and local government levels. These include, but are not limited to, regulations relating to the preparation and sale of food, zoning and building codes, franchising, land use and employee, health, sanitation and safety matters. We and our franchisees are required to obtain and maintain a wide variety of governmental licenses, permits and approvals. Difficulty or failure in obtaining them in the future could result in delaying or canceling the opening of new restaurants. Local authorities may

 

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suspend or deny renewal of our governmental licenses if they determine that our operations do not meet the standards for initial grant or renewal. This risk would be even higher if there were a major change in the licensing requirements affecting our types of restaurants.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (the “PPACA”) requires employers such as us to provide adequate and affordable health insurance for all qualifying employees or pay a monthly per-employee fee or penalty for non-compliance. We are evaluating the impact the new law will have on our operations, and although we cannot predict with certainty the financial impact of the legislation, the law’s individual mandate may increase the number of employees taking part in our health insurance program, which could impact our results of operations beginning in 2015.

We are also subject to regulation by the Federal Trade Commission and subject to state laws that govern the offer, sale, renewal and termination of franchises and our relationship with our franchisees. The failure to comply with these laws and regulations in any jurisdiction or to obtain required approvals could result in a ban or temporary suspension on franchise sales, fines or the requirement that we make a rescission offer to franchisees, any of which could affect our ability to open new restaurants in the future and thus could materially adversely affect our business and operating results. Any such failure could also subject us to liability to our franchisees.

We are increasingly subject to environmental regulations, which may increase our cost of doing business and affect the manner in which we operate. Environmental regulations could increase the level of our taxation and future regulations could impose restrictions or increase the costs associated with food, food packaging and other supplies, transportation costs and utility costs. Complying with environmental regulations may cause our results of operations to suffer. We cannot predict what environmental regulations or legislation will be enacted in the future, how existing or future environmental laws will be administered or applied, or the level of costs that we may incur to comply with, or satisfy claims relating to, such laws and regulations.

Legislation and regulations requiring the display and provision of nutritional information for our menu offerings, and new information or attitudes regarding diet and health or adverse opinions about the health effects of consuming our menu offerings, could affect consumer preferences and negatively impact our results of operations.

Government regulation and consumer eating habits may impact our business as a result of changes in attitudes regarding diet and health or new information regarding the health effects of consuming our menu offerings. These changes have resulted in, and may continue to result in, the enactment of laws and regulations that impact the ingredients and nutritional content of our menu offerings, or laws and regulations requiring us to disclose the nutritional content of our food offerings.

The PPACA establishes a uniform, federal requirement for certain restaurants to post certain nutritional information on their menus. Specifically, the PPACA amended the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to require chain restaurants with 20 or more locations operating under the same name and offering substantially the same menus to publish the total number of calories of standard menu items on menus and menu boards, along with a statement that puts this calorie information in the context of a total daily calorie intake. The PPACA also requires covered restaurants to provide to consumers, upon request, a written summary of detailed nutritional information for each standard menu item, and to provide a statement on menus and menu boards about the availability of this information. The PPACA further permits the United States Food and Drug Administration to require covered restaurants to make additional nutrient disclosures, such as disclosure of trans-fat content. An unfavorable report on, or reaction to, our menu ingredients, the size of our portions or the nutritional content of our menu items could negatively influence the demand for our offerings.

Furthermore, a number of states, counties and cities have enacted menu labeling laws requiring multi-unit restaurant operators to disclose certain nutritional information to customers, or have enacted legislation restricting the use of certain types of ingredients in restaurants. California, our largest market, is one of these, although its menu labeling law has been superseded by the PPACA.

While we believe our food generally to be healthier than that of our peers, customers may disagree or change their dining habits to avoid QSR-like restaurants altogether.

 

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Compliance with current and future laws and regulations regarding the ingredients and nutritional content of our menu items may be costly and time-consuming. Additionally, if consumer health regulations or consumer eating habits change significantly, we may be required to modify or discontinue certain menu items, and we may experience higher costs associated with the implementation of those changes. Additionally, some government authorities are increasing regulations regarding trans-fats and sodium, which may require us to limit or eliminate trans-fats and sodium in our menu offerings, switch to higher cost ingredients or may hinder our ability to operate in certain markets. Some jurisdictions have banned certain cooking ingredients, such as trans-fats, which a small number of our ingredients contain in trace amounts, or have discussed banning certain products, such as large sodas. Removal of these products and ingredients from our menus could affect product tastes, customer satisfaction levels, and sales volumes, whereas if we fail to comply with these laws or regulations, our business could experience a material adverse effect.

We cannot make any assurances regarding our ability to effectively respond to changes in consumer health perceptions or our ability to successfully implement the nutrient content disclosure requirements and to adapt our menu offerings to trends in eating habits. The imposition of additional menu-labeling laws could have an adverse effect on our results of operations and financial position, as well as on the restaurant industry in general.

We may become subject to liabilities arising from environmental laws that could likely increase our operating expenses and materially and adversely affect our business and results of operations.

We are subject to federal, state and local laws, regulations and ordinances that:

 

    govern activities or operations that may have adverse environmental effects, such as discharges to air and water, as well as waste handling and disposal practices for solid and hazardous wastes; and

 

    impose liability for the costs of cleaning up, and damage resulting from, sites of past spills, disposals or other releases of hazardous materials.

In particular, under applicable environmental laws, we may be responsible for remediation of environmental conditions and may be subject to associated liabilities, including liabilities for clean-up costs and personal injury or property damage, relating to our restaurants and the land on which our restaurants are located, regardless of whether we lease or own the restaurants or land in question and regardless of whether such environmental conditions were created by us or by a prior owner or tenant. If we are found liable for the costs of remediation of contamination at any of our properties, our operating expenses would likely increase and our results of operations would be materially adversely affected. See “Business—Environmental Matters.”

We are required to pay our pre-IPO owners for certain tax benefits, which amounts are expected to be material.

We have entered into an income tax receivable agreement with our pre-IPO stockholders that provides for the payment by us to our pre-IPO stockholders of 85% of the amount of cash savings, if any, in United States federal, state, local and foreign income tax that we and our subsidiaries actually realize (or are deemed to realize in the case of an early termination by us or a change of control, as discussed below under the heading “Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions—Income Tax Receivable Agreement”) as a result of the utilization of our net operating losses and other tax attributes attributable to periods prior to this offering together with interest accrued at a rate of LIBOR plus 200 basis points from the date the applicable tax return is due (without extension) until paid.

The payments that we may make under the income tax receivable agreement may be material. As of September 24, 2014, we have an accrued payable related to this agreement of approximately $40 million.

These payment obligations are our obligations and not obligations of our subsidiaries. The actual amount and utilization of net operating losses and other tax attributes, as well as the amount and timing of any payments under the income tax receivable agreement, will vary depending upon a number of factors, including the amount, character, and timing of our and our subsidiaries’ taxable income in the future.

Our counterparties under the income tax receivable agreement will not reimburse us for any benefits that are subsequently disallowed, although any future payments would be adjusted to the extent possible to reflect the result of such disallowance. As a result, in such circumstances, we could make payments under the income tax receivable agreement that are greater than our actual cash tax savings.

 

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If we undergo a change of control as defined in the income tax receivable agreement, the income tax receivable agreement will terminate and we will be required to make a payment equal to the present value of expected future payments under the income tax receivable agreement, which payment would be based on certain assumptions, including those relating to our future taxable income. Additionally, if we or a direct or indirect subsidiary transfers any asset to a corporation with which we do not file a consolidated tax return, we will be treated as having sold that asset for its fair market value in a taxable transaction for purposes of determining the cash savings in income tax under the income tax receivable agreement. Any such payment resulting from a change of control or asset transfer could be substantial and could exceed our actual cash tax savings.

Risks Related to this Offering and Ownership of Our Common Stock

If the ownership of our common stock continues to be highly concentrated, it may prevent you and other minority stockholders from influencing significant corporate decisions and may result in conflicts of interest.

Following the completion of this offering, Trimaran and Freeman Spogli will indirectly beneficially own approximately 35.7% and 20.5%, respectively, of our outstanding common stock, or 34.6% and 19.8%, respectively, if the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares is fully exercised. As a result, Trimaran and Freeman Spogli will indirectly beneficially own shares sufficient for majority votes over all matters requiring stockholder votes, including: the election of directors; mergers, consolidations and acquisitions; the sale of all or substantially all of our assets and other decisions affecting our capital structure; amendments to our certificate of incorporation or our bylaws; and our winding up and dissolution. While LLC owns a majority of our common stock, Freeman Spogli will be able to instruct LLC, pursuant to LLC’s operating agreement, to vote in favor of the appointment of one member of our board of directors for so long as they hold 5% of the outstanding membership interests of LLC and Trimaran will be able to instruct LLC, pursuant to LLC’s operating agreement, to vote in favor of the appointment of the remaining members of our board of directors. For a further description of LLC’s limited liability company operating agreement, see “Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions—LLC Agreement.”

This concentration of ownership may delay, deter or prevent acts that would be favored by our other stockholders. The interests of Trimaran and Freeman Spogli may not always coincide with our interests or the interests of our other stockholders. This concentration of ownership may also have the effect of delaying, preventing or deterring a change in control of us. Also, Trimaran and Freeman Spogli may seek to cause us to take courses of action that, in their judgments, could enhance their investments in us, but which might involve risks to our other stockholders or adversely affect us or our other stockholders, including investors in this offering. As a result, the market price of our common stock could decline or stockholders might not receive a premium over the then-current market price of our common stock upon a change in control. In addition, this concentration of share ownership may adversely affect the trading price of our common stock because investors may perceive disadvantages in owning shares in a company with significant stockholders. See “Principal Stockholders” and “Description of Capital Stock—Certain Provisions of Delaware Law and Certain Charter and Bylaw Provisions.”

The interests of Trimaran and Freeman Spogli may conflict with ours or yours in the future.

Trimaran and Freeman Spogli engage in a range of investing activities, including investments in restaurants and other consumer-related companies in particular. In the ordinary course of their business activities, Trimaran and Freeman Spogli may engage in activities where their interests conflict with our interests or those of our stockholders. Our amended and restated certificate of incorporation will provide that none of LLC, any of its officers, directors, employees, agents, members and affiliates, including Trimaran and Freeman Spogli, will have any duty to refrain from engaging, directly or indirectly, in the same business activities or similar business activities or lines of business in which we operate. Trimaran and Freeman Spogli also may pursue acquisition opportunities that may be complementary to our business, and, as a result, those acquisition opportunities may not be available to us. In addition, Trimaran and Freeman Spogli may have an interest in pursuing acquisitions, divestitures and other transactions that, in their judgment, could enhance their investment in us, even though such transactions might involve risks to you, such as debt financed acquisitions.

 

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As a controlled company, we are not subject to all of the corporate governance rules of the NASDAQ Global Select Market (the “NASDAQ”).

We are considered a “controlled company” under the rules of the NASDAQ. Controlled companies are exempt from the NASDAQ’s corporate governance rules requiring that listed companies have (i) a majority of the board of directors consist of “independent” directors under the listing standards of the NASDAQ, (ii) a nominating/corporate governance committee composed entirely of independent directors and a written nominating/corporate governance committee charter meeting the NASDAQ’s requirements, and (iii) a compensation committee composed entirely of independent directors and a written compensation committee charter meeting the requirements of the NASDAQ. We currently utilize and presently intend to continue to utilize these exemptions. As a result, we may not have a majority of independent directors, our nomination and corporate governance committee and compensation committee may not consist entirely of independent directors and such committees may not be subject to annual performance evaluations. Accordingly, you may not have the same protections afforded to stockholders of companies that are subject to all of the corporate governance requirements of the NASDAQ. See “Management.”

We are a holding company with no operations and rely on our operating subsidiaries to provide us with funds necessary to meet our financial obligations and to pay dividends.

We are a holding company with no material direct operations. Our principal assets are the equity interests we indirectly hold in our operating subsidiary, EPL, which owns our operating assets. As a result, we are dependent on loans, dividends and other payments from EPL, our operating company and indirect wholly owned subsidiary, and Intermediate, our direct wholly owned subsidiary, to generate the funds necessary to meet our financial obligations and to pay dividends on our common stock. Our subsidiaries are legally distinct from us and may be prohibited or restricted from paying dividends, including the restrictions contained in our senior secured credit facilities described below, or otherwise making funds available to us under certain conditions. Although we do not expect to pay dividends on our common stock for the foreseeable future, if we are unable to obtain funds from our subsidiaries, we may be unable to, or our board may exercise its discretion not to, pay dividends.

Pursuant to the terms of our senior secured credit facilities, EPL is restricted in its dividend payments to Intermediate and may only make (i) dividends payable solely in EPL’s own common stock or other common equity interests, (ii) payments that permit Intermediate to repurchase or redeem qualified capital stock of Intermediate held by present or former officers, directors or employees, not to exceed $1,000,000 in any fiscal year (with unused amounts carried over to the next fiscal year), and (iii) provided that no default or event of default under the credit agreement has occurred, is continuing, or would result therefrom, dividends limited to various absolute ceiling amounts, including an aggregate amount up to $5,000,000 (shared with Intermediate) for dividends not including those paid pursuant to stock options and other benefit plans. Likewise, Intermediate is restricted in its own dividend payments, with such restrictions including, but not limited to, dividends payable solely in Intermediate’s own common stock or other common equity interests.

We do not anticipate paying any dividends on our common stock in the foreseeable future.

We do not expect to declare or pay any cash or other dividends in the foreseeable future on our common stock because we intend to use cash flow generated by operations to grow our business. Our senior secured credit facilities restrict our ability to pay cash dividends on our common stock. We may also enter into other credit agreements or other borrowing arrangements in the future that restrict or limit our ability to pay cash dividends on our common stock.

As a public company, we incur significant costs to comply with the laws and regulations affecting public companies which could harm our business and results of operations.

As a public company, we are subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”), and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, as amended (the “Sarbanes-Oxley Act”) and the listing requirements of the NASDAQ, and other applicable securities rules and regulations. These rules and regulations have increased and will continue to increase our legal, accounting and financial compliance costs and have made and will continue to make some activities more time consuming and costly, particularly after we cease to be an “emerging growth company” as defined in the JOBS Act. For example, these rules and regulations could make it more difficult and more costly for us to obtain director and officer liability insurance, and we may be required to accept reduced

 

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policy limits and coverage or to incur substantial costs to maintain the same or similar coverage. These rules and regulations could also make it more difficult for us to attract and retain qualified persons to serve on our board of directors or our board committees or as executive officers. Our management and other personnel devote a substantial amount of time to these compliance initiatives. As a result, management’s attention may be diverted from other business concerns, which could harm our business and operating results. Although we have hired additional employees to comply with these requirements, we may need to hire more employees in the future, which will increase our costs and expenses.

Our management team and other personnel devote a substantial amount of time to new compliance initiatives and we may not successfully or efficiently manage our transition to a public company. To comply with the requirements of being a public company, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, we may need to undertake various actions, such as implementing new internal controls and procedures and hiring accounting or internal audit staff, which would require us to incur additional expenses and harm our results of operations.

For as long as we are an emerging growth company, we will not be required to comply with certain reporting requirements, including those relating to accounting standards and disclosure about our executive compensation, that apply to other public companies.

We are an “emerging growth company,” as defined in Section 2(a) of the Securities Act, as modified by the JOBS Act. As such, we are eligible to take advantage of certain exemptions from various reporting requirements that are applicable to other public companies that are not “emerging growth companies,” including, but not limited to, not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act, reduced disclosure obligations regarding executive compensation in our periodic reports and proxy statements, and exemptions from the requirements of holding a non-binding advisory vote on executive compensation and of stockholder approval of any golden parachute payments not previously approved. We may take advantage of some of these exemptions. If we do, we do not know if some investors will find our common stock less attractive as a result. The result may be a less-active trading market for our common stock and our stock price may be more volatile.

In addition, Section 107 of the JOBS Act provides that an “emerging growth company” can take advantage of the extended transition period provided in Section 7(a)(2)(B) of the Securities Act for complying with new or revised accounting standards. In other words, an “emerging growth company” can delay the adoption of certain accounting standards until those standards would otherwise apply to private companies. We have irrevocably elected not to avail ourselves of this exemption and, therefore, we will be subject to the same new or revised accounting standards as other public companies that are not emerging growth companies.

We could remain an “emerging growth company” for up to five years or until the earliest of (a) the last day of the first fiscal year in which our annual gross revenues exceed $1 billion, (b) the date that we become a “large accelerated filer” as defined in Rule 12b–2 under the Exchange Act, which would occur if the market value of our common stock that is held by non-affiliates exceeds $700 million as of the last business day of our most recently completed second fiscal quarter, or (c) the date on which we have issued more than $1 billion in non-convertible debt securities in the preceding three-year period.

We have not previously been required to assess the effectiveness of our internal controls over financial reporting and we may identify deficiencies when we are required to do so.

Section 404(a) of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act requires annual management assessments of the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting, starting with the second annual report that we would expect to file with the SEC. We have not previously been subject to this requirement, and, in connection with the implementation of the necessary procedures and practices related to internal controls and over financial reporting, we may identify deficiencies. We may not be able to remediate any future deficiencies in time to meet the deadline imposed by the Sarbanes–Oxley Act for compliance with the requirements of Section 404(a) thereof. In addition, failure to achieve and maintain an effective internal control environment could have a material adverse effect on our business and stock price.

 

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The market price and trading volume of our common stock has been and may be volatile, which could result in rapid and substantial losses for our stockholders, and you may lose all or part of your investment.

Prior to our IPO, there had been no public market for our common stock. Shares of our common stock were sold in our IPO in July 2014 at a price of $15.00 per share, and our common stock has subsequently traded as high as $41.70. An active, liquid and orderly market for our common stock may not be sustained, which could depress the trading price of our common stock or cause it to be highly volatile or subject to wide fluctuations. The market price of our common stock has and may continue to fluctuate or may decline significantly in the future and you could lose all or part of your investment. Some of the factors that could negatively affect our share price or result in fluctuations in the price or trading volume of our common stock include:

 

    variations in our quarterly or annual operating results;

 

    changes in our earnings estimates (if provided) or differences between our actual financial and operating results and those expected by investors and analysts;

 

    the contents of published research reports about us or our industry or the failure of securities analysts to cover our common stock;

 

    additions or departures of key management personnel;

 

    any increased indebtedness we may incur in the future;

 

    announcements by us or others and developments affecting us;

 

    actions by institutional stockholders;

 

    litigation and governmental investigations;

 

    legislative or regulatory changes;

 

    judicial pronouncements interpreting laws and regulations;

 

    changes in government programs;

 

    changes in market valuations of similar companies;

 

    speculation or reports by the press or investment community with respect to us or our industry in general;

 

    announcements by us or our competitors of significant contracts, acquisitions, dispositions, strategic relationships, joint ventures or capital commitments; and

 

    general market, political and economic conditions, including local conditions in the markets in which we operate.

These broad market and industry factors may decrease the market price of our common stock, regardless of our actual operating performance. The stock market in general has from time to time experienced extreme price and volume fluctuations, including recently. In addition, in the past, following periods of volatility in the overall market and decreases in the market price of a company’s securities, securities class action litigation has often been instituted against these companies. This litigation, if instituted against us, could result in substantial costs and a diversion of our management’s attention and resources.

Future offerings of debt or equity securities by us may adversely affect the market price of our common stock.

In the future, we may attempt to obtain financing or to further increase our capital resources by issuing additional shares of our common stock or by offering debt or other equity securities, including senior or subordinated notes, debt

 

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securities convertible into equity or shares of preferred stock. Opening new company-operated restaurants in existing and new markets could require substantial additional capital in excess of cash from operations. We would expect to finance the capital required for new company-operated restaurants through a combination of additional issuances of equity, corporate indebtedness and cash from operations.

Issuing additional shares of our common stock or other equity securities or securities convertible into equity may dilute the economic and voting rights of our existing stockholders or reduce the market price of our common stock or both. Upon liquidation, holders of such debt securities and preferred shares, if issued, and lenders with respect to other borrowings would receive a distribution of our available assets prior to the holders of our common stock. Debt securities convertible into equity could be subject to adjustments in the conversion ratio pursuant to which certain events may increase the number of equity securities issuable upon conversion. Preferred shares, if issued, could have a preference with respect to liquidating distributions or a preference with respect to dividend payments that could limit our ability to pay dividends to the holders of our common stock. Our decision to issue securities in any future offering will depend on market conditions and other factors beyond our control, which may adversely affect the amount, timing, or nature of our future offerings. Thus, holders of our common stock bear the risk that our future offerings may reduce the market price of our common stock and dilute their stockholdings in us. See “Description of Capital Stock.”

The market price of our common stock could be negatively affected by sales of substantial amounts of our common stock in the public markets.

The market price of our common stock could decline as a result of sales of a large number of shares of our common stock in the market after this offering, and the perception that these sales could occur could also depress the market price of our common stock. Of our issued and outstanding shares, all the common stock sold in this offering will be freely transferable, except for any shares held by our “affiliates,” as that term is defined in Rule 144 under the Securities Act. Following completion of this offering, approximately 35.7% and 20.5% of our outstanding common stock, or 34.6% and 19.8% if the underwriters exercise their option to purchase additional shares in full, will remain beneficially owned by Trimaran and Freeman Spogli, respectively, and able to be resold into the public markets in the future in accordance with the requirements of Rule 144. See “Shares Eligible for Future Sale.”

We, our officers, directors, the selling stockholders and certain other stockholders have agreed, subject to specified exceptions, not to directly or indirectly:

 

    sell, offer, contract or grant any option to sell (including any short sale), pledge, transfer, establish an open “put equivalent position” within the meaning of Rule 16a-l(h) under the Exchange Act, or

 

    otherwise dispose of any shares of common stock, options or warrants to acquire shares of common stock, or securities exchangeable or exercisable for or convertible into shares of common stock currently or hereafter owned either of record or beneficially, or

 

    publicly announce an intention to do any of the foregoing for a period of 90 days after the date of this prospectus without the prior written consent of Jefferies LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC.

This restriction terminates after the close of trading of the common stock on and including the 90th day after the date of this prospectus.

Additionally, in connection with the IPO, we, our directors, our officers and holders of substantially all of our pre-IPO equity agreed, subject to certain exceptions, not to directly or indirectly:

 

    sell, offer, contract or grant any option to sell (including any short sale), pledge, transfer, establish an open “put equivalent position” within the meaning of Rule 16a-l(h) under the Exchange Act, or

 

    otherwise dispose of any shares of common stock, options or warrants to acquire shares of common stock, or securities exchangeable or exercisable for or convertible into shares of common stock currently or hereafter owned either of record or beneficially, or

 

    publicly announce an intention to do any of the foregoing for a period of 180 days after July 24, 2014 without the prior written consent of Jefferies LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC.

 

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This restriction terminates after the close of trading of the common stock on and including the 180 days after July 24, 2014, except with the prior written consent of Jefferies LLC and Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC.

After the expiration of both lock-ups, shares beneficially owned by Trimaran and Freeman Spogli may be sold in the public market in the United States, subject to prior registration in the United States, if required, or in reliance upon an exemption from United States registration, including, in the case of shares held by affiliates or control persons, compliance with the volume and other restrictions of Rule 144 and Rule 701 of the Securities Act. The market price of our common stock could decline significantly when the lock-ups lapse and cease to restrict resales. Such a decline could impede our ability to raise equity capital.

Pursuant to our stockholders agreement, LLC and, in certain instances, Freeman Spogli, may require us to file registration statements under the Securities Act at our expense, covering resales of our common stock held by them or LLC or piggyback on a registration statement in certain circumstances. Any such sales, or the prospect of any such sales, could materially impact the market price of our common stock. For a further description of our stockholders agreement, see “Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions—Stockholders Agreement.”

The future issuance of additional common stock in connection with our incentive plan, acquisitions or otherwise will dilute all other stockholdings.

After this offering, assuming the underwriters exercise their option to purchase additional shares in full, we will have an aggregate of 158,196,825 shares of common stock authorized but unissued and not reserved for issuance under our incentive plan. We may issue all of these shares of common stock without any action or approval by our stockholders, subject to certain exceptions. Any common stock, issued in connection with our incentive plan, the exercise of outstanding stock options, or otherwise, would dilute the percentage ownership held by the investors who purchase common stock in this offering.

Delaware law and our organizational documents, as well as our existing and future debt agreements, may impede or discourage a takeover, which could deprive our investors of the opportunity to receive a premium for their shares.

We are a Delaware corporation, and the anti-takeover provisions of Delaware law impose various impediments to the ability of a third party to acquire control of us, even if a change of control would be beneficial to our existing stockholders. In addition, provisions of our amended and restated certificate of incorporation and bylaws that will be effective upon completion of this offering may make it more difficult for, or prevent a third party from, acquiring control of us without the approval of our board of directors. Among other things, these provisions:

 

    provide for a classified board of directors with staggered three-year terms;

 

    do not permit cumulative voting in the election of directors, which would otherwise allow less than a majority of stockholders to elect director candidates;

 

    delegate the sole power of a majority of the board of directors to fix the number of directors;

 

    provide the power of our board of directors to fill any vacancy on our board of directors, whether such vacancy occurs as a result of an increase in the number of directors or otherwise;

 

    authorize the issuance of “blank check” preferred stock without any need for action by stockholders;

 

    eliminate the ability of stockholders to call special meetings of stockholders;

 

    establish advance notice requirements for nominations for election to our board of directors or for proposing matters that can be acted on by stockholders at stockholder meetings; and

 

    provide that, on or after the date that LLC ceases to beneficially own at least 40% of the total votes eligible to be cast in the election of directors, a 75% supermajority vote will be required to amend or repeal provisions relating to, among other things, the classification of the board of directors, the filling of vacancies on the board of directors and the advance notice requirements for stockholder proposals and director nominations.

 

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In addition, our senior secured credit facilities impose, and we anticipate that documents governing our future indebtedness may impose, limitations on our ability to enter into change of control transactions. Thereunder, the occurrence of a change of control transaction could constitute an event of default permitting acceleration of the indebtedness, thereby impeding our ability to enter into certain transactions.

The foregoing factors, as well as the significant common stock ownership by Trimaran and Freeman Spogli, could impede a merger, takeover, or other business combination, or discourage a potential investor from making a tender offer for our common stock, which, under certain circumstances, could reduce the market value of our common stock. See “Description of Capital Stock.”

 

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SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

Some of the statements under “Prospectus Summary,” “Risk Factors,” “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” “Business” and elsewhere in this prospectus may contain forward-looking statements that reflect our current views with respect to, among other things, future events and our financial performance. You can identify these forward-looking statements by the use of forward-looking words such as “outlook,” “believes,” “expects,” “potential,” “continues,” “may,” “will,” “should,” “could,” “seeks,” “approximately,” “predicts,” “intends,” “plans,” “estimates,” “anticipates,” “target,” “projects,” “contemplates” or the negative version of those words or other comparable words of a future or forward-looking nature. Any forward-looking statements contained in this prospectus are based upon our historical performance and on our current plans, estimates and expectations in light of information currently available to us. The inclusion of this forward-looking information should not be regarded as a representation by us, the selling stockholders, the underwriters or any other person that the future plans, estimates or expectations contemplated by us will be achieved. Such forward-looking statements are subject to various risks and uncertainties and assumptions relating to our operations, financial results, financial condition, business, prospects, industry, growth strategy and liquidity. Accordingly, there are or will be important factors that could cause our actual results to differ materially from those indicated in these statements. We believe these factors include, but are not limited to:

 

    the adverse impact of economic conditions on our operating results and financial condition, on our ability to comply with the terms and covenants of our debt agreements and on our ability to pay or to refinance our existing debt or to obtain additional financing;

 

    our vulnerability to changes in consumer preferences and economic conditions;

 

    our vulnerability to conditions in the greater Los Angeles area;

 

    our ability to open new restaurants in new and existing markets, including difficulty in finding sites and in negotiating acceptable leases;

 

    anticipated future restaurant openings may be delayed or cancelled;

 

    our restaurants and our franchisees’ restaurants may close due to financial or other difficulties;

 

    increases in the cost of chicken and other products;

 

    negative publicity, whether or not valid;

 

    concerns about food safety and quality and about food-borne illnesses, including adverse public perception due to the occurrence of avian flu;

 

    our dependence upon frequent and timely deliveries of food and other supplies;

 

    our reliance upon just one distributor for substantially all of our restaurant supplies;

 

    our history of net losses, including the possibility of future net losses;

 

    our ability to service our substantial level of indebtedness;

 

    our ability to compete successfully with other quick service and fast casual restaurants;

 

    the fact that new menu items, advertising campaigns and restaurant designs and remodels may not generate increased sales or profits;

 

    our reliance on our franchisees, who have also been adversely impacted by recent economic conditions and who may incur financial hardships, be unable to obtain credit, need to close their restaurants, or declare bankruptcy;

 

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    our ability to support our franchise system;

 

    our limited degree of control over the actions of our franchisees;

 

    our potential responsibility for certain acts of our franchisees;

 

    our ability to protect our name and logo and other proprietary intellectual property;

 

    loss of the abilities, experience and knowledge of our existing directors and officers;

 

    matters relating to employment and labor laws;

 

    the impact of litigation, including wage and hour class action lawsuits;

 

    labor shortages or increases in labor costs;

 

    our ability and the ability of our franchisees to renew leases at the end of their terms;

 

    the impact of federal, state or local government regulations relating to the preparation and sale of food, zoning and building codes, and employee, environmental and other matters;

 

    the impact and effects of our income tax receivable agreement;

 

    conflicts of interest with Trimaran and Freeman Spogli;

 

    the fact that we are considered a “controlled company” and exempt from certain corporate governance rules primarily relating to board independence, and we intend to use some or all of these exemptions;

 

    the fact that we are a holding company with no operations and will rely on our operating subsidiaries to provide us with funds;

 

    our expectations regarding the time during which we will be an emerging growth company under the JOBS Act;

 

    changes in accounting standards; and

 

    other risks described in the “Risk Factors” section of this prospectus.

These factors should not be construed as exhaustive and should be read in conjunction with the other cautionary statements that are included in this prospectus. The forward-looking statements made in this prospectus relate only to events as of the date on which the statements are made. We do not undertake any obligation to publicly update or review any forward-looking statement except as required by law, whether as a result of new information, future developments or otherwise.

If one or more of these or other risks or uncertainties materialize, or if our underlying assumptions prove to be incorrect, our actual results may vary materially from what we may have expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. We caution that you should not place undue reliance on any of our forward-looking statements. You should specifically consider the risk factors and other items identified in this prospectus that could cause actual results to differ before making an investment decision to purchase our common stock. Furthermore, new risks and uncertainties arise from time to time, and it is impossible for us to predict those events or how they may affect us.

 

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USE OF PROCEEDS

The selling stockholders named in this prospectus are offering 6,000,000 shares of common stock. See “Principal and Selling Stockholders.” Accordingly, we will not receive any proceeds from the sale of shares of our common stock by the selling stockholders, including the sale of any shares by the selling stockholders if the underwriters exercise their option to purchase additional shares of common stock.

 

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PRICE RANGE OF OUR COMMON STOCK

Our common stock has been listed on the NASDAQ Global Select Market under the symbol “LOCO” since July 25, 2014. Prior to that date, there was no established public trading market for our common stock. The following table sets forth the range of high and low sales prices on the NASDAQ Global Select Market of our common stock for the periods indicated, as reported by the NASDAQ Global Select Market. Such quotations represent interdealer prices without retail markup, markdown or commission, and may not necessarily represent actual transactions.

 

     Low      High  

Third Quarter (July 25, 2014—September 24, 2014)

   $ 18.48       $ 41.70   

Fourth Quarter (September 25, 2014—November 19, 2014)

   $ 29.59       $ 38.78   
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

On November 19, 2014, the closing price per share of our common stock on the NASDAQ Global Select Market was $29.62. As of November 19, 2014, there were approximately 14 holders of record of our common stock. The number of holders of record is based upon the actual number of holders registered at such date and does not include holders of shares in “street name” or persons, partnerships, associates, corporations or other entities in security position listings maintained by depositories.

 

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DIVIDEND POLICY

We do not expect to pay dividends on our common stock for the foreseeable future. Instead, we anticipate that all of our earnings in the foreseeable future, if any, will be used for the operation and growth of our business.

Any future determination to pay dividends on our common stock will be at the discretion of our board of directors and will depend upon many factors, including our financial position, our results of operations, our liquidity, legal requirements, restrictions that may be imposed by the terms of current and future financing instruments and other factors deemed relevant by our board of directors. Our senior secured credit facilities also restrict our ability to pay cash dividends on our common stock. See “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Debt and Other Obligations—Senior Secured Credit Facilities.”

 

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CAPITALIZATION

The following sets forth our cash and cash equivalents and capitalization as of September 24, 2014.

You should read this table in conjunction with “Use of Proceeds,” “Selected Historical Consolidated Financial Data,” “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and our consolidated financial statements and related notes and other financial information included elsewhere in this prospectus.

 

     As of September 24,
2014
 
     (Amounts in thousands,
except share and per
share data)
 

Cash and cash equivalents

   $ 41,825   
  

 

 

 

Debt:

  

Senior secured credit facilities:

  

Revolving credit facility(1)

   $   

First lien term loan facility(2)

     187,807   

Capital leases

     913   
  

 

 

 

Total debt

     188,720   
  

 

 

 

Stockholders’ equity:

  

Common stock, par value $0.01 per share: 200,000,000 shares authorized and 36,929,835 shares issued and outstanding

     369   

Additional paid-in capital

     352,977   

Accumulated deficit

     (154,014
  

 

 

 

Total stockholders’ equity

     199,332   
  

 

 

 

Total capitalization

   $ 388,052   
  

 

 

 

 

(1) Excludes approximately $7.3 million of outstanding letters of credit as of September 24, 2014, that will not be reflected on the balance sheet unless drawn upon.

 

(2) Issued with $950,000 of original issue discount.

 

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SELECTED HISTORICAL CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL DATA

The following table contains selected historical consolidated historical financial data as of and for the fiscal years ended December 25, 2013, and December 26, 2012, derived from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus. The selected consolidated statement of operations and cash flow data set forth below for the year ended December 28, 2011, are derived from audited consolidated financial statements of ours not included in this prospectus. The summary consolidated statements of operations and cash flow data for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, and September 25, 2013, and the consolidated balance sheet data as of September 24, 2014, have been derived from our unaudited interim condensed consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus. Results from interim periods are not necessarily indicative of results that may be expected for the entire year. You should read these tables in conjunction with the information contained under the headings “Use of Proceeds,” “Capitalization,” “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and “Business” and in our consolidated financial statements and the related notes to those statements included elsewhere in this prospectus.

 

      Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended     Fiscal Year Ended(1)  
      September 24,
2014
    September 25,
2013
    2013     2012     2011  
     (Amounts in thousands, except per share data)  

Statement of Operations Data:

          

Revenue

          

Company-operated restaurant revenue

   $ 238,432      $ 223,059      $ 294,327      $ 274,928      $ 255,361   

Franchise revenue

     16,456        15,430        20,400        18,682        17,877   

 

 

Total revenue

     254,888        238,489        314,727        293,610        273,238   

 

 

Cost of operations

          

Food and paper costs

     75,834        70,608        93,589        85,428        78,873   

Labor and related expenses

     59,552        57,260        75,669        73,406        69,584   

Occupancy and other operating expenses

     51,091        47,791        63,150        61,636        59,269   

 

 

Company restaurant expenses

     186,477        175,659        232,408        220,470        207,726   

General and administrative expenses

     20,974        18,754        25,506        24,451        22,828   

Franchise expenses

     2,827        2,930        3,841        3,647        3,862   

Depreciation and amortization

     8,271        7,570        10,213        9,530        9,615   

Loss on disposal of assets

     609        734        868        966        197   

Asset impairment and close-store reserves

     415        126        (101     1,494        2,014   

 

 

Total expenses

     219,573        205,773        272,735        260,558        246,242   

 

 

Gain on sale of restaurants

     2,658               400                 

 

 

Income from operations

     37,973        32,716        42,392        33,052        26,996   

Interest expense, net

     15,286        29,443        36,334        38,890        37,715   

Early extinguishment of debt

     5,082               21,530               20,173   

Income tax receivable agreement expense

     40,119                               

 

 

Income (loss) before benefit (provision) for income taxes

     (22,514     3,273        (15,472     (5,838     (30,892

Benefit (provision) for income taxes

     60,402        (2,005     (1,401     (2,027     (1,579

 

 

Net income (loss)

   $ 37,888      $ 1,268      $ (16,873   $ (7,865   $ (32,471

 

 

Per Share Data:

          

Net income (loss) per share

          

Basic

   $ 1.24      $ 0.04      $ (0.59   $ (0.27   $ (1.35

Diluted

   $ 1.13      $ 0.04      $ (0.59   $ (0.27   $ (1.35

Weighted average shares used in computing net income (loss) per share

          

Basic

     30,549,979        28,712,622        28,712,622        28,712,194        24,106,380   

Diluted

     33,499,820        29,564,795        28,712,622        28,712,194        24,106,380   

 

 

Consolidated Statement of Cash Flows Data:

          

Net cash provided by operating activities

   $ 29,842      $ 12,528      $ 19,700      $ 19,409      $ 6,454   

Net cash used in investing activities

     (13,979     (10,154     (13,787     (14,993     (3,709

Net cash provided by (used in) financing activities

     8,947        (1,443     (10,385     (1,920     (6,469

 

 

 

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      Thirty-Nine Weeks
Ended
     Fiscal Year Ended(1)  
      September 24, 2014          2013              2012      

Balance Sheet Data—Consolidated (at period end):

        

Cash and cash equivalents

   $ 41,825       $ 17,015       $ 21,487   

Net property(2)

     79,806         68,641         64,808   

Total assets

     477,025         416,500         417,898   

Total debt(3)

     188,720         289,242         274,621   

Total stockholders’ equity

   $ 199,332       $ 48,536       $ 64,587   

 

 

 

(1) We use a 52- or 53-week fiscal year ending on the last Wednesday of each calendar year. Fiscal 2013, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2011 ended on December 25, 2013, December 26, 2012 and December 28, 2011, respectively. In a 52-week fiscal year, each quarter includes 13 weeks of operations; in a 53-week fiscal year, the first, second and third quarters each include 13 weeks of operations and the fourth quarter includes 14 weeks of operations. Approximately every six or seven years a 53-week fiscal year occurs. Fiscal 2013, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2011 were 52-week fiscal years.

 

(2) Net property consists of property owned, net of accumulated depreciation and amortization.

 

(3) Total debt consists of borrowings under our First Lien Credit Agreement and Second Lien Credit Agreement (as defined under “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Debt and Other Obligations—Senior Secured Credit Facilities”) and capital lease obligations.

 

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MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF

FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS

The following discussion should be read in conjunction with the “Selected Historical Consolidated Financial Data,” and our consolidated financial statements and related notes thereto included elsewhere in this prospectus. In addition to historical information, this discussion contains forward-looking statements that involve risks, uncertainties and assumptions that could cause actual results to differ materially from management’s expectations. Factors that could cause such differences are discussed in “Cautionary Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements” and “Risk Factors.” We assume no obligation to update any of these forward-looking statements.

We use a 52- or 53-week fiscal year ending on the last Wednesday of the calendar year. In a 52-week fiscal year, each quarter includes 13 weeks of operations; in a 53-week fiscal year, the first, second and third quarters each include 13 weeks of operations and the fourth quarter includes 14 weeks of operations. Every six or seven years a 53-week fiscal year occurs. Fiscal 2011, fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2013, which were 52-week years, ended on December 28, 2011, December 26, 2012 and December 25, 2013, respectively. Fiscal 2014 is a 53-week year, which may cause our revenue, expenses, and other results of operations to be higher due to an additional week of operations.

Overview

El Pollo Loco is a differentiated and growing restaurant concept that specializes in fire-grilling citrus-marinated chicken in front of our customers. We operate within the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry, the LSR segment. We believe we offer the quality of food typical of fast casual restaurants while providing the speed, convenience and value typical of traditional QSRs, a combination that we call “QSR+” and that provides a value-oriented fast casual dining experience. Our distinctive menu features our signature product—citrus-marinated fire-grilled chicken—and a variety of Mexican-inspired entrees that we create from our chicken. We offer our customers healthier alternatives to traditional food on the go, served by our engaging team members in a colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environment. We serve individual and family-sized chicken meals, a variety of Mexican-inspired entrees, sides, and, throughout the year, on a limited-time basis, alternative proteins like shrimp, carnitas and beef. Our entrees include favorites such as our Poblano Burrito, Under 500 Calorie Mango Grilled Tostada, Ultimate Pollo Bowl, Grand Baja Shrimp Tacos and Chicken, Bacon and Guacamole Stuffed Quesadilla. Our freshly prepared salsas and dressings are prepared daily allowing our customers to create their favorite flavor profiles to enhance their culinary experience. Our distinctive menu with healthier alternatives appeals to consumers across a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds and drives our balanced day-part mix.

Growth Strategies and Outlook

We plan to continue to expand our business, drive restaurant sales growth and enhance our competitive positioning by executing on the following strategies:

 

    expand our restaurant base;

 

    increase our comparable restaurant sales; and

 

    enhance operations and leverage our infrastructure.

We believe we are in the early stages of our growth story with 405 current locations in five states, as of September 24, 2014, and estimate, based on internal analysis and a study prepared by Buxton Co., a long-term total restaurant potential in the United States of approximately 2,300 locations. For the year ended December 25, 2013, we opened two new company-operated and five new franchised restaurants, and in 2014 we intend to open ten to eleven new company-operated and four new franchised restaurants across California, Nevada and Texas. Over the long term, we plan to grow the number of El Pollo Loco restaurants by 8% to 10% annually. To increase comparable restaurant sales, we plan to increase customer frequency, attract new customers and improve per person spend. We believe we are well positioned for future growth, with a developed corporate infrastructure capable of supporting a future restaurant base that is greater than our existing one. Additionally, we believe we have an opportunity to optimize costs and enhance our profitability as we benefit from economies of scale. These growth rates are not guaranteed.

 

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Highlights and Trends

Comparable Restaurant Sales

For the thirty-nine weeks ending September 24, 2014, fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2012, comparable restaurant sales system-wide increased 6.8%, 7.0% and 9.9%, respectively. Comparable restaurant sales growth reflects the change in year-over-year sales for the comparable restaurant base. A restaurant enters our comparable restaurant base the first full week after its 15-month anniversary. System-wide comparable restaurant sales include restaurant sales at all comparable company-operated restaurants and at all comparable franchised restaurants, as reported by franchisees. Comparable restaurant sales at company-operated restaurants increased 5.6% for the thirty-nine weeks ending September 24, 2014, 5.3% for fiscal 2013, and 8.6% for fiscal 2012. The increase in company-operated comparable restaurant sales for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014 was primarily the result of an increase in average check size of 3.3% and an increase in traffic of 2.3% compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. The increase in company-operated comparable restaurant sales in 2013 was driven by an increase in average check size of 2.7% and by traffic growth of 2.6%. In 2012, the increases in average check size and in transactions growth were 6.0% and 2.6%, respectively, for company-operated restaurants in our comparable base. Comparable restaurant sales at franchised restaurants increased 7.7%, 8.8% and 11.0% for the thirty-nine weeks ending September 24, 2014, fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2012, respectively.

Restaurant Development

Our restaurant counts at the end of each of the last three fiscal years and the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014 are as follows:

 

      Thirty-Nine
Weeks

Ended
    Fiscal Year Ended  
      September 24,
2014
    2013     2012     2011  

Company-operated restaurant activity:

        

Beginning of period

     168        169        165        171   

Openings

     5        2        4          

Restaurant sale to franchisee

     (6                     

Closures

     (1     (3            (6
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Restaurants at end of period

     166        168        169        165   

Franchised restaurant activity:

        

Beginning of period

     233        229        229        241   

Openings

            5        3          

Restaurant sale to franchisee

     6                        

Closures

            (1     (3     (12
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Restaurants at end of period

     239        233        229        229   

Total restaurant activity:

        

Beginning of period

     401        398        394        412   

Openings

     5        7        7          

Closures

     (1     (4     (3     (18
  

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Restaurants at end of period

         405            401            398            394   

 

 

Since 2011 we have focused on repositioning our brand, improving operational efficiency and brand awareness, strengthening our management team, and refinancing our indebtedness in preparation for future growth. New restaurant development is expected to be a key driver of our growth strategy. We plan to open an estimated ten to eleven company-operated restaurants in fiscal 2014. Additionally, we estimate that our franchisees will open four new restaurants in fiscal 2014. From time to time we and our franchisees close restaurants and we anticipate closing one to two company-operated restaurants in fiscal 2014.

 

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Restaurant Remodeling

We and our franchisees commenced our remodeling program in 2011 and, as of September 24, 2014, together we have remodeled 86 company-operated and 111 franchised restaurants, or 197 system-wide. We expect to have remodeled over 50% of our restaurant system by the end of 2014. Remodeling is a use of cash and has implications for our net property and depreciation line items on our consolidated balance sheets and statements of operations, among others. The cost of our restaurant remodels varies depending on the scope of work required, but on average the investment is $270,000 per restaurant. We believe our remodeling program will result in higher restaurant revenue and a strengthened brand.

2013 Refinancing

In October 2013, we refinanced our $12.5 million first lien revolving credit facility, $170 million first lien term loan facility and $105 million 17% Second Priority Senior Secured Notes due 2018 (the “2018 Notes”) by entering into a $15 million first lien Revolving Credit Facility, a $190 million First Lien Term Loan Facility, and a $100 million Second Lien Term Loan (each, as defined under “—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Debt and Other Obligations—Senior Secured Credit Facilities” below, and, collectively, the “2013 Refinancing”). These credit facilities carried longer maturities and lower interest rates than the indebtedness that they replaced. Following the completion of the 2013 Refinancing, our interest expense declined by approximately $17.8 million on an annualized basis or approximately 49% of our $36.3 million of interest expense for fiscal 2013. We repaid in full the Second Lien Term Loan with the majority of the net proceeds from our IPO.

Key Performance Indicators

To evaluate the performance of our business, we utilize a variety of financial and performance measures. These key measures include company-operated restaurant revenue, comparable restaurant sales, company-operated average unit volumes, restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin, new restaurant openings, EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA.

Company-Operated Restaurant Revenue

Company-operated restaurant revenue consists of sales of food and beverages in company-operated restaurants net of promotional allowances, employee meals and other discounts. Company-operated restaurant revenue in any period is directly influenced by the number of operating weeks in such period, the number of open restaurants and comparable restaurant sales.

Seasonal factors and the timing of holidays cause our revenue to fluctuate from quarter to quarter. Our revenue per restaurant is typically lower in the first and fourth quarters due to reduced January and December traffic and higher in the second and third quarters. As a result of seasonality, our quarterly and annual results of operations and key performance indicators such as company restaurant revenue and comparable restaurant sales may fluctuate.

Comparable Restaurant Sales

We closely monitor company, franchise and total system comparable restaurant sales. Comparable restaurant sales reflect the change in year-over-year sales for the comparable company, franchise and total system restaurant base. We define comparable restaurant base to include those restaurants open for 15 months or longer. As of September 24, 2014, December 25, 2013, December 26, 2012 and December 28, 2011, there were 165, 161, 164 and 167 restaurants, respectively, in our comparable company-operated restaurant base. As of September 24, 2014, December 25, 2013, December 26, 2012 and December 28, 2011, there were 229, 227, 229 and 229 restaurants, respectively, in our comparable franchise-operated restaurant base. This measure highlights the performance of existing restaurants as the impact of new restaurant openings is excluded. Comparable restaurant sales growth can be generated by an increase in the number of meals sold and/or by increases in the average check amount resulting from a shift in menu mix and/or higher prices resulting from new products or price increases.

Company-Operated Average Unit Volumes

We measure company-operated AUVs on both a weekly and an annual basis. Weekly AUVs consist of comparable restaurant sales over a seven day period from Thursday to Wednesday. Annual AUVs are calculated using

 

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the following methodology: First, we divide our total net sales for all company-operated restaurants for the fiscal year by the total number of restaurant operating weeks during the same period. Second, we annualize that average weekly per-restaurant sales figure by multiplying it by 52. An operating week is defined as a restaurant open for business over a seven day period from Thursday to Wednesday. This measurement allows management to assess changes in consumer spending patterns at our restaurants and the overall performance of our restaurant base.

Restaurant Contribution and Restaurant Contribution Margin

Restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin are neither required by, nor presented in accordance with, GAAP. Restaurant contribution is defined as company-operated restaurant revenue less company restaurant expenses. Restaurant contribution margin is defined as restaurant contribution as a percentage of net company-operated restaurant revenue. Restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin are supplemental measures of operating performance of our restaurants and our calculations thereof may not be comparable to those reported by other companies. Restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin have limitations as analytical tools, and you should not consider them in isolation or as substitutes for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. Management believes that restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin are important tools for investors because they are widely-used metrics within the restaurant industry to evaluate restaurant-level productivity, efficiency and performance. Management uses restaurant contribution and restaurant contribution margin as key metrics to evaluate the profitability of incremental sales at our restaurants, to evaluate our restaurant performance across periods and to evaluate our restaurant financial performance compared with our competitors. See “Prospectus Summary—Summary Consolidated Financial and Other Data” for a reconciliation of restaurant contribution to company-operated restaurant revenue.

New Restaurant Openings

The number of restaurant openings reflects the number of new restaurants opened by us and our franchisees during a particular reporting period. Before a new restaurant opens, we and our franchisees incur pre-opening costs, as described below. New restaurants often open with an initial start-up period of higher than normal sales volumes, which subsequently decrease to stabilized levels. New restaurants typically experience normal inefficiencies in the form of higher food and paper, labor and other direct operating expenses and, as a result, restaurant contribution margins are generally lower during the start-up period of operation. The average start-up period after which our new restaurants’ revenue and expenses normalize is approximately eight to twelve weeks. When we enter new markets, we may be exposed to start-up times and restaurant contribution margins that are longer and lower than reflected in our average historical experience.

EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA

EBITDA represents net income (loss) before interest expense, benefit (provision) for income taxes, depreciation and amortization. Adjusted EBITDA represents net income (loss) before interest expense, benefit (provision) for income taxes, depreciation, amortization and items that we do not consider representative of our ongoing operating performance, as identified in the reconciliation table below.

EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA as presented in this prospectus are supplemental measures of our performance that are neither required by, nor presented in accordance with, GAAP. EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA are not measurements of our financial performance under GAAP and should not be considered as alternatives to net income (loss), operating income or any other performance measures derived in accordance with GAAP or as alternatives to cash flow from operating activities as a measure of our liquidity. In addition, in evaluating EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA, you should be aware that in the future we will incur expenses or charges such as those added back to calculate EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA. Our presentation of EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA should not be construed as an inference that our future results will be unaffected by unusual or nonrecurring items.

EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA have limitations as analytical tools, and you should not consider them in isolation, or as substitutes for analysis of our results as reported under GAAP. Some of these limitations are (i) they do not reflect our cash expenditures, or future requirements for capital expenditures or contractual commitments, (ii) they do not reflect changes in, or cash requirements for, our working capital needs, (iii) they do not reflect the significant interest expense, or the cash requirements necessary to service interest or principal payments, on our debt, (iv) although depreciation and amortization are non-cash charges, the assets being depreciated and amortized will often have to be replaced in the future, and EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA do not reflect any cash requirements for such replacements,

 

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(v) they do not adjust for all non-cash income or expense items that are reflected in our statements of cash flows, (vi) they do not reflect the impact of earnings or charges resulting from matters we consider not to be indicative of our ongoing operations, and (vii) other companies in our industry may calculate these measures differently than we do, limiting their usefulness as comparative measures.

We compensate for these limitations by providing specific information regarding the GAAP amounts excluded from such non-GAAP financial measures. We further compensate for the limitations in our use of non-GAAP financial measures by presenting comparable GAAP measures more prominently.

We believe EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA facilitate operating performance comparisons from period to period by isolating the effects of some items that vary from period to period without any correlation to core operating performance or that vary widely among similar companies. These potential differences may be caused by variations in capital structures (affecting interest expense), tax positions (such as the impact on periods or companies of changes in effective tax rates or net operating losses) and the age and book depreciation of facilities and equipment (affecting relative depreciation expense). We also present EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA because (i) we believe these measures are frequently used by securities analysts, investors and other interested parties to evaluate companies in our industry, (ii) we believe investors will find these measures useful in assessing our ability to service or incur indebtedness, and (iii) we use EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA internally as benchmarks to compare our performance to that of our competitors.

The following table sets forth reconciliations of EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA to our net income (loss):

 

      Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended      Fiscal Year Ended  
      September 24,
2014
    September 25,
2013
     2013     2012     2011  
     (Amounts in thousands)  

Net income (loss)

   $ 37,888      $ 1,268       $ (16,873   $ (7,865   $ (32,471

Non-GAAP adjustments:

           

(Benefit) provision for income taxes

     (60,402     2,005         1,401        2,027        1,579   

Interest expense, net

     15,286        29,443         36,334        38,890        37,715   

Depreciation and amortization

     8,271        7,570         10,213        9,530        9,615   

 

 

EBITDA

   $ 1,043      $ 40,286       $ 31,075      $ 42,582      $ 16,438   

Stock based compensation expense(a)

     635        191         822        860        40   

Management fees(b)

     343        465         624        612        674   

Loss on disposal of assets(c)

     609        734         868        966        197   

Impairment and closures(d)

     415        126         (101     1,494        2,014   

Early extinguishment of debt(e)

     5,082                21,530               20,173   

Gain on sale of restaurants(f)

     (2,658                             

Income tax receivable agreement expense(g)

     40,119                                

Tax credit expense(h)

     316                                

Pre-opening costs(i)

     673        198         201        320          

 

 

Adjusted EBITDA

   $ 46,577      $ 42,000       $ 55,019      $ 46,834      $ 39,536   

 

 

 

(a) Includes non-cash, stock-based compensation.

 

(b) Includes management fees and other out-of-pocket costs paid to affiliates of Trimaran and Freeman Spogli.

 

(c) Loss on disposal of assets includes the loss on disposal of assets related to retirements and replacement or write-off of leasehold improvements or equipment.

 

(d) Includes costs related to impairment of long-lived assets and closing restaurants. In 2013, we reversed a portion of the close-store reserves established in 2012, due to our subleasing, in 2013, of one of the reserved restaurants at a lower net cost than originally estimated.

 

(e) Includes costs associated with our debt refinancing transactions in July 2011 and October 2013 and the repayment of our Second Lien Term Loan with a portion of the proceeds of our IPO in July 2014.

 

(f) On September 24, 2014, we completed an agreement to sell six company-operated restaurants in the greater San Antonio area. This sale resulted in cash proceeds of $5.4 million, a decrement to goodwill of $650,000 and a net gain of $2.7 million. These six restaurants will now be franchised.

 

(g) On July 30, 2014, we entered into an income tax receivable agreement. This agreement calls for us to pay to our pre-IPO Stockholders 85% of the savings in cash that we realize in our taxes as a result of utilizing our net operating losses and other tax attributes attributable to preceding periods.

 

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(h) Consists of the cost to obtain the tax credits recorded in the third quarter of 2014. $5.4 million of tax benefits were recorded to tax provision in the quarter.

 

(i) Pre-opening costs are a component of general and administrative expenses, and consist of costs directly associated with the opening of new restaurants and incurred prior to opening, including management labor costs, staff labor costs during training, food and supplies used during training, marketing costs and other related pre-opening costs. These are generally incurred over the three to five months prior to opening. Pre-opening costs also include occupancy costs incurred between the date of possession and opening date of our restaurants.

Key Financial Definitions

Revenue

Our revenue is derived from two primary sources: company-operated restaurant revenue and franchise revenue, the latter of which is comprised primarily of franchise royalties and, to a lesser extent, franchise fees and sublease rental income.

Food and Paper Costs

Food and paper costs include the direct costs associated with food, beverage and packaging of our menu items. The components of food and paper costs are variable in nature, change with sales volume, are impacted by menu mix and are subject to increases or decreases in commodity costs.

Labor and Related Expenses

Labor and related expenses include wages, payroll taxes, workers’ compensation expense, benefits and bonuses paid to our restaurant management teams. Like other expense items, we expect labor costs to grow proportionately as our restaurant revenue grows. Factors that influence labor costs include minimum wage and payroll tax legislation, the frequency and severity of workers’ compensation claims, health care costs and the performance of our restaurants.

Occupancy Costs and Other Operating Expenses

Occupancy costs include rent, common area maintenance and real estate taxes. Other restaurant operating expenses include the costs of utilities, advertising, credit card processing fees, restaurant supplies, repairs and maintenance and other restaurant operating costs.

General and Administrative Expenses

General and administrative expenses is comprised of expenses associated with corporate and administrative functions that support the development and operations of our restaurants, including compensation and benefits, travel expenses, stock compensation costs, legal and professional fees and other related corporate costs. Also included are pre-opening costs and expenses above the restaurant level, including salaries for field management, such as area and regional managers, and franchise field operational support.

Franchise Expenses

Franchise expenses are primarily comprised of rent expenses incurred on properties leased by us and then sublet to franchisees and expenses incurred in support of franchisee information technology systems.

Depreciation and Amortization

Depreciation and amortization primarily consists of the depreciation of fixed assets, including leasehold improvements and equipment.

Loss on Disposal of Assets

Loss on disposal of assets includes the loss on disposal of assets related to retirements and replacement or write-off of leasehold improvements or equipment.

Asset Impairment and Close-Store Reserves

We review long-lived assets such as property, equipment and intangibles on a unit-by-unit basis for impairment when events or circumstances indicate a carrying value of the assets that may not be recoverable and record an

 

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impairment charge when appropriate. Closure costs include non-cash restaurant charges such as up-front expensing of unpaid rent remaining on the life of a lease.

Interest Expense, Net

Interest expense, net, consists primarily of interest on our outstanding debt. Debt issuance costs are amortized at cost over the life of the related debt.

Early Extinguishment of Debt

In October 2013, we refinanced our existing debt by entering into new revolving, first lien, and second lien credit facilities. These senior secured credit facilities carried longer maturities and lower interest rates than the indebtedness they replaced. The proceeds from our IPO in July 2014 were primarily used to repay the second lien credit facility. As a result of the 2013 Refinancing and the repayment of the second lien credit facility, we incurred charges for prepayment penalties and fees, call premium, accelerated accretion, and write-off of deferred financing costs and fees, and of unamortized discount.

In July 2011, we refinanced our outstanding $12.5 million first lien revolving credit facility, 11.75% Senior Secured Notes due 2012, 11.75% Senior Notes due 2013 and 14.5% Senior Discount Notes due 2014 with a $12.5 million first lien revolving credit facility, $170 million first lien term loan facility and $105 million 17% Second Priority Senior Secured Notes due 2018.

Benefit (Provision) for Income Taxes

Benefit (provision) for income taxes consists of federal and state taxes on our income.

Results of Operations

Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended September 24, 2014 Compared to Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended September 25, 2013

Our operating results for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014 and September 25, 2013 in absolute terms and expressed as a percentage of total revenue are compared below:

 

      Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended  
     September 24,
2014
     September 25,
2013
     Increase /
(Decrease)
 
      ($ ,000)     (%)      ($ ,000)     (%)      ($ ,000)      (%)  

Statement of Operations Data:

               

Revenue

               

Company-operated restaurant revenue

   $ 238,432        93.5       $ 223,059        93.5       $ 15,373         6.9   

Franchise revenue

     16,456        6.5         15,430        6.5         1,026         6.6   

 

 

Total revenue

     254,888        100.0         238,489        100.0         16,399         6.9   

Cost of operations

               

Food and paper costs

     75,834        29.8         70,608        29.6         5,226         7.4   

Labor and related expenses

     59,552        23.4         57,260        24.0         2,292         4.0   

Occupancy and other operating expenses

     51,091        20.0         47,791        20.0         3,300         6.9   

 

 

Company restaurant expenses

     186,477        73.2         175,659        73.7         10,818         6.2   

General and administrative expenses

     20,974        8.2         18,754        7.9         2,220         11.8   

Franchise expenses

     2,827        1.1         2,930        1.2         (103)         (3.5)   

Depreciation and amortization

     8,271        3.2         7,570        3.2         701         9.3   

Loss on disposal of assets

     609        0.2         734        0.3         (125)         (17.0)   

Asset impairment and close-store reserves

     415        0.2         126        0.1         289         229.4   

 

 

Total expenses

     219,573        86.1         205,773        86.3         13,800         6.7   

 

 

Gain on sale of restaurants

     2,658        1.0                        2,658           

 

 

Income from operations

     37,973        14.9         32,716        13.7         5,257         16.1   

Interest expense, net

     15,286        6.0         29,443        12.3         (14,157)         (48.1)   

Early extinguishment of debt

     5,082        2.0                        5,082           

Income tax receivable agreement expense

     40,119        15.7                        40,119           

 

 

Income (loss) before benefit (provision) for income taxes

     (22,514     (8.8)         3,273        1.4         (25,787)         (787.9)   

Benefit (provision) for income taxes

     60,402        23.7         (2,005     0.8         (62,407)         (3,112.6)   

 

 

Net income (loss)

   $ 37,888        14.9       $ 1,268        0.5       $ 36,620         2,888.0   

 

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Company-Operated Restaurant Revenue

For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, company-operated restaurant revenue increased $15.4 million, or 6.9%, due primarily to an increase in company-operated comparable restaurant sales of $9.6 million, or 5.6%. The growth in company-operated comparable restaurant sales was due primarily to an increase in average check size of 3.3% and an increase in traffic of 2.3% compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. Company-operated restaurant revenue was also favorably impacted by $4.2 million of additional sales from new restaurants, partially offset by $1.1 million of lost sales from closed restaurants.

Franchise Revenue

For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, franchise revenue increased $1.0 million, or 6.6%. This increase was due primarily to increases in franchised comparable restaurant sales of 7.7%.

Food and Paper Costs

For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, food and paper costs increased $5.2 million, or 7.4%, due to a $4.6 million increase in food costs and a $0.6 million increase in paper costs. This increase was due primarily to higher revenue and to higher commodity costs. For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, food and paper costs as a percentage of company-operated restaurant revenue were 31.8%, compared to 31.7% in the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This increase was due primarily to higher commodity costs, but was partially offset by increases in average check size, due to menu price increases in the fourth quarter of 2013 and the third quarter of 2014.

Labor and Related Expenses

Payroll and benefit expenses increased $2.3 million, or 4.0%, for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This increase was due primarily to increased labor costs resulting from higher sales, partially offset by lower medical insurance costs, due to lower claims activity. Year-to-date, payroll and benefit expenses as a percentage of company-operated restaurant revenue were 25.0%, compared to 25.7% in the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This decrease was due primarily to increased revenue, relatively fixed labor expenses, and lower medical insurance costs.

Occupancy and Other Operating Expenses

Occupancy and other operating expenses increased $3.3 million, or 6.9%, for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This increase for the year-to-date period was due primarily to (i) a $1.0 million increase in utility costs, due primarily to higher gas and electric costs, (ii) a $1.2 million increase in advertising costs, due primarily to higher sales and to additional advertising contributions in the Los Angeles market in the second and part of the third quarter of 2014, and (iii) a $0.9 million increase in occupancy costs, due primarily to increased rent, as a result of new restaurants opened in 2013 and 2014, and to higher general liability costs, as a result of increased claims activity. Occupancy and other operating expenses as a percentage of company-operated restaurant revenue were 21.4% for both the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014 and the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013.

General and Administrative Expenses

General and administrative expenses increased $2.2 million, or 11.8% for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. The increase was due primarily to (i) a $0.7 million increase in payroll expense, due primarily to an increase in corporate employees, partially offset by lower medical costs, due primarily to lower medical claims activity, (ii) a $0.8 million increase in professional fees, due primarily to costs associated with our IPO and with securing federal and state tax credits, (iii) a $0.5 million increase in restaurant opening costs, due primarily to increased company-operated restaurant openings in 2014 as compared to 2013, and (iv) a $0.4 million increase in stock option expense, due primarily to the issuance of new stock options in 2013 and 2014 and to the reversal of stock option expense in 2013 due to the departure of one manager. The increase in general and administrative expenses was partially offset by decreases in legal costs, primarily due to lower legal claims activity. For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, general and administrative expenses as a percentage of total revenue were 8.2%, compared to 7.9% in the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This increase was due primarily to the higher costs noted above, partially offset by increased revenue.

 

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Gain on Disposition of Restaurant

On September 24, 2014, we completed an agreement to sell six company-operated restaurants in the greater San Antonio area to AA Pollo, resulting in cash proceeds of $5.4 million. Goodwill was decremented by $650,000, based on a calculation of the fair value of the restaurants sold as a percentage of the relative fair value of the remainder of the reporting units retained. We recognized a net gain of $2.7 million on this transaction, which is recorded as a gain on sale of restaurants in the accompanying statement of operations. These six restaurants will now be franchised. In addition, in connection with the sale, AA Pollo entered into an exclusive development agreement with us to develop and open eight restaurants in the greater San Antonio area. We have also agreed to an additional exclusive franchise development agreement with AA Pollo for the development of twelve restaurants in the Houston area.

Interest Expense, Net

Interest expense, net, decreased $14.2 million for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This decrease was due primarily to the 2013 Refinancing, which reduced the interest rates on our debt, and to the payoff of the Second Lien Term Loan with IPO proceeds.

Early Extinguishment of Debt

The proceeds from our IPO in July 2014 were primarily used to repay the Second Lien Term Loan. In conjunction with this repayment, we incurred an extinguishment of debt charge of $5.1 million, consisting of $1.5 million in call premium, $2.7 million related to the write-off of remaining unamortized deferred finance costs, and $0.9 million relating to the write-off of unamortized discount.

Tax Receivable Agreement

On July 30, 2014, we entered into an income tax receivable agreement (see “Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions—Income Tax Receivable Agreement”). This agreement calls for us to pay to our pre-IPO stockholders 85% of the savings in cash that we realize in our taxes as a result of utilizing our net operating losses and other tax attributes attributable to preceding periods. In connection with the agreement, we amended the First Lien Credit Agreement to permit dividend payments to us by our subsidiaries in amounts up to $11 million per fiscal year, not to exceed $33 million in the aggregate, while the First Lien Credit Agreement is outstanding. During the quarter, we incurred a charge of approximately $40 million relating to the present value of our total estimated tax receivable agreement payments.

Benefit (provision) for Income Taxes

For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, we recorded an income tax benefit of $60.4 million, compared to an income tax provision of $2.0 million in the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. After evaluating all of the positive and negative evidence, including our continued profitability and the reduction in interest expense resulting from the 2013 Refinancing and from our completed initial public offering and the resultant payoff of the Second Lien Term Loan, we concluded that it is more likely than not that our net deferred tax assets will be recovered. As a result, during the quarter ended September 24, 2014, we released our valuation allowance of approximately $65 million. In addition, during the quarter, we applied for various tax credits that resulted in $5.4 million of additional deferred tax assets and tax benefits.

 

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Fiscal Year 2013 Compared to Fiscal Year 2012

Our operating results for the fiscal years ended December 25, 2013 and December 26, 2012 in absolute terms and expressed as a percentage of total revenue are compared below:

 

      Fiscal Year Ended  
     2013     2012     Increase /
(Decrease)
 
      ($ ,000)     (%)     ($ ,000)     (%)     ($ ,000)     (%)  

Statement of Operations Data:

            

Revenue

            

Company-operated restaurant revenue

   $ 294,327        93.5      $ 274,928        93.6      $ 19,399        7.1   

Franchise revenue

     20,400        6.5        18,682        6.4        1,718        9.2   

Total revenue

     314,727        100.0        293,610        100.0        21,117        7.2   

Cost of operations

            

Food and paper costs

     93,589        29.7        85,428        29.1        8,161        9.6   

Labor and related expenses

     75,669        24.0        73,406        25.0        2,263        3.1   

Occupancy and other operating expenses

     63,150        20.1        61,636        21.0        1,514        2.5   

Company restaurant expenses

     232,408        73.8        220,470        75.1        11,938        5.4   

General and administrative expenses

     25,506        8.1        24,451        8.3        1,055        4.3   

Franchise expenses

     3,841        1.2        3,647        1.2        194        5.3   

Depreciation and amortization

     10,213        3.2        9,530        3.2        683        7.2   

Loss on disposal of assets

     868        0.3        966        0.3        (98     (10.1

Asset impairment and close-store reserves

     (101     (0.0     1,494        0.6        (1,595     (106.8

Total expenses

     272,735        86.6        260,558        88.7        12,177        4.7   

Gain on disposal of restaurant

     400        0.1                      400          

Income from operations

     42,392        13.5        33,052        11.3        9,340        28.3   

Interest expense, net

     36,334        11.5        38,890        13.3        (2,556     (6.6

Early extinguishment of debt

     21,530        6.9                      21,530          

Loss before provision for income taxes

     (15,472     (4.9     (5,838     (2.0     (9,634     165.0   

Provision for income taxes

     (1,401     (0.4     (2,027     (0.7     626        (30.9

Net loss

   $ (16,873     (5.3   $ (7,865     (2.7   $ (9,008     114.5   

Company-Operated Restaurant Revenue

Company-operated restaurant revenue increased $19.4 million, or 7.1%, for fiscal 2013, primarily due to an increase in company-operated comparable restaurant sales of $14.1 million, or 5.3%. The growth in company-operated comparable sales was primarily the result of an increase in average check size of 2.7% and an increase in traffic of 2.6% compared to the prior year. Company-operated restaurant revenue was also favorably impacted by $6.8 million of additional sales from restaurants not in the comparable restaurant base. This increase was partially offset by $2.4 million of lost sales from the closure of certain restaurants in fiscal 2013.

Franchise Revenue

Franchise revenue increased $1.7 million, or 9.2%, for fiscal 2013, primarily due to higher franchised comparable restaurant sales of 8.8%, $0.2 million in higher franchise fees due to five new franchised restaurants that opened in fiscal 2013 and franchise agreement renewal fees. This increase was partially offset by the negative impacts of the closure of three franchised restaurants in fiscal 2012 and of one closure in fiscal 2013.

Food and Paper Costs

Food and paper costs increased $8.2 million for fiscal 2013, consisting of a $7.5 million increase in food costs and a $0.7 million increase in paper costs. The increase in food and paper costs was primarily due to higher revenue and higher product costs related to chicken and packaging. Food and paper costs as a percentage of total revenue were

 

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29.7% for fiscal 2013 compared to 29.1% for fiscal 2012. The percentage increase resulted primarily from food cost inflation and increases in packaging costs, partially offset by menu price increases.

Labor and Related Expenses

Payroll and benefit expenses increased $2.3 million for fiscal 2013, primarily due to increased labor costs resulting from higher sales and additional labor needs arising from the opening of two new restaurants in fiscal 2013 and four new restaurants in fiscal 2012. This increase was partially offset by decreased labor needs relating to three restaurants that closed in fiscal 2013, and by a $0.3 million decrease in group health insurance expense due to lower year-over-year medical claims. Payroll and benefit expenses as a percentage of total revenue were 24.0% for fiscal 2013 compared to 25.0% for fiscal 2012. This decrease was primarily due an increase in revenue, the relatively fixed nature of labor costs and the decrease in group health insurance expense noted above.

Occupancy and Other Operating Expenses

Occupancy and other operating expenses increased $1.5 million for fiscal 2013, primarily due to an increase in operating expenses, resulting primarily from a $0.8 million increase in operating supply costs and credit and debit card processing fees primarily due to higher sales and a higher percentage of credit card transactions, a $0.7 million increase in advertising costs primarily due to higher company-operated restaurant revenue, and a $0.4 million increase in occupancy expense primarily due to the new restaurants that opened in fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2012. These increases were partially offset by decreases in utilities, primarily due to lower natural gas costs, and repairs and maintenance costs. Occupancy and other operating expenses as a percentage of total revenue were 20.1% for fiscal 2013 compared to 21.0% for fiscal 2012. This decrease was primarily due to higher restaurant revenue, partially offset by the higher expenses discussed above.

General and Administrative Expenses

General and administrative expenses increased $1.1 million for fiscal 2013, primarily due to a $0.6 million increase in legal fees due to an increase in litigation activity, a $0.4 million increase in payroll expense primarily due to the upgrade of various administrative positions to higher salary levels, and higher severance costs due to the departure of one of our senior managers. These increases were partially offset by a decrease in group health insurance primarily due to a decrease in claims. General and administrative expense as a percentage of total revenue was 8.1% for fiscal 2013 compared to 8.3% for fiscal 2012. This decrease was primarily due to higher total revenue, partially offset by the increase in general and administrative expenses discussed above.

Franchise Expenses

Franchise expense increased by $0.2 million for fiscal 2013, primarily due to higher lease expense resulting from increased rents tied to percentage of sales calculations.

Depreciation and Amortization

Depreciation and amortization increased $0.7 million for fiscal 2013, primarily due to the increase in the number of new restaurants and additional equipment related to our remodeling program, partially offset by the closure of three company-operated restaurants in fiscal 2013. Depreciation and amortization as a percentage of total revenue was 3.2% for both fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2012.

Asset Impairment and Close-Store Reserves

Asset impairment and close-store reserve expense decreased $1.6 million to a gain of $0.1 million for fiscal 2013, primarily due to a decrease of $1.6 million in close-store reserves. The 2012 close-store reserve expense resulted from the establishment of a reserve for four restaurants that were anticipated to be closed, while the 2013 gain resulted from the partial reversal in 2013 of the 2012 reserve costs, due to our subleasing one of the reserved restaurants at a lower net cost than originally estimated.

Gain on Disposal of Restaurant

During fiscal 2013, a $0.4 million gain was recognized relating to a restaurant that was closed as a result of an eminent domain purchase by the State of California.

 

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Interest Expense, Net

Interest expense, net, decreased $2.6 million for fiscal 2013, primarily due to a reduction in interest rates on our debt resulting from the 2013 Refinancing. Our current senior secured credit facilities carry longer maturities and lower interest rates than the indebtedness they replaced.

Early Extinguishment of Debt

We recorded a $21.5 million charge in fiscal 2013 relating to the early extinguishment of debt. This charge resulted from call premiums of $7.9 million, a write-off of deferred financing costs of $8.4 million and accelerated accretion of $5.2 million resulting from the 2013 Refinancing. As a result of the 2013 Refinancing, we incurred banking fees, early repayment penalties and other related costs.

Provision for Income Taxes

Despite having a net loss in both fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2012, our provision for income taxes consisted of income tax expense of $1.4 million for fiscal 2013 and $2.0 million for fiscal 2012, primarily related to the effect of changes in our deferred taxes and the related effect of maintaining a full valuation allowance against certain of our deferred tax assets as of December 25, 2013, and December 26, 2012.

Fiscal Year 2012 Compared to Fiscal Year 2011

Our operating results for the fiscal years ended December 26, 2012 and December 28, 2011 in absolute terms and expressed as a percentage of total revenue are compared below:

 

      Fiscal Year Ended  
     2012     2011     Increase /
(Decrease)
 
      ($ ,000)     (%)     ($ ,000)     (%)     ($ ,000)     (%)  

Statement of Operations Data:

            

Revenue

            

Company-operated restaurant revenue

   $ 274,928        93.6      $ 255,361        93.5      $ 19,567        7.7   

Franchise revenue

     18,682        6.4        17,877        6.5        805        4.5   

Total revenue

     293,610        100.0        273,238        100.0        20,372        7.5   

Cost of operations

            

Food and paper costs

     85,428        29.1        78,873        28.9        6,555        8.3   

Labor and related expenses

     73,406        25.0        69,584        25.5        3,822        5.5   

Occupancy and other operating expenses

     61,636        21.0        59,269        21.7        2,367        4.0   

Company restaurant expenses

     220,470        75.1        207,726        76.0        12,744        6.1   

General and administrative expenses

     24,451        8.3        22,828        8.4        1,623        7.1   

Franchise expenses

     3,647        1.2        3,862        1.4        (215     (5.6

Depreciation and amortization

     9,530        3.2        9,615        3.5        (85     (0.9

Loss on disposal of assets

     966        0.3        197        0.1        769        390.4   

Asset impairment and close-store reserves

     1,494        0.6        2,014        0.7        (520     (25.8

Total expenses

     260,558        88.7        246,242        90.1        14,316        5.8   

Income from operations

     33,052        11.3        26,996        9.9        6,056        22.4   

Interest expense, net

     38,890        13.3        37,715        13.8        1,175        3.1   

Early extinguishment of debt

                   20,173        7.4        (20,173     (100.0

Loss before provision for income taxes

     (5,838     (2.0     (30,892     (11.3     25,054        (81.1

Provision for income taxes

     (2,027     (0.7     (1,579     (0.6     (448     28.4   

Net loss

   $ (7,865     (2.7   $ (32,471     (11.9   $ 24,606        (75.8

 

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Company-Operated Restaurant Revenue

Company-operated restaurant revenue increased $19.6 million, or 7.7%, for fiscal 2012, primarily due to an increase in company-operated comparable restaurant sales of $21.4 million, or 8.6%. The growth in company-operated comparable restaurant sales was primarily due to an increase in average check size of 6.0% and an increase in traffic of 2.6% compared to the prior year. Restaurant revenue was also favorably impacted by $2.5 million of additional sales from restaurants not in the comparable restaurant base. This was partially offset by $3.2 million of lost sales from restaurants that closed in fiscal 2011. No company-operated restaurants were closed in fiscal 2012.

Franchise Revenue

Franchise revenue increased $0.8 million, or 4.5%, for fiscal 2012, primarily due to a $1.2 million increase in royalty income primarily due to higher franchised comparable restaurant sales of 11.0%. This increase was partially offset by the closure of 12 franchised restaurants in fiscal 2011, three closures in fiscal 2012 and a $0.4 million reduction in franchise development fees.

Food and Paper Costs

Food and paper costs increased $6.6 million for fiscal 2012, consisting of a $5.5 million increase in food costs and a $1.1 million increase in paper costs. The increase in food and paper costs resulted primarily from higher revenue and higher product costs related to chicken and packaging. Food and paper costs as a percentage of total revenue were 29.1% for fiscal 2012 compared to 28.9% for fiscal 2011. The percentage increase resulted primarily from food cost inflation and increases in packaging costs, partially offset by menu price increases.

Labor and Related Expenses

Payroll and benefit expenses increased $3.8 million for fiscal 2012, primarily due to higher labor costs relating to increased sales volumes, and a $1.3 million increase in workers’ compensation expense due to higher payments and reserves required to cover various prior year claims. Increases in labor costs were partially offset by a $0.2 million decrease in group health insurance due to lower year-over-year medical claims. Payroll and benefit expenses as a percentage of total revenue were 25.0% for fiscal 2012 compared to 25.5% for fiscal 2011. This decrease was primarily due to the leveraging effect of an increase in restaurant revenue, partially offset by the increase in workers’ compensation expense discussed above.

Occupancy and Other Operating Expenses

Occupancy and other operating expenses increased $2.4 million for fiscal 2012, primarily due to a $0.9 million increase in advertising costs as a result of higher company-operated restaurant revenue, a $0.6 million increase in repair and maintenance expense, a $1.0 million increase in other operating expenses primarily due to higher operating supply costs and to credit and debit card processing fees primarily due to higher sales and a higher percentage of credit card transactions, and a $0.3 million increase in occupancy costs primarily due to higher general liability claims compared to the prior year. These increases were partially offset by lower utilities costs, primarily due to lower natural gas costs. Occupancy and other operating expenses as a percentage of total revenue were 21.0% for fiscal 2012 compared to 21.7% for fiscal 2011. This decrease was primarily due to higher restaurant revenue, partially offset by the higher expenses discussed above.

General and Administrative Expenses

General and administrative expenses increased $1.6 million for fiscal 2012, primarily due to a $1.4 million increase in compensation expense as a result of increased profitability in fiscal 2012, a $0.3 million increase in restaurant opening expense, a $0.2 million increase in legal fees due to higher claims activity, and a $0.8 million increase in stock compensation expense due primarily to a grant of new stock options in fiscal 2012. These increases were partially offset by a $0.3 million decrease in outside services due to a reduction in consulting fees, a $0.2 million decrease in group health insurance primarily due to lower claims activity, and a $0.6 million reduction in payroll expense primarily due to a decrease in severance expense. General and administrative expense as a percentage of total revenue was 8.3% in fiscal 2012 compared to 8.4% in fiscal 2011 resulting primarily from higher revenue partially offset by the increase in general and administrative expenses discussed above.

 

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Franchise Expenses

Franchise expense decreased $0.2 million for fiscal 2012, primarily due to a $0.4 million decrease in lease expense relating to subleased restaurants, partially offset by a $0.2 million increase in point-of-sales expenses to support more franchisees utilizing our point-of-sales system. Franchise expense as a percentage of total revenue was 1.2% for fiscal 2012 compared with 1.4% for fiscal 2011. This decrease was due to higher total revenue and to lower franchise expense, as discussed above.

Depreciation and Amortization

Depreciation and amortization decreased $0.1 million for fiscal 2012, primarily due to assets being fully depreciated and to the closure of six company-operated restaurants in fiscal 2011, partially offset by depreciation on equipment related to our restaurant remodeling program and four new company-operated restaurants that opened in fiscal 2012. Depreciation and amortization as a percentage of total revenue decreased to 3.2% for fiscal 2012 compared with 3.5% for fiscal 2011, primarily due to higher total revenue and the lower depreciation on restaurant equipment discussed above.

Loss on Disposal of Assets

Loss on disposal of assets was $1.0 million for fiscal 2012 compared to $0.2 million for fiscal 2011. This increase was primarily due to increased asset disposals as a result of an increase in the number of restaurants remodeled in fiscal 2012 compared to fiscal 2011.

Asset Impairment and Close-Store Reserves

Asset impairment and close-store reserve expense decreased $0.5 million for fiscal 2012, primarily due to a decrease in non-cash impairment charges recorded to reduce the carrying values of certain assets to their estimated fair market values, partially offset by an increase in close-store reserve for costs related to one restaurant that was closed and for three restaurants which were being marketed for sublease. Asset impairment and close-store reserve as a percentage of total revenue decreased to 0.6% for fiscal 2012 compared with 0.7% for fiscal 2011. This decrease was due to higher total revenue and to the lower impairment and close-store expenses discussed above.

Interest Expense, Net

Interest expense, net, increased $1.2 million for fiscal 2012, primarily due to an increase in our average debt balances, the accretion of the 2018 Notes, which were issued at 3% discounts in conjunction with our debt refinancing on July 14, 2011, an increase in our weighted average interest rate after the debt refinancing, and an adjustment to market of our interest rate cap hedging agreement, purchased in conjunction with the requirements of our credit agreements.

Early Extinguishment of Debt

We recorded a $20.2 million charge in fiscal 2011 relating to the early extinguishment of debt. This charge resulted from call premiums of $12.7 million, a write-off of deferred financing costs of $6.1 million and accelerated accretion of $1.5 million on our outstanding 11.75% Senior Secured Notes due 2012, 11.75% Senior Notes due 2013 and 14.5% Senior Discount Notes due 2014 that were tendered pursuant to our refinancing on July 14, 2011. No such charge was incurred in fiscal 2012.

Provision for Income Taxes

Despite having a net loss in both fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2011, our provision for income taxes consisted of income tax expense of $2.0 million for fiscal 2012 and $1.6 million for fiscal 2011, primarily related to the effect of changes in our deferred taxes and the related effect of maintaining a full valuation allowance against certain of our deferred tax assets as of December 26, 2012, and December 28, 2011.

 

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Quarterly Financial Data

The following table presents select historical quarterly consolidated statements of operations data and other operations data through September 2014. This quarterly information has been prepared using our unaudited consolidated financial statements and includes all adjustments consisting only of normal recurring adjustments necessary for a fair presentation of the results of the interim periods.

 

     Fiscal Quarter Ended (Unaudited)  
    2014     2013     2012  
(Dollar amounts in
thousands)
  Sept.     June     Mar.     Dec.     Sept.     June     Mar.     Dec.     Sept.     June     Mar.  

Selected Financial Data

                     

Total revenue ($)

    86,557        86,904        81,427        76,238        79,767        81,727        76,995        72,071        76,335        74,723        70,481   

Income from Operations ($)

    13,621        12,842        11,510        9,676        10,651        12,181        9,884        5,203        8,947        9,235        9,667   

Net income (loss) ($)

    25,849 (2)(5)      6,569 (2)      5,470 (2)      (18,141 )(3)      918        410        (60     (6,120 )(4)      (1,016     (524     (205

Adjusted EBITDA ($)

    15,153        16,555        14,869        13,016        13,725        15,391        12,887        9,889        12,116        12,563        12,266   

Selected Operating Data

                     

Number of restaurants (at period end)

                     

Company-operated

    166        168        168        168        168        167        169        169        169        165        165   

Franchised

    239        233        233        233        231        231        229        229        229        229        230   

System-wide

    405        401        401        401        399        398        398        398        398        394        395   

Average unit volume (company-operated)(1)

    1,893        1,927        1,813        1,707        1,772        1,833        1,718        1,590        1,721        1,705        1,608   

Comparable restaurant sales growth (%)

                     

Company-operated

    6.4        5.0        5.4        5.4        2.2        6.9        6.7        6.8        10.1        8.5        8.8   

Franchised

    9.1        5.9        8.3        7.7        5.4        11.7        10.5        10.4        13.2        10.2        9.9   

System-wide

    7.9        5.4        7.2        6.5        3.7        9.6        8.5        8.6        12.0        9.5        9.5   

Restaurant contribution margin (%)

    20.7        22.6        22.1        20.4        20.7        22.5        20.5        18.0        19.6        20.3        21.3   
(1) AUVs consist of average annualized sales of all company-owned restaurants over the fiscal quarter.
(2) The 2013 Refinancing and repayment of the Second Lien Term Loan with a portion of the proceeds of our IPO resulted in lower interest rates on our indebtedness, which has contributed to lower interest expense and higher net income in subsequent periods.
(3) During the 13 weeks ended December 25, 2013, we refinanced our $12.5 million first lien revolving credit facility, $170 million first lien term loan facility and our 2018 notes by entering into our current senior secured credit facilities. The 2013 Refinancing resulted in a one-time charge to our consolidated statement of operations of $21.5 million, reflecting call premiums on the retired debt obligations and expense related to unamortized deferred financing cost and unamortized discounts.
(4) The more significant components of the loss in the 13 weeks ended December 26, 2012, reflect a tax expense of approximately $1.6 million and close-store reserves of approximately $1.1 million.
(5) During the thirteen weeks ended September 24, 2014, we released our valuation allowance of approximately $65 million. In addition, we incurred an income tax receivable agreement charge of approximately $40 million during the quarter ended September 24, 2014.

Liquidity and Capital Resources

Our primary sources of liquidity and capital resources have been cash provided from operations, cash and cash equivalents, and senior secured credit facilities. Our primary requirements for liquidity and capital are new restaurants, existing restaurant capital investments (remodels and maintenance), principal and interest payments on our debt, lease obligations and working capital and general corporate needs. Our working capital requirements are not significant since our customers pay for their purchases in cash or by payment card (credit or debit) at the time of sale. Thus, we are able to sell many of our inventory items before we have to pay our suppliers for such items. Our restaurants do not require significant inventories or receivables. We believe these sources of liquidity and capital will be sufficient to finance our continued operations and expansion plans for at least the next 12 months.

In October 2013, we refinanced our $12.5 million first lien revolving credit facility, $170 million first lien term loan facility and $105 million 17% Second Priority Senior Secured Notes due 2018 by entering into our $15 million first lien Revolving Credit Facility, our $190 million First Lien Term Loan Facility and a $100 million Second Lien Term Loan. These senior secured credit facilities carry longer maturities and lower interest rates than the indebtedness they replaced.

 

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On July 30, 2014, we closed our IPO, the majority of the proceeds of which were used to repay our $100 million Second Lien Term Loan. The repayment of the Second Lien Term Loan lowered our interest expense by an estimated $10.1 million per annum, or 27.8% of our $36.3 million of interest expense for fiscal 2013.

The following table presents summary cash flow information for the periods indicated (in thousands).

 

      Thirty-Nine Weeks Ended     Fiscal Year Ended  
(Amounts in thousands)    September 24,
2014
    September 25,
2013
    2013     2012     2011  

Net cash provided by (used in)

          

Operating activities

   $ 29,842      $ 12,528      $ 19,700      $ 19,409      $ 6,454   

Investing activities

     (13,979     (10,154     (13,787     (14,993     (3,709

Financing activities

     8,947        (1,443     (10,385     (1,920     (6,469

Net increase (decrease) in cash

   $ 24,810      $ 931      $ (4,472   $ 2,496      $ (3,724

Operating Activities

For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, net cash provided by operating activities increased by $17.3 million compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This was due primarily to (i) increased revenue, due primarily to company-operated comparable restaurant sales growth, and (ii) lower interest payments, due to the 2013 Refinancing, which resulted in lower interest rates on our debt and required payment of accrued interest in October 2013 rather than in early 2014, and due to our IPO, the majority of the proceeds of which were used to repay the Second Lien Term Loan.

For fiscal 2013, net cash provided by operating activities increased by $0.3 million as cash generated by increased revenue was partially offset by an increase in cash payments for interest expense due to our refinancing of our debt in October 2013, which required payment of accrued interest through the closing date of the refinancing.

Net cash provided by operating activities increased by $12.9 million in fiscal 2012 versus fiscal 2011 primarily due to increased revenue as a result of company comparable sales growth and higher franchise royalties.

Investing Activities

For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, net cash used in investing activities increased by $3.8 million compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This was due primarily to increased capital expenditures related to new restaurants and to the remodeling of existing restaurants, partially offset by sales proceeds from the San Antonio transaction.

Cash used in investing activities declined by $1.2 million in fiscal 2013 versus fiscal 2012 primarily due to reduced capital expenditures. Capital expenditures consist of cash paid related to new restaurant construction, the remodel and maintenance of existing restaurants and other corporate expenditures.

Cash used in investing activities increased by $11.3 million in fiscal 2012 versus fiscal 2011 primarily due to increased capital spending for new restaurants and remodels.

For the year ended December 31, 2014, we expect to incur capital expenditures of approximately $28.2 million, consisting of $16.1 million related to new restaurants, $7.7 million related to the remodeling of existing restaurants, and $4.4 million related to maintenance and other corporate capital expenditures.

Financing Activities

For the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, net cash provided by financing activities increased by $10.4 million compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013. This was due primarily to our receipt of IPO proceeds, partially offset by our repayment of the Second Lien Term Loan.

 

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Cash used in financing activities increased by $8.5 million in fiscal 2013 versus fiscal 2012 primarily due to costs incurred to refinance EPL’s former senior secured credit facility and the 2018 Notes on October 11, 2013.

Cash used in financing activities decreased by $4.5 million in fiscal 2012 versus fiscal 2011 primarily due to $25.9 million in costs incurred to refinance EPL’s former debt facilities, netted against capital contributions of $22.6 million and a net payout of debt of $2.9 million.

Debt and Other Obligations

Senior Secured Credit Facilities

On October 11, 2013, EPL entered into (i) a first lien credit agreement (the “First Lien Credit Agreement”) with Intermediate as guarantor, Jefferies Finance LLC as administrative agent and collateral agent, General Electric Capital Corporation as issuing bank and swing line lender, Golub Capital LLC as syndication agent and with various lenders and (ii) a second lien credit agreement (the “Second Lien Credit Agreement”) with Intermediate as guarantor, Jefferies Finance LLC as administrative agent and collateral agent and with various lenders.

The First Lien Credit Agreement provides for a $15 million revolving credit facility (including obligations in respect of revolving loans, swing line loans and letters of credit) (the “Revolving Credit Facility”) and a $190 million first lien term loan facility (the “First Lien Term Loan Facility”) and bears interest at an adjusted LIBOR Rate (with a 1% floor) or Alternate Base Rate plus an applicable margin. The applicable margin is 4.25% with respect to adjusted LIBOR advances and 3.25% with respect to Alternate Base Rate advances. The Revolving Credit Facility and First Lien Term Loan Facility are secured by a first priority lien on substantially all of the assets of EPL and Intermediate. The Revolving Credit Facility and First Lien Term Loan Facility mature on October 11, 2018. Under the Revolving Credit Facility, EPL had $7.3 million in letters of credit outstanding and $7.7 million available for borrowing as of September 24, 2014.

The Second Lien Credit Agreement provided for a $100 million second lien term loan (the “Second Lien Term Loan”) and bore interest at an adjusted LIBOR or Alternate Base Rate plus an applicable margin. The applicable margin rate was 8.50% with respect to adjusted LIBOR advances and 7.50% with respect to Alternate Base Rate advances. The Second Lien Term Loan was secured by a second priority lien on substantially all of the assets of EPL and Intermediate. We repaid the Second Lien Term Loan in the third quarter of 2014 with proceeds from our IPO.

The First Lien Credit Agreement contains a number of covenants that, among other things, restrict, subject to certain exceptions, EPL’s ability to (i) incur additional indebtedness, (ii) issue preferred stock, (iii) create liens on assets, (iv) engage in mergers or consolidations, (v) sell assets, (vi) make investments, loans or advances, (vii) make certain acquisitions, (viii) engage in certain transactions with affiliates, (ix) authorize or pay dividends and (x) change its lines of business or fiscal year. In addition, the agreement requires EPL to maintain, on a consolidated basis, a minimum interest coverage ratio and not to exceed a maximum total leverage ratio. As of the date of this prospectus, we were in compliance with the First Lien Credit Agreement’s financial covenants.

On July 9, 2014, we agreed with our lenders to amend the terms of the First Lien Credit Agreement to remove restrictions on capital expenditures and permit special dividend payments of up to $11 million per fiscal year (not to exceed $33 million in the aggregate) for purposes of our income tax receivable agreement (the “Amendment”). See “Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions—Income Tax Receivable Agreement.”

Hedging Arrangements

In connection with our credit agreements, we entered into two interest rate caps with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. The first interest rate cap is for a notional amount of $30 million with a cap rate of 3.00% based on 1 month USD LIBOR and terminates on December 1, 2015. The second interest rate cap is for a notional amount of $120 million with a cap rate of 3.00% based on 1 month USD LIBOR and terminates on December 1, 2016.

 

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Contractual Obligations

The following table represents our contractual commitments (which include expected interest expense, calculated based on current interest rates) to make future payments pursuant to our debt and other obligations disclosed above and pursuant to our restaurant operating leases outstanding as of September 24, 2014:

 

      Payments Due by Period  
(Amounts in thousands)    Total      2014     

2015-

2016

    

2017-

2018

     2019 and
thereafter
 

Operating leases

   $ 191,028       $ 4,841       $ 37,909       $ 34,480       $ 113,798   

Capital leases

     1,298         99         579         372         249   

Long-term debt

     228,491         2,824         23,762         201,721         184   

Total

   $ 420,817       $ 7,764       $ 62,250       $ 236,573       $ 114,231   

Off-Balance Sheet and Other Arrangements

At September 24, 2014, December 25, 2013, December 26, 2012 and December 28, 2011, we had $7.7 million, $7.7 million, $7.0 million and $6.5 million, respectively, of borrowing capacity on the Revolving Credit Facility and EPL’s former revolving credit facility pledged as collateral to secure outstanding letters of credit.

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosure about Market Risk

Interest Rate Risk

We are exposed to market risk from changes in interest rates on our debt, which bears interest at variable rates and has a USD LIBOR floor of 1.00%. As of September 24, 2014, we had outstanding borrowings of $188.7 million and another $7.3 million of letters of credit in support of our insurance programs. A 1.00% increase in the effective interest rate applied to these borrowings would result in a pre-tax interest expense increase of $1.9 million on an annualized basis.

We manage our interest rate risk through normal operating and financing activities and, when determined appropriate, through the use of derivative financial instruments.

To mitigate exposure to fluctuations in interest rates, we entered into two interest rate caps as discussed above under “—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Debt and Other Obligations—Hedging Arrangements” above.

Inflation

Inflation has an impact on food, paper, construction, utility, labor and benefits, general and administrative and other costs, all of which can materially impact our operations. We have a substantial number of hourly employees who are paid wage rates at or based on the applicable federal or state minimum wage and increases in the minimum wage will increase our labor costs. Since July 1, 2014, the State of California (where most of our restaurants are located) has had a minimum wage of $9.00 per hour. From January 1, 2008, to June 30, 2014, it had been $8.00 per hour. It is scheduled to rise to $10.00 per hour on January 1, 2016. In general, we have been able to substantially offset costs increases resulting from inflation by increasing menu prices, managing menu mix, improving productivity or through other adjustments. We may or may not be able to offset cost increases in the future.

Critical Accounting Policies and Use of Estimates

The preparation of our consolidated financial statements in accordance with GAAP requires us to make estimates and judgments that affect our reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenue and expenses and related disclosure of contingent assets and liabilities. We base our estimates on historical experience and on various other assumptions that are believed to be reasonable under current circumstances in making judgments about the carrying value of assets and liabilities that are not readily available from other sources. We evaluate our estimates on an ongoing basis. Actual results may differ from these estimates under different assumptions or conditions.

 

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Accounting policies are an integral part of our financial statements. A thorough understanding of these accounting policies is essential when reviewing our reported results of operations and our financial position. Management believes that the critical accounting policies and estimates discussed below involve the most difficult management judgments due to the sensitivity of the methods and assumptions used. Our significant accounting policies are described in Note 2 to our consolidated financial statements contained elsewhere in this prospectus.

Revenue Recognition

We record revenue from company-operated restaurants as food and beverage products are delivered to customers and payment is tendered at the time of sale. We present sales net of sales-related taxes and promotional allowances. In the case of gift card sales, we record revenue when the gift card is redeemed by the customer. We record royalties from franchised restaurant sales based on a percentage of restaurant revenues in the period the related franchised restaurants’ revenues are earned. Area development fees and franchise fees are recognized as income when all material services or conditions relating to the sale of the franchise have been substantially performed or satisfied by us. Both franchise fees and area development fees are generally recognized as income upon the opening of a franchised restaurant or upon termination of the related agreement(s).

Goodwill and Indefinite-Lived Intangible Assets, Net

Intangible assets consist primarily of goodwill and trademarks.

We do not amortize our goodwill and indefinite-lived intangible assets. We perform an impairment test annually at the end of each fiscal year. In our annual goodwill impairment assessment at December 25, 2013, we concluded that the fair value of the reporting unit to which goodwill was assigned exceeded our book equity. Accordingly, we did not identify any goodwill impairment. We considered fair value under both income and market comparable approaches, with a weighting of 33% each to a discounted cash flow, a guideline public company analysis and a transaction analysis. The key assumptions in the discounted cash flow model included the discount and growth rates.

In our impairment test for indefinite-lived intangible assets at December 25, 2013, we concluded that the fair value of the indefinite-lived intangible assets exceeded their carrying value and that there was no impairment. We used a relief from royalty methodology to calculate the fair value of the indefinite-lived intangible assets. The key assumptions in the relief from royalty model include a discount rate and growth rates.

These assumptions used in our estimates of fair value are generally consistent with past performance and are also consistent with the projections and assumptions that we use in our forward-looking operating plans. These assumptions are subject to change as a result of changing economic and competitive conditions. Changes in these estimates and assumptions could materially affect our determinations of fair value and impairment.

Long-Lived Assets

We state the value of our property and equipment, including primarily leasehold improvements and restaurant equipment, furniture and fixtures at cost, minus accumulated depreciation and amortization. We calculate depreciation using the straight-line method of accounting over the estimated useful lives of the related assets. We amortize our leasehold improvements using the straight-line method of accounting over the shorter of the lease term (including reasonably assured renewal periods) or the estimated useful lives of the related assets. We expense repairs and maintenance as incurred, but capitalize major improvements and betterments. We make judgments and estimates related to the expected useful lives of those assets that are affected by factors such as changes in economic conditions and changes in operating performance. If we change our assumptions in the future, we may be required to record impairment charges for these assets.

Insurance Reserves

We are responsible for workers’ compensation, general and health insurance claims up to a specified amount. We maintain a reserve for estimated claims both reported and incurred but not reported, based on historical claims experience and other assumptions. In estimating our insurance accruals, we utilize independent actuarial estimates of expected losses, which are based on statistical analyses of historical data. Our actuarial assumptions are closely monitored and adjusted when warranted by changing circumstances. Should claims occur or medical costs increase in greater amounts than we have expected, accruals may not be sufficient, and we may record additional expenses.

 

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Accounting for Lease Obligations

We lease a substantial number of our restaurant properties. At the inception of each lease, we evaluate the property and the lease to determine whether the lease is an operating lease or a capital lease. This lease accounting evaluation may require significant judgment in determining the fair value and useful life of the leased property and the appropriate lease term. The lease term used for the evaluation includes renewal option periods only in instances in which the exercise of the renewal option can be reasonably assured because failure to exercise such an option would result in an economic penalty. Such an economic penalty would typically result from our having to abandon a building or fixture with remaining economic value upon vacating a property.

Franchise Operations

We sublease a number of restaurant properties to our franchisees. As such, we remain principally liable for the underlying leases. If sales trends or economic conditions worsen for our franchisees, their financial health may worsen, our collection rates may decline, and we may be required to assume the responsibility for additional lease payments on what are presently franchised restaurants.

Income Taxes

We use the asset and liability method of accounting for income taxes. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are determined based on temporary differences between the financial carrying amounts and the tax basis of assets and liabilities using enacted tax rates in effect in the years in which the temporary differences are expected to reverse. As of September 24, 2014, we had federal and state net operating loss (“NOL”) carryforwards of $105 million and $118 million, respectively. These NOLs expire beginning in 2025 and 2015, respectively.

A valuation allowance is required when there is significant uncertainty as to the realizability of deferred tax assets. The ability to realize deferred tax assets is dependent upon our ability to generate sufficient taxable income within the carryforward periods provided for in the tax law for each tax jurisdiction. We have considered the following possible sources of taxable income when assessing the realization of our deferred tax assets:

 

    future reversals of existing taxable temporary differences;

 

    future taxable income or loss, exclusive of reversing temporary differences and carryforwards;

 

    tax-planning strategies; and

 

    taxable income in prior carryback years.

At December 25, 2013, we maintained a full valuation allowance against our deferred tax assets. After evaluating all of the positive and negative evidence, including our continued profitability and the reduction in interest expense resulting from the 2013 Refinancing, our completed initial public offering and the resultant payoff of the Second Lien Term Loan, we concluded that it is more likely than not that our deferred tax assets will be recovered. As a result, during the quarter ending September 24, 2014, we released our valuation allowance of approximately $65 million. We had previously maintained a full valuation allowance on our deferred tax assets, as we had been experiencing continuing taxable losses, and accordingly did not recognize a benefit for NOL carryforwards or other deferred tax assets in the years ended December 25, 2013, and December 26, 2012.

We will continue to reevaluate the continued need for either a full or partial valuation allowance. Relevant factors include:

 

    current financial performance;

 

    our ability to meet short-term and long-term financial and taxable income projections;

 

    the overall market environment; and

 

    the volatility and trend of the industry in which we operate.

 

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All of the factors that we consider in evaluating whether and when to release all or a portion of the deferred tax asset valuation allowance involve significant judgment. For example, there are many different interpretations of “cumulative losses in recent years” that can be used. Also, significant judgment is involved in making projections of future financial and taxable income, especially because our financial results are significantly dependent upon industry trends. Any change in our amount of valuation allowance will significantly impact our financial results in the period of that change.

When there are uncertainties related to potential income tax benefits, in order to qualify for recognition, the position we take has to have at least a “more likely than not” chance of being sustained (based on the position’s technical merits) upon challenge by the responsible authorities. The term “more likely than not” means a likelihood of more than 50 percent. Otherwise, we may not recognize any of the potential tax benefits associated with the position. We recognize a benefit for a tax position that meets the “more likely than not” criterion as the largest amount of tax benefit that is greater than 50 percent likely of being realized upon its effective resolution. Unrecognized tax benefits involve our judgment regarding the likelihood of a benefit being sustained. The final resolutions of uncertain tax positions could result in adjustments to recorded amounts and affect our results of operations, financial position and cash flows; however, we anticipate that any such adjustments would not materially impact our financial statements.

On July 30, 2014, we entered into an Income Tax Receivable Agreement (the “TRA”). The TRA calls

for us to pay to our pre-IPO stockholders 85% of the savings in cash that we realize in our taxes as a result of

utilizing our net operating losses and other tax attributes attributable to preceding periods. In connection with

the TRA, we have amended our first lien credit agreement (the “First Lien Credit Agreement”) to permit

dividend payments to us by our subsidiaries in amounts up to $11 million per fiscal year, not to exceed $33 million in the aggregate, while the First Lien Credit Agreement is outstanding. During the quarter, we incurred a charge of approximately $40 million relating to the present value of our total expected TRA payments.

Stock-Based Compensation

We measure and recognize compensation expense for the estimated fair value of stock options for employees and non-employee directors and similar awards based on the grant-date fair value of the award. For options that are based on a service requirement, the cost is recognized on a straight-line basis over the requisite service period, usually the vesting period. The options granted in fiscal 2012 had a three-year vesting period (with 25% of the options vesting immediately), while the options granted in fiscal 2013 and 2014 had a four-year vesting period. For options that are based on performance requirements, costs are recognized over the periods to which the performance criteria relate.

In order to calculate our stock options’ fair values and the associated compensation costs for share-based awards, we utilize the Black-Scholes option pricing model, and we have developed estimates of various inputs including forfeiture rate, expected term, expected volatility and risk-free interest rate. These assumptions generally require significant judgment. The forfeiture rate is based on historical rates and reduces the compensation expense recognized. The expected term for options granted is derived using the “simplified” method, in accordance with SEC guidance. Expected volatility is estimated using four publicly-traded peer companies in our market category. These are selected based on similarities of size and other financial and operational characteristics. Volatility is calculated with reference to the historical daily closing equity prices of our peer companies, prior to the grant date, over a period equal to the expected term. We calculate the risk-free interest rate using the implied yield for a U.S. Treasury security with constant maturity and a remaining term equal to the expected term of our employee stock options. We do not anticipate paying any cash dividends for the foreseeable future and therefore use an expected dividend yield of zero for option valuation purposes.

The following table summarizes the assumptions relating to our stock options for the years ended December 25, 2013, and December 26, 2012.

 

      Fiscal Year Ended  
      2013      2012  

Risk-free interest rates

     1.15% to 1.99%         1.02%   

Expected term

     6.25 years         5.75 years   

Expected dividend yield

     0%         0%   

Volatility

     40.6%         39.0%   

 

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If in the future we determine that another method is more reasonable, or if another method for calculating these input assumptions is prescribed by authoritative guidance, and, therefore, should be used to estimate volatility or expected life, the fair value calculated for our stock options could change significantly. Higher volatility and longer expected lives result in an increase to stock-based compensation expense determined at the date of grant. Stock-based compensation expense affects our general and administrative expense.

We estimate our forfeiture rate based on an analysis of our actual forfeitures and will continue to evaluate the appropriateness of the forfeiture rate based on actual forfeiture experience, analysis of employee turnover behavior, and other factors. Changes in the estimated forfeiture rate can have a significant effect on reported stock-based compensation expense, as the cumulative effect of adjusting the rate for all expense amortization is recognized in the period the forfeiture estimate is changed. If a revised forfeiture rate is higher than the previously estimated forfeiture rate, an adjustment is made that will result in a decrease to the stock-based compensation expense recognized in the financial statements. If a revised forfeiture rate is lower than the previously estimated forfeiture rate, an adjustment is made that will result in an increase to the stock-based compensation expense recognized in the financial statements. The effect of forfeiture adjustments was insignificant for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, and for the years ended December 25, 2013 and December 26, 2012. We will continue to use significant judgment in evaluating the expected term, volatility and forfeiture rate related to our stock-based compensation.

Prior to our IPO, it was necessary to estimate the fair value of the common stock underlying our equity awards when computing fair value calculations under the Black-Scholes option pricing model. The fair value of our common stock was assessed on each grant date by our board of directors. Given the absence of an active market for our common stock, our board of directors estimated our common stock’s fair value based on an analysis of a number of objective and subjective factors that they believed that market participants would consider in valuing it, including the following:

 

    financial metrics, including, but not limited to, our results of operations and history of losses;

 

    the valuation of our common stock by an unrelated third-party valuation firm;

 

    the hiring of key personnel;

 

    the introduction of new products;

 

    the fact that the option grants involved illiquid securities in a private company;

 

    the risks inherent in the development and expansion of our products and services; and

 

    the likelihood of achieving a liquidity event, such as an initial public offering or sale of our company, given prevailing market conditions.

 

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Before our IPO, we historically granted stock options with exercise prices not less than the fair value of our common stock underlying such stock options, as determined on the date of grant by our board of directors, with input from our management and from an independent third-party valuation expert. In fiscal 2013 and 2012, we granted stock options with strike prices of $5.84 per share, which was in excess of the estimated fair value of our common stock on the grant dates. These options, granted at strike prices in excess of fair market value, were intended to incentivize management to increase profitability and expand our business. The following table summarizes, by grant date, the stock options granted since December 26, 2012, and their associated per share exercise prices:

 

Grant Date    Common
Shares
Underlying
Options
Granted
     Exercise
Price
Per
Share
     Fair Value
Per
Common
Share as
Determined
by Our
Board at
Grant Date
 

April 11-22, 2013

     70,651       $ 4.09       $ 4.09   

April 11-22, 2013

     141,303       $ 5.84       $ 4.09   

July 15-29, 2013

     196,968       $ 4.09       $ 4.09   

July 15-29, 2013

     393,935       $ 5.84       $ 4.09   

July 24, 2014

     223,184       $ 15.00       $ 15.00   

October 25, 2014

     5,865       $ 36.42       $ 36.42   

When we were a private company, our common stock was valued by an independent third-party using methodologies, approaches and assumptions consistent with the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (“AICPA”) Audit and Accounting Practice Aid Series: Valuation of Privately Held Company Equity Securities Issued as Compensation, or the AICPA Practice Guide. We used a combination of the income and market approaches to estimate our aggregate enterprise value. The income approach measures the value of a company as the present value of its future economic benefits by applying an appropriate risk-adjusted discount rate to expected cash flows, based on forecasted revenues and costs. We prepared a financial forecast to be used in the computation of the enterprise value for the income approach. The financial forecasts took into account our past experience and future expectations. The risks associated with achieving these forecasts were assessed in selecting the appropriate discount rate. There was inherent uncertainty in these estimates. The market approach measures the value of a company based on applying observed EBITDA multiples from comparable public companies, and applying a multiple derived therefrom to its EBITDA.

In order to arrive at the estimated fair value of our common stock, our indicated enterprise value was then increased by cash on hand and reduced by the value of long-term debt and the fair value of the stock options. In our annual common stock valuation assessment at December 26, 2012, we considered fair value under both the income and the market approaches, with a weighting of 33% each to the discounted cash flow model, the guideline public company analysis and the transaction analysis. The key assumptions in the discounted cash flow model include discount and growth rates. For the guideline public company analysis, we applied multiples to our 2012 actual EBITDA and 2013 budgeted EBITDA based on an average of the first quartile and median multiples observed from analysts for seventeen comparable public companies in the QSR sector. For the transaction analysis, we applied a multiple to our 2013 actual EBITDA, based on the third quartile multiple observed from analysts for seventeen comparable public companies in the QSR sector. Furthermore, the estimated fair value of our common stock at each grant date reflected non-marketability discounts.

The estimates used in determining the fair value of our common stock were highly complex and subject to significant judgment. For example, the percentage weighting that was used among the different valuation approaches, the selection of the comparable public companies used in the guideline public company analysis, and the non-marketability discount used all could have had different assumptions. There was also inherent uncertainty in our forecasts and projections. If we had made different assumptions and estimates than those described previously, the amount of our stock-based compensation expense, net income (loss), and net income (loss) per share amounts could have been materially different. Such estimates are no longer needed to determine fair value for new awards due to a publicly-available trading price for our common stock.

 

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Our board of directors intended that all options granted be exercisable at prices per share not less than the per share fair market value of our common stock underlying those options on the date of grant. The following is a discussion of all options we have granted since December 26, 2012, and the significant factors contributing to the difference between fair values as of the date of each grant and estimated IPO price:

April 11-22, 2013—Options granted on these dates had exercise prices of either $4.09 or $5.84 per share, which was equal to, or greater than, the fair value of our common stock as determined by our board of directors on each grant date. In conjunction with our year-end procedures, our board of directors obtained a third-party valuation of our common stock in December 2012, which suggested a fair value of $4.09 per share. Our board of directors considered this valuation together with other objective and subjective factors in reaching its determination of the fair value of our common stock as of April 2013. In particular, our board of directors considered the general financial condition of the business, the continued illiquidity of our common stock given our status as a private company, the general likelihood of a liquidity event, such as an initial public offering or sale of us or our capital resources at that time and the risks and uncertainties associated with further development and expansion of our business. Our board of directors considered that our financial performance continued to improve, but our board also noted that improvements were in line with the expectations included in the December 2012 valuation.

July 15-29, 2013—Options granted on these dates had exercise prices of either $4.09 or $5.84 per share, which was equal to, or greater than, the fair value of our common stock as determined by our board of directors on each grant date. In conjunction with our year-end procedures, our board of directors obtained a third-party valuation of our common stock as of December 2012, which suggested a fair value of $4.09 per share. Our board of directors considered this valuation together with other objective and subjective factors in reaching its determination of the fair value of our common stock as of July 2013. In particular, our board of directors considered the general financial condition of the business, the continued illiquidity of our common stock given our status as a private company, the continued likelihood of a liquidity event, such as an initial public offering or sale of us or our capital resources at that time and the risks and uncertainties associated with further development and expansion of our business. Our board of directors considered that our financial performance continued to improve, but our board also noted that improvements were in line with the expectations included in the December 2012 valuation.

Based upon these considerations, our board of directors determined that no significant change in our business or in expectations of our future business had occurred as of each grant date since the December 2012 valuation that warranted materially different determinations for the value of our common stock than those suggested by the board’s original determination in December 2012 and by the corresponding contemporaneous independent third-party valuation.

The valuation that we obtained as of December 25, 2013 resulted in a fair value of $9.31 per share of common stock. The increase as compared to the 2012 valuation was driven largely by the increase in EBITDA multiples that comparable public companies were trading at, the higher multiples that recent transactions had been priced at, and the increase in our revenue and EBITDA growth rates used in the December 25, 2013, valuation, based upon two years of consistent revenue growth. Furthermore, we reduced the discount for lack of marketability between 2012 and 2013, based on the increase in the potential for an initial public offering at the end of 2013. There were no changes in the weightings for the income- and market-based approaches. We believed that it was reasonable to expect that the completion of an IPO would add value to our shares of our common stock because they would have increased liquidity and marketability.

July 24, 2014—Concurrent with our IPO, we granted options to purchase 223,183 shares of our common stock to selected employees who were not our executive officers. For this grant, our Compensation Committee, as delegated by our board of directors to be administrator for our 2014 Omnibus Equity Incentive Plan, set the option grant with an exercise price at $15.00 per share, our IPO price and the fair market value as of the date of grant.

October 25, 2014—Subsequent to our IPO, we granted options to purchase 5,865 shares of our common stock to an employee who was not an executive officer. The exercise price was $36.42 per share, which was equal to the fair market value as of the date of grant.

In addition, in connection with the completion of our IPO, we granted to Samuel N. Borgese and Douglas K. Ammerman restricted share grants of 3,333 shares each, equivalent to $50,000 divided by our public offering price. These grants vest based on continued service over three years. Based on our share price when the grants were consummated, we expect to incur approximately $330,000 of stock-based compensation expense as the grants vest.

 

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BUSINESS

Company Overview

It All Starts with Our Chicken

El Pollo Loco is a differentiated and growing restaurant concept that specializes in fire-grilling citrus-marinated chicken in front of our customers. We operate within the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry, the LSR segment. We believe we offer the quality of food typical of fast casual restaurants while providing the speed, convenience and value typical of traditional QSRs, a combination which we call “QSR+” and which provides a value-oriented fast casual dining experience. Our distinctive menu features our signature product—citrus-marinated fire-grilled chicken—and a variety of Mexican-inspired entrees that we create from our chicken. Every day in every restaurant’s kitchen we marinate and fire-grill our chicken over open flames, hand-slice whole tomatoes, avocados, serrano peppers and cilantro to make our salsas, guacamole and cilantro dressings from scratch. The open design of our kitchens reveals our Mexican-inspired cooking process and allows our customers to watch our Grill Masters and team members fire-grill and hand-cut our signature chicken, as well as make burritos, salads, tostadas, bowls, stuffed quesadillas and chicken entrees.

We offer our customers healthier alternatives to traditional food on the go, served by our engaging team members in a colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environment. We serve individual and family-sized chicken meals, a variety of Mexican-inspired entrees, sides, and, throughout the year, on a limited-time basis, alternative proteins like shrimp, carnitas and beef. Our entrees include favorites such as our Poblano Burrito, Under 500 Calorie Mango Grilled Tostada, Ultimate Pollo Bowl, Grand Baja Shrimp Tacos and Chicken, Bacon and Guacamole Stuffed Quesadilla. Our freshly-prepared salsas and dressings are prepared daily allowing our customers to create their favorite flavor profiles to enhance their culinary experience. Our distinctive menu with healthier alternatives appeals to consumers across a wide variety of socio-economic backgrounds and drives our balanced day-part mix.

El Pollo Loco is Spanish for “The Crazy Chicken.” We opened our first location on Alvarado Street in Los Angeles, California in 1980, and have grown our restaurant system to 405 restaurants, comprised of 166 company-operated and 239 franchised restaurants as of September 24, 2014. Our restaurants are located in California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah. Our typical restaurant is a free-standing building with drive-thru service that ranges in size from 2,400 to 3,000 square feet with seating for approximately 70 people. Our restaurants generated company-operated restaurant revenue of $294.3 million and $238.4 million and system-wide sales of $657.6 million and $537.7 million, for the year ended December 25, 2013, and the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, respectively.

We believe the quality of our food and dining experience and the affordable prices we offer our customers drive our operating results, as illustrated by the following:

 

    we achieved positive comparable restaurant sales growth in 13 consecutive quarters through our fiscal quarter ended September 24, 2014;

 

    our annual AUVs grew from $1.5 million in 2011 to $1.8 million in 2013;

 

    from 2011 to 2013, we increased our restaurant contribution margin for our company-operated restaurants by 230 basis points to 21.0%, and for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014, we increased our restaurant contribution margin for our company-operated restaurants by 60 basis points to 21.8%, as compared to the thirty-nine weeks ended September 25, 2013; and

 

    from 2011 to 2013, we increased our total revenue by 15.2% to $314.7 million, increased our Adjusted EBITDA (as defined under “Prospectus Summary—Summary Consolidated Financial and Other Data” above) by 39.2% to $55.0 million, and decreased our net loss from $32.5 million to $16.9 million. Included in our net loss figures for 2011 and 2013 were expenses for early extinguishment of debt totaling $20.2 million and $21.5 million, respectively. Adjusted EBITDA represents net income (loss) before interest expense, provision of income taxes and depreciation and amortization, and adjusted to exclude the impact of items that we do not consider representative of our ongoing operating performance, as identified in the reconciliation table above, under the caption “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Performance Indicators—EBITDA and Adjusted EBITDA.”

 

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Seasonal factors and the timing of holidays cause our revenue to fluctuate from quarter to quarter. Our revenue per restaurant is typically lower in the first and fourth quarters due to reduced January and December traffic and higher in the second and third quarters.

Our Industry

According to Technomic, 2013 total sales increased 3.8% to $193.3 billion for LSRs in the Technomic Top 500. In 2013, the Mexican and chicken menu categories for LSRs in the Technomic Top 500 grew 6.8% and 4.6%, respectively, outpacing the broader LSR category. We operate within the broader LSR segment, and we believe that we offer the food and dining experience of a fast-casual restaurant and the speed, value and convenience of a QSR. We believe our value-oriented fast casual positioning best aligns with the overall growth characteristics of the fast-casual restaurants because we believe we offer the method of preparation, quality of food and dining experience typical of fast casual restaurants. According to Technomic, the fast casual sub-segment grew 11% in 2013, to $27.1 billion in total sales. Technomic projects the total fast-casual sub-segment to grow to $50 billion by 2017. We believe our differentiated menu, colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environments and convenient locations position us to compete successfully against other fast-casual and QSR concepts, providing us with a large addressable market.

We believe we are also well positioned to benefit from a number of culinary and demographic trends in the United States. We expect that the trend towards healthier eating will attract and increase consumer demand for fresh and hand-prepared dishes, leading to a positive impact on our sales. Furthermore, as indicated by recent high growth in the Mexican restaurant segment, we expect to benefit from increased acceptance of Mexican food in the United States in the general market. Finally, we also anticipate benefits from the continued growth of the Hispanic population in the United States, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has grown from 50.5 million people in 2009 to 53 million people in 2012, and is projected to reach 78.7 million in 2030. The growth of the Hispanic population is expected to outpace overall population growth, and the Hispanic population as a percentage of the total U.S. population is expected to increase from 16.3% in 2011 to 21.9% by 2030.

Our Competitive Strengths

Putting the “Loco” in El Pollo Loco

We believe the following strengths differentiate us from our competitors and serve as the foundation for our continued growth:

“Loco-ly” Differentiated Restaurant Concept with Broad Appeal.  We believe our food, served in colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environments at reasonable prices, positions us well to satisfy the needs of a large segment of time-pressured mainstream food enthusiasts who seek real food, real fast and at reasonable prices. We provide our customers with the opportunity to enjoy citrus-marinated fire-grilled chicken and Mexican-inspired entrees containing distinctive ingredients such as avocados, mangos and Serrano peppers at price points that appeal to a broad consumer base. Our per-person spend of approximately $5.83 for the year ended December 25, 2013, is competitive not only within the fast-casual segment, but also within the QSR segment. We prepare our entrees to order in approximately four minutes and allow our customers the option to create their favorite flavor profiles using our freshly-prepared salsas before they enjoy their meal in one of our dining rooms or take their meals to go from the counter or the drive-thru. We also believe that our concept, which integrates the complexity of creating real food in real kitchens with the speed of our service model and the skill of our trained and certified Grill Masters, provides a layer of competitive insulation around our restaurant model. Based on an external research report and a customer satisfaction survey, we believe our positioning appeals to a broad customer base, and that our brand crosses over traditional age, ethnic and income demographics; giving today’s consumers the best of both the fast casual dining and QSR segments. Our differentiated QSR+ positioning sources traffic from both dining segments and as a result continues to fuel our organic transaction growth.

Mexican-Inspired, Fresh-Made “Crazy You Can Taste” Fire-Grilled Chicken and Entrees.  Our signature product is our chicken marinated with a proprietary recipe of citrus, garlic and spices, which serves as the foundation of our distinctive menu of flavorful bone-in chicken meals and Mexican-inspired entrees. With menu items such as our Chicken Avocado Burrito, Chicken Tostada Salad, Pollo Bowl and Chicken Avocado Stuffed Quesadilla, we believe we offer our customers a healthier alternative to traditional food on-the-go. Our entrees are prepared using fresh

 

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ingredients in recipes inspired by Mexican cuisine. The majority of our menu items are made from scratch, including our bone-in chicken and chicken breasts, rice, salsas, guacamole and cilantro dressing, meaning that we make them without pre-prepared ingredients. These items start with our chicken, which is marinated in our restaurants daily. From there, our Grill Masters fire-grill and hand-chop our chicken, forming the foundation of our entrees. To complement our entrees, our team members slice whole tomatoes, avocados, serrano peppers and cilantro to create our salsas, guacamole and cilantro dressings. In addition, our rice is sautéed, seasoned and simmered in our restaurants daily. Our salsas and dressings complement our recipes and allow our customers to enhance their culinary experience with customized flavor profiles.

Our strategic approach to menu design has resulted in a balanced menu with broad appeal, as demonstrated by our balanced day-part mix. Our bone-in chicken meals and Mexican-inspired entrees accounted for 47% and 53% of our company-operated restaurant sales, respectively, for the year ended December 25, 2013. Our individual and family-sized chicken meals appeal to customers looking to dine at the restaurant or take out during dinner time, while our more-portable Mexican-inspired entrees draw traffic from customers at lunch time or for an afternoon snack, enabling us to generate sales almost equally between lunch and dinner. We believe our family-sized chicken meals provide a healthier and convenient alternative for mothers and families looking to solve the “dinnertime dilemma” of providing their families with high-quality meals without investing significant time or money. For the year ended December 25, 2013, approximately 28% of our company-operated sales were generated from family-sized meals.

Inviting Experience That Welcomes Our Customers.  We believe our new Hacienda restaurant design creates an inviting restaurant environment. The exteriors of our restaurants feature a signature grill architectural element that reinforces our core brand, and our interiors feature large, open kitchens that allow customers to watch our Grill Masters prepare our fire-grilled chicken. Our restaurants also feature complimentary self-serve salsa bars that are located at the front of our restaurants for added convenience. The salsa bar invites customers to customize their meals with several salsas prepared fresh every day. Our colorful and contemporary dining rooms include both comfortable booths and chairs, while large windows and soft lighting fill our restaurants with light and warmth. Our customers are responding positively to our new Hacienda design, as comparable restaurant sales have increased on average an additional 3% at remodeled locations. We expect to have remodeled over 50% of our restaurant system by the end of 2014 and to have completed the remodeling program by 2018.

We believe the atmosphere and quality of service we provide our customers encourages repeat visits and brand advocacy and drives increased sales. Our team members are trained to engage with our customers in a genuine way to provide a personalized experience and strive to make each experience in our restaurant better than the last.

Well-Developed Operations Infrastructure that Allows for Real-time Control, Fast Feedback and Innovation.  We believe satisfying our customers’ dining needs is the foundation of our business and we have a well-developed operations platform that allows us to measure our performance in meeting and exceeding those needs. We utilize a state-of-the-art operations dashboard that aggregates real-time, restaurant level information from nearly every aspect of our business. The dashboard provides corporate and field management, as well as restaurant-level operators, insight into how we are performing both from the customer’s perspective but also through the eyes of experienced internal auditors. To put the metrics into perspective, we are able to measure current performance against benchmarks derived from a broad selection of fast casual and QSR brands. At the restaurant level, we use sophisticated technology to constantly monitor key operational data regarding sales performance, speed of service metrics, and food and labor cost controls. The intelligence provided by our operations infrastructure allows both our company-operated and our franchised restaurant managers to make rapid and objective decisions to maintain our standards for food and service.

Developing High AUVs and Strong Unit Economics One Chicken at a Time.  We believe our differentiated QSR+ positioning drives restaurant operating results that are competitive with other leading restaurant concepts in both the fast-casual and QSR industry segments. We believe our restaurant model is designed to generate strong cash flow, consistent restaurant-level financial results and high returns on invested capital. For the year ended December 25, 2013, our company-operated restaurants generated an average annual sales per restaurant of approximately $1.8 million and restaurant level contribution margins of 21.0%.

Experienced Leadership.  Our senior management team has extensive operating experience, with an average of over 20 years of experience each in the restaurant industry. We are led by our Chief Executive Officer, Steve Sather, who joined us in 2006. Since naming Steve our CEO in January 2011, we have further enhanced our senior leadership

 

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team by adding Larry Roberts as our Chief Financial Officer, Ed Valle as our Chief Marketing Officer and Kay Bogeajis as our Chief Operating Officer. Under Steve’s direction, the team has added new layers of revenue through menu innovation, as well as redefined our marketing strategy and enhanced the customer experience. These initiatives have resulted in comparable restaurant sales growth that has outperformed both the QSR and the fast casual segments in each of the past 13 quarters. We believe our senior management team is a key driver of our success and has positioned us well for long-term growth.

Our Growth Strategy

This Bird is “En Fuego”

We believe we are well-positioned to take advantage of significant growth opportunities because of our differentiated QSR+ positioning, signature fire-grilled chicken, disciplined business model and strong unit economics. We plan to continue to expand our business and drive restaurant sales growth, improve margins and enhance our competitive positioning by executing on the following strategies:

Expand Our Restaurant Base.  We believe we are in the early stages of our growth story with 405 current locations in five states, as of September 24, 2014, and estimate, based on internal analysis and a study prepared by Buxton Co., a long-term total restaurant potential in the United States of approximately 2,300 locations. For the year ended December 25, 2013, we opened two new company-operated and five new franchised restaurants, and in 2014 we intend to open ten to eleven new company-operated and four new franchised restaurants across California, Nevada and Texas. Over the long term, we plan to grow the number of El Pollo Loco restaurants by 8% to 10% annually. There is no guarantee that we will be able to increase the number of our restaurants. We may be unsuccessful in expanding within our existing or into new markets for a variety of reasons described herein under “Risk Factors” above, including competition for customers, sites, franchisees, employees, licenses and financing.

We believe our restaurant model is designed to generate strong cash flow, attractive restaurant-level financial results and high returns on invested capital. Our current investment model targets an average new unit cash investment of $1,400,000, net of tenant allowances, an AUV of approximately $1.8 million and a cash-on-cash return in excess of 25% in a restaurant’s third full year of operations, although there is no guarantee that these targets will be met. We closed six restaurants in 2011, did not close any in 2012, closed three in 2013, and have closed one in 2014 to date. We did not open any new restaurants in 2011, but opened four in 2012, two in 2013, and eight in 2014 to date. For the year ended December 25, 2013, the new restaurants opened in 2012 and 2013 had weekly AUVs averaging $33,900 and annualized cash-on-cash returns of over 25%. For the period from December 26, 2013 through September 24, 2014, they had weekly AUVs averaging $35,740 and annualized cash-on-cash returns of 34%. While most of our growth in 2014 has been derived from the expansion of our company-operated restaurant base, we will continue to strategically develop our franchisee relationships and grow our franchised portfolio within existing and new markets. For example, during July and August of 2014, we entered into exclusive franchise development agreements with AA Pollo for eight restaurants in the greater San Antonio area and twelve restaurants in the Houston area, and in September 2014 we completed the sale of six company-operated restaurants in the greater San Antonio area to AA Pollo, as a franchisee. We view our franchise program as an important tool for expanding the brand that allows us to increase our restaurant penetration.

In our existing markets, where we believe we possess strong brand awareness and a loyal following, we have identified over 325 potential new trade areas for restaurant development. As we continue to increase and strengthen our position in our core markets, we also intend to expand our presence into key, contiguous new markets. We believe a contiguous market expansion strategy will provide us with an attractive opportunity to leverage our brand awareness and infrastructure while increasing our geographic presence. After thoroughly researching potential new markets in the Southwest region, we have selected Houston, Texas as our next new market. In Houston, we have identified an initial 80 trade areas for potential restaurant development by us or our franchisees over the next several years, and we believe that there are additional development opportunities beyond this. In furtherance of this strategy, in September 2014 we entered into an exclusive franchise development agreement with AA Pollo for twelve restaurants in the Houston area and on October 6, 2014 we opened our first location in Houston.

Increase Our Comparable Restaurant Sales.  Our system has experienced 13 straight quarters of comparable restaurant sales growth through our fiscal quarter ended September 24, 2014. We aim to build on this momentum by

 

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increasing customer frequency, attracting new customers and improving per person spend. Furthermore, we are well positioned to benefit from shifting culinary and demographic trends in the United States.

Menu Strategy and Evolution.  We will continue to adapt our menu to create entrees that complement our signature fire-grilled chicken and that reinforce our differentiated QSR+ positioning. We believe we have opportunities for menu innovation as we look to provide customers more choices through customization and limited time alternative proteins, such as carne asada. In addition, we will continue to tap in to the need for healthier offerings by building on the success of our recently launched “Under 500 Calorie” menu and other “better for you” products. Our marketing and operations teams collaborate to ensure that the items developed in our test kitchen can be executed to our high standards in our restaurants with the speed and value that our customers have come to expect.

Increase Brand Awareness and Consumer Engagement.  We engage consumers through our 10-module product calendar which features seasonal favorites from our “Under 500 Calorie” low calorie menu for New Year’s resolutions to Signature Salads in Spring, and carnitas for the winter holiday season. Our key points of differentiation are communicated through our new advertising campaign “Crazy You Can Taste,” which highlights the lengths we go through to deliver real food throughout the year. We tailor our message from television and direct mail, which garners broad exposure, to our cost effective e-mail marketing program My Loco Rewards and social media platform where we engage in one-on-one conversation to solicit new ideas and deepen the relationship between our customers and our brand. Within our restaurants we continue to engage our customers at various points along their path to purchase to further drive our differentiation. We believe our messaging and communication channels work synergistically and have resulted in a 9% increase in new and lapsed users from 2012 to 2014. These new and lapsed users now account for approximately 15% of total visits.

Hacienda Remodel Program.  In 2011, we launched our new Hacienda remodeling program, which has resulted on average in an additional 3% comparable restaurant sales for remodeled restaurants. The redesigned Hacienda restaurants highlight our roots, while offering a more modern feel and upscale dining experience. We and our franchisees have remodeled 197 restaurants as of September 24, 2014. We expect to have remodeled over 50% of our restaurant system by the end of 2014 and to have completed the remodeling program by 2018.

Enhance Restaurant Operations and Leverage Our Infrastructure.  Since 2011, we have increased our restaurant contribution margin by 310 basis points, to 21.8% for the thirty-nine weeks ended September 24, 2014. We believe we can further improve our margins by maintaining fiscal discipline, increasing fixed-cost leverage and enhancing our purchasing efforts. We currently have an infrastructure that allows us and our franchisee partners to grow and manage the productivity of each restaurant on a real-time basis. Additionally, we believe, as our restaurant base matures and AUVs increase, we will be able to leverage corporate costs and improve margins, as general and administrative expenses grow at a slower rate than our revenues.

Properties

Our restaurants are either free-standing facilities, typically with drive-thru capability, or in-line. A typical restaurant generally ranges from 2,400 to 3,000 square feet with seating for approximately 70 people. For a majority of our company-operated restaurants, we lease land on which our restaurants are built. Our leases generally have terms of 20 years, with two or three renewal terms of five years. Restaurant leases provide for a specified annual rent, and some leases call for additional or contingent rent based on revenue above specified levels. Generally, our leases are “net leases” that require us to pay a pro rata share of taxes, insurance and maintenance costs. We own 15 properties and currently operate or license to franchisees the right to operate restaurants on all of these properties. All 15 of these owned properties are subject to mortgages that secure our senior secured credit facilities. In addition, we lease 159 properties for company-operated restaurants. As of September 24, 2014, our restaurant system consisted of 405 restaurants comprised of 166 company-operated restaurants and 239 franchised restaurants located in California, Arizona, Nevada, Texas and Utah. In addition, we currently license our brand to two restaurants in the Philippines, the licenses of which are currently set to expire in 2016. We have not included these two licensed restaurants as part of our unit count as presented in this document.

 

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We lease our executive offices, consisting of approximately 24,890 square feet in Costa Mesa, California, for a term expiring in 2018, plus one five-year extension option. We believe our current office space is suitable and adequate for its intended purposes and our near-term expansion plans.

 

LOGO

 

State    Company-
Operated
     Franchised      Total  

California

     147         208         355   

Nevada

     18         4         22   

Arizona

     0         18         18   

Texas

     0         8         8   

Utah

     1         1         2   

Total

     166         239         405   

Site Selection and Expansion

New Restaurant Development

We believe we are in the early stages of our growth story and that our restaurant model is designed to generate strong cash flow, attractive restaurant-level financial results and high returns on invested capital, which we believe provides us with a strong foundation for expansion. For the year ended December 25, 2013, we opened two new company-operated and five new franchised restaurants, and in 2014 we intend to open between ten and eleven new company-operated and four new franchised restaurants, expanding in the process into Houston, Texas. There is no guarantee that we will be able to open new company-operated or franchised restaurants, or to increase the overall number of our restaurants. We may be unsuccessful in expanding within our existing or into new markets for a

variety of reasons described above under “Risk Factors,” including competition for customers, sites, franchisees, employees, licenses and financing. Over the long term, we plan to grow the number of El Pollo Loco restaurants by 8% to 10% annually.

Our strategy for entering new markets is to lead with company development while recruiting and developing franchisees to open new restaurants with us during the second year of new market entry. This will enable us to establish a development, operations and marketing infrastructure to help ensure that we maximize our consumer proposition and support franchisees as they enter the market. We anticipate that entering new markets with both company and franchisee development is the best way to establish our brand, as it will enable us to scale rapidly, thereby driving operational and marketing efficiencies.

 

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To date, we have opened eight restaurants in 2014 and have another four restaurants under construction. In addition, we have fifteen restaurant sites in various stages of development with two in permitting and another thirteen in lease negotiations.

Over the next three to five years, our expansion strategy will focus on the southwestern region of the United States. We believe this market provides an attractive opportunity to leverage our brand awareness and infrastructure. After thoroughly researching this region, we selected Houston, Texas, as our next new market and plan to build two to three restaurants in 2014. In furtherance of this strategy, in August 2014 we entered into an exclusive franchise development agreement with AA Pollo for twelve restaurants in the Houston area and on October 6, 2014 we opened our first location in Houston. We have identified 80 trade areas in Houston for potential restaurant development by us or our franchisees over the next several years and we believe there are additional development opportunities beyond this.

Houston is an attractive market for a number of reasons, including:

 

    a large, rapidly growing population base;

 

    demographics similar to our existing markets, including a significant Hispanic population;

 

    attractive limited service restaurant traffic growth trends;

 

    availability of attractive real estate and favorable permitting and construction timelines; and

 

    favorable construction and restaurant operating costs.

Site Selection Process

We consider the location of a restaurant to be a critical variable in its long-term success and as such, we devote significant effort to the investigation and evaluation of potential restaurant locations. Our in-house development team has over 95 years of combined experience building such brands as Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Starbucks, Jack-in-the-Box and Wendy’s. We use a combination of our in-house development team and outside real estate consultants to locate, evaluate and negotiate new sites using various criteria including demographic characteristics, daytime population thresholds and traffic patterns, along with the potential visibility of, and accessibility to, the restaurant. The process for selecting locations incorporates management’s experience and expertise and includes extensive data collection and analysis. Additionally, we use information and intelligence gathered from managers and other restaurant personnel that live in or near the neighborhoods we are considering.

Based on our experience and results, we are currently focused on developing freestanding sites with drive-thrus. Our restaurants perform well in a variety of neighborhoods, which gives us greater flexibility and lowers operating risk when selecting new restaurant locations.

We approve new restaurants only after formal review by our real estate site approval committee, which includes most of senior management, and monitor restaurants’ ongoing performances to inform future site selection decisions.

Restaurant Design

After identifying a lease site, we commence our restaurant buildout. Our typical restaurant is a free-standing building with drive-thru service that ranges in size from 2,400 to 3,000 square feet. Our Hacienda restaurant design creates a colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environment. The exteriors of our restaurant feature a signature grill architectural element that reinforces the core brand element and our interiors feature large exhibition kitchens that allow customers to watch our Grill Masters prepare our fire-grilled chicken. Our colorful and contemporary dining rooms, with seating for approximately 70 people, include both comfortable booths and chairs, while large windows and soft lighting fill our restaurants with light and warmth.

Our new restaurants are either ground-up prototypes or conversions. We estimate that each ground-up buildout of a restaurant will require an average total cash investment of approximately $1.4 million, net of tenant allowances. We

 

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estimate that each conversion will require a total cash investment of $0.6 million to $0.8 million. On average, it takes us approximately 12 to 18 months from identification of the specific site to opening the restaurant. In order to maintain consistency of food and customer service, as well as our colorful, bright and contemporary restaurant environment, we have set processes and timelines to follow for all restaurant openings.

Our restaurants are constructed in approximately 12 weeks and the development and construction of our new sites is the responsibility of our Development Department. A conversion typically takes approximately two months to complete. Several real estate managers are responsible for locating and leasing potential restaurant sites. Construction managers are then responsible for building the restaurants, and several staff members manage purchasing, budgeting, scheduling and other related administrative functions.

Restaurant Management and Operations

Service

We are extremely focused on customer service. We aim to provide fast, friendly service on a solid foundation of dedicated, driven team members and managers. Our cashiers are trained on the menu items we offer and offer customers thoughtful suggestions to enhance the ordering process. Our team members and managers are responsible for our dining room environment, personally visiting tables to ensure every customer’s satisfaction, and monitoring the fresh salsa bar and beverage station for cleanliness and an ample supply of products.

Operations

We utilize systems that are aimed at measuring our ability to deliver a “best in class” experience for our customers. These systems include customer surveys, mystery shopper scores and speed of service performance trends. The operational results from all of these sources are then presented on an operations dashboard that displays the measures in an easy-to-read online format that corporate and restaurant-level management and franchisees can utilize in order to identify strengths and opportunities and develop specific plans for continuous performance improvement.

We measure the execution of our system standards within each restaurant through our commitment to our Quality, Service & Cleanliness (“QSC”) audit program. These audits are conducted in each restaurant twice yearly, but may be more frequent based upon restaurant performance. Additionally, we have food safety and quality assurance programs designed to maintain the highest standards for food and food preparation procedures used by both company-operated and franchised restaurants. We employ a team of quality assurance managers and third party auditors that perform our restaurant audits.

Managers and Team Members

Each of our restaurants typically has a general manager, an assistant manager, two to three shift leaders, and two team leaders. There are between 15 and 35 team members who prepare our food fresh daily and provide customer service. To lead our restaurant management teams, we have area leaders, each of whom is responsible for eight to 12 restaurants. Overseeing the area leaders are two directors of operations, each responsible for 70 to 90 restaurants. The vice president of operations leads our company-operated restaurants, managing both sales and profitability targets.

We are selective in our hiring processes, aiming to staff our restaurants with team members that are friendly, customer focused, and driven to provide high-quality products. We employ a unique approach to selecting future team members. Our team members are cross-trained in several disciplines to maximize depth of competency and efficiency in critical restaurant functions. Our focus on hiring the best possible employees has enabled us to develop a culture that breeds loyalty throughout our employee base. Many team members and managers have been employed by us for longer than 15 years, and it is not rare to identify team members with more than 20 years of seniority.

Training

We believe we have created a culture of constant learning. On the first day of employment, team members are introduced to our Standards and Procedures Educational Card System (“SPECS”) training program, which is a comprehensive training program developed to lead team members through the training process in easy to use, function-based, educational card modules. Each team member can learn at their own pace, focusing on the modules that apply to their initial role on the restaurant team.

 

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The vast majority of our restaurant management staff is comprised of former team members who have advanced along the El Pollo Loco five tier career path. Skilled team members who display leadership qualities are encouraged to enter the team leader training program. Successive steps along the management path add increasing levels of duties and responsibilities. Each stage in the management training path requires greater training periods, culminating in the general manager training process, comprised of seven weeks of intensive classroom and hands-on training in a certified training restaurant.

Grill Masters

Our reputation is built on our signature product—fired-grilled chicken marinated in citrus and garlic—which is grilled and hand-cut to order by our Grill Masters. Accordingly, we staff each of our restaurants with three to four highly-trained Grill Masters who share our commitment to high-quality food. We provide each of them with intensive grilling training, and place them in our open kitchens where our customers can watch them create our signature products.

Franchise Program

Overview

We use a franchising strategy to increase new restaurant growth in certain markets, leveraging the ownership of entrepreneurs with specific local market expertise and requiring a relatively minimal capital commitment by us. As of September 24, 2014, there were a total of 239 franchised restaurants. Franchisees range in size from single-restaurant operators to the largest franchisee, which owned 59 restaurants as of September 24, 2014. Our existing franchise base consists of many successful, longstanding, multi-unit restaurant operators. As of September 24, 2014, approximately 74% of franchised restaurants were owned and operated by franchisees that have been with us for more than 20 years. Since the beginning of 2008, our franchisees have opened 26 new El Pollo Loco restaurants (net), representing a 12.6% net increase from 2008 to September 24, 2014.

We believe the franchise revenue generated from our franchise base has historically served as an important source of stable and recurring cash flows to us and, as such, we plan to expand our base of franchised restaurants. In existing markets, we encourage growth from current franchisees. In our expansion markets, we seek highly qualified and experienced new franchisees for multi-unit development opportunities. We seek franchisees of successful, non- competitive brands operating in our expansion markets. Through strategic networking and participation in select franchise conferences, we aim to identify highly-qualified prospects. Additionally, we market our franchise opportunities with the support of a franchising section on our website and printed brochures.

Franchise Owner Support

We believe creating a foundation of initial and on-going support is important to future success for both our franchisees and our brand. For that reason, we have structured our corporate staff, programs and communication systems to ensure that we are delivering high-quality support to our franchisees.

We have a mandatory training program that was designed to ensure that our franchise owners and their managers are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary for success. The program consists of hands-on training in the operation and management of the restaurant. Training is conducted by a general training manager who has been certified by us for training. Instructional materials for the initial training program include our operations manual, SPECS crew training system, wall charts, job aids, recipe books, product build cards, management training materials, ServSafe (food safety) book, videos and other materials we may create from time to time. Training must be successfully completed before a trainee can be assigned to a restaurant as a manager.

We also provide numerous opportunities for communication and shared feedback between us and franchise owners. Currently, we hold a franchise business update for all franchisees each month which includes multi-functional company representation and executive attendance. On a quarterly basis, we meet with our Franchise Leadership Team and Marketing Advisory Committee to share ideas and resolve issues. Yearly we hold a conference for our franchisees, vendors and company leaders to celebrate our shared successes, discuss best practices and set the course for the following year.

 

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Marketing and Advertising

We promote our restaurants and products through our “Crazy You Can Taste” advertising campaign. The campaign aims to deliver our message of going to whatever lengths necessary to deliver fresh and healthier product offerings. The campaign emphasizes our points of differentiation, from our fresh ingredients and scratch preparation, to the cooking of our citrus-marinated chicken on open fire grills in full view in our kitchens.

We use multiple marketing channels, including television to broadly drive brand awareness and purchases of our featured products every five weeks. We advertise on local network and cable television in our primary markets, and utilize heavier cable schedules for some of our less developed markets. We complement this with direct mail and our My Loco Rewards e-mail marketing program, which allows us to reach more than 180,000 members. My Loco Rewards is our e-club program. The program offers every member that joins a complimentary order of our handmade guacamole and chips. We engage members via e-mails featuring news of promotional offers, member rewards and product previews. Members are offered complimentary two-piece meals or tostada salads during their birthday months. My Loco Rewards also allows members to voice their opinions through surveys that provide us with information that helps us define future product concepts. In addition, we use our database to survey and solicit new product ideas, which allows us to create a comprehensive product calendar that extends 18 months forward.

Through our public relations efforts we engage notable food editors and bloggers on a range of topics to help promote our products. In addition, we engage in one on one conversations using a portfolio of social media platforms which include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We also use social media as a research and customer service tool, and apply insight we gain to future marketing efforts.

We created El Pollo Loco Charities, a non-profit charity, to support the communities surrounding our restaurants. El Pollo Loco Charities has provided over 10,000 meals a year to underprivileged families through organizations like South County Food Outreach, Habitat for Humanity, Children’s Institute and CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).

Purchasing and Distribution

Maintaining a high degree of quality in our restaurants depends in part on our ability to acquire fresh ingredients and other necessary supplies that meet our specifications from reliable suppliers. We regularly inspect vendors to ensure that products purchased conform to our standards and that prices offered are competitive. We have a quality assurance team that performs comprehensive supplier audits on a frequency schedule based on the potential food safety risk of each product. We contract with MBM Corporation (our “primary distributor”), a major foodservice distributor, for substantially all of our food and supplies, including the poultry our restaurants receive from suppliers. Our primary distributor delivers supplies to most of our restaurants three times per week. Our distributor relationship with our primary distributor has been in place since 1997. Our restaurants located in Texas and Utah utilize regional distributors. Our franchisees are required to use our primary distributor or an approved regional distributor and franchisees must purchase food and supplies from approved suppliers. In our normal course of business, we evaluate bids from multiple suppliers for various products. Poultry is our largest product cost item and represented approximately 41% of our total food and paper costs for 2013. Fluctuations in supply and prices can significantly impact our restaurant service and profit performance. We actively manage cost volatility for poultry by negotiating with multiple suppliers and entering into what we believe are the most favorable contract terms given existing market conditions. In the past, we have entered into contracts ranging from two months to three years depending on current and expected market conditions. We currently source poultry from four suppliers with two accounting for approximately 90% of our planned purchases in 2014. We have entered into fixed price contracts with our two largest poultry suppliers through the end of 2014 with pricing generally favorable to current spot prices.

Intellectual Property

We have registered El Pollo Loco®, Pollo Bowl®, The Crazy Chicken® and certain other names used by our restaurants as trademarks or service marks with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and El Pollo Loco® in approximately 42 foreign countries. Our current brand campaign, Crazy You Can Taste™, has also been approved for registration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In addition, the El Pollo Loco logo, website name and address and Facebook and Twitter accounts are our intellectual property. Our policy is to pursue and maintain

 

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registration of service marks and trademarks in those countries where business strategy requires us to do so and to oppose vigorously any infringement or dilution of the service marks or trademarks in such countries. We maintain the recipe for our chicken marinade, as well as certain proprietary standards, specifications and operating procedures, as trade secrets or confidential proprietary information.

Competition

We operate in the restaurant industry, which is highly competitive and fragmented. The number, size and strength of competitors vary by region. Our competition includes a variety of locally owned restaurants and national and regional chains that offer dine-in, carry-out and delivery services. Our competition in the broadest perspective includes restaurants, pizza parlors, convenience food stores, delicatessens, supermarkets and club stores. There are no significant direct competitors with respect to menus that feature marinated, fire-grilled chicken. However, we indirectly compete with fast casual restaurants, including Chipotle, Panera, Qdoba, Rubio’s and Taco Cabana, among others, and with chicken-specialty QSRs and Mexican QSRs, such as Chick-fil-A, Church’s Chicken, KFC, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen and Taco Bell, among others.

We believe competition within the fast casual restaurant segment is based primarily on ambience, price, taste, quality and the freshness of the menu items as well as the convenience of drive-thru service. We also believe that QSR competition is based primarily on quality, taste, speed of service, value, brand recognition, restaurant location and customer service. In addition, we compete with franchisors of other restaurant concepts for prospective franchisees.

Environmental Matters

Our operations are also subject to federal, state and local laws and regulations relating to environmental protection, including regulation of discharges into the air and water, storage and disposal of waste and clean-up of contaminated soil and groundwater. Under various federal, state and local laws, an owner or operator of real estate may be liable for the costs of removal or remediation of hazardous or toxic substances on, in or emanating from such property. Such liability may be imposed without regard to whether the owner or operator knew of, or was responsible for, the presence of such hazardous or toxic substances.

Certain of our properties may be located on sites that we know or suspect have been used by prior owners or operators as retail gas stations. Such properties previously contained underground storage tanks (“USTs”), and while we are not aware of any sites with USTs remaining, it is possible that some of these properties may currently contain abandoned underground storage tanks. We are aware of contamination from a release of hazardous materials by a previous owner at two of our owned properties and one of our leased properties. We do not believe that we have contributed to the contamination at any of these properties. The appropriate state agencies have been notified and these issues are being handled without disruption to our business. It is possible that petroleum products and other contaminants may have been released at other properties into the soil or groundwater. Under applicable federal and state environmental laws, we, as the current owner or operator of these sites, may be jointly and severally liable for the costs of investigation and remediation of any contamination. Although we lease most of our properties, or when we own the property we obtain certain assurances from the prior owner or often obtain indemnity agreements from third parties, we cannot assure you that we will not be liable for environmental conditions relating to our prior, existing or future restaurants or restaurant sites. If we are found liable for the costs of remediation of contamination at or emanating from any of our properties, our operating expenses would likely increase and our operating results would be materially adversely affected.

Since 2000, we have obtained “Phase One” environmental reports for new restaurants. Where warranted, we obtain updated reports, and if necessary in rare cases we obtain “Phase Two” reports. We have not conducted a comprehensive environmental review of all of our properties or operations. No assurance can be given that we have identified all of the potential environmental liabilities at our properties or that such liabilities will not have a material adverse effect on our financial condition.

Regulation and Compliance

We are subject to extensive federal, state and local government regulation, including those relating to, among others, public health and safety, zoning and fire codes, and franchising. Failure to obtain or retain food or other licenses

 

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and registrations or exemptions would adversely affect the operations of restaurants. Although we have not experienced and do not anticipate any significant problems in obtaining required licenses, permits or approvals, any difficulties, delays or failures in obtaining such licenses, permits, registrations, exemptions, or approvals could delay or prevent the opening of, or adversely impact the viability of, a restaurant in a particular area.

The development and construction of additional restaurants will be subject to compliance with applicable zoning, land use and environmental regulations. We believe federal and state environmental regulations have not had a material effect on operations, but more stringent and varied requirements of local government bodies with respect to zoning, land use and environmental factors could delay construction and increase development costs for new restaurants.

We are also subject to the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 and various federal and state laws governing such matters as minimum wages, overtime, unemployment tax rates, workers’ compensation rates, citizenship requirements and other working conditions. A significant portion of the hourly staff is paid at rates consistent with the applicable federal or state minimum wage and, accordingly, increases in the minimum wage will increase labor costs. We are also subject to the Americans With Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in public accommodations and employment, which may require us to design or modify our restaurants to make reasonable accommodations for disabled persons.

For a discussion of the various risks we face from regulation and compliance matters, see “Risk Factors.”

Management Information Systems

All of our company-operated and franchised restaurants use computerized point-of-sale and back office systems, which we believe are scalable to support our long term growth plans. The point-of-sale system provides a touch screen interface and integrated, high speed credit card and gift card processing. The point-of-sale system is used to collect daily transaction data, which generates information about daily sales and product mix that we actively analyze.

Our in-restaurant back office computer system is designed to assist in the management of our restaurants and provide labor and food cost management tools. The system also provides corporate headquarters and restaurant operations management quick access to detailed business data and reduces the time spent by our restaurant managers on administrative needs. The system also provides sales, bank deposit and variance data to our accounting department on a daily basis. For company-operated restaurants, we use this data to generate weekly consolidated reports regarding sales and other key measures, as well as preliminary weekly profit and loss statements for each location with final reports following the end of each period.

Employees

As of November 14, 2014, we had approximately 4,767 employees, of whom approximately 4,625 were hourly restaurant employees comprised of 3,978 crewmembers, 169 general managers, 194 assistant managers, 249 shift leaders and 35 employees in limited-time roles as acting managers or managers in training. The remaining 142 employees were corporate and office personnel. None of our employees are part of a collective bargaining agreement, and we believe our relationships with our employees are satisfactory.

Legal Proceedings

On or about February 24, 2014, a former employee filed a class action in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Orange, against EPL on behalf of all putative class members (all hourly employees from 2010 to the present) alleging certain violations of California labor laws, including failure to pay overtime compensation, failure to provide meal periods and rest breaks and failure to provide itemized wage statements. The putative lead plaintiff’s requested remedies include compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief, disgorgement of profits and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. No specific amount of damages sought was specified in the complaint. We were served with the complaint on March 3, 2014. While we intend to vigorously defend against this action, including its class certification, the ultimate outcome of the case is presently not determinable as it is in a preliminary phase. Thus, we cannot at this time determine the likelihood of an adverse judgment nor a likely range of damages in the event of an adverse judgment. Any settlement of or judgment with a negative outcome arising from such lawsuit could have an adverse material impact.

 

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We are also involved in various other claims and legal actions that arise in the ordinary course of business. We do not believe that the ultimate resolution of these other actions will have a material adverse effect on our financial position, results of operations, liquidity and capital resources. A significant increase in the number of claims or an increase in amounts owing under successful claims could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.

 

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MANAGEMENT

Directors and Executive Officers Upon Completion of the Offering

The following table sets forth the name, age and position of individuals who currently serve as the directors and executive officers of El Pollo Loco Holdings, Inc.

 

Name

   Age     

Position

Stephen J. Sather

     66       Director, President and Chief Executive Officer

Laurance Roberts

     54       Chief Financial Officer

Kay Bogeajis

     59       Chief Operating Officer

Edward Valle

     53       Chief Marketing Officer

Michael G. Maselli

     54       Chairman and Director

Dean C. Kehler

     57       Director

Wesley W. Barton

     37       Director

John M. Roth

     56       Director

Douglas K. Ammerman

     62       Director

Samuel N. Borgese

     66       Director

Stephen J. Sather has been a director and our Chief Executive Officer and President since 2010. From 2006 to 2010, Mr. Sather was our Senior Vice President of Operations. From 2002 to 2005, he was Senior Vice President of Retail Operations for Great Circle Family Foods, a major California franchisee of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts stores. Mr. Sather holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Based on his extensive industry and management experience in the casual dining and quick-service sectors, his familiarity with us, his deep understanding of restaurant operations, and his work at a franchisee organization, Mr. Sather is well-qualified to lead us and to serve on our board.

Laurance Roberts has been our Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer since July 2013. From 2008 to 2012 he was Chief Operating Officer for KFC, a major fried chicken restaurant chain and a division of Yum Brands. In 2008, he was also General Manager for KFC Restaurant Operating Company. Before that, he spent three years as Chief Financial Officer of KFC, and three years as Chief Financial Officer of Yum Brands’ Pizza Hut joint venture in the United Kingdom. Mr. Roberts holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Bucknell University.

Kay Bogeajis has been our Chief Operating Officer since July 2013. From 2007 to 2013, she was Vice President of Retail Operations for Peet’s Coffee & Tea. From 1997 to 2007, Ms. Bogeajis was employed by Yum Brands, where from 2003 to 2007 she served as Head Coach of Western Operations and where from 2001 to 2003 she was Vice President of Systemwide Operations for the Taco Bell division. Ms. Bogeajis has a Bachelor of Science degree from San Diego State University.

Edward Valle has been our Chief Marketing Officer since October 2011. From 2009 to 2010, he was Chief Marketing Strategist for Choice Hotels International, responsible for brand strategy, advertising, marketing, media, promotional and loyalty initiatives. From 2005 to 2009, he was Vice President of Marketing at the Panera Bread Company. Before that, he held marketing leadership positions at Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway Restaurants and Diageo. Mr. Valle holds an MBA from Fordham University and a bachelor’s degree in operations and logistics management from Michigan State University.

Michael G. Maselli has been Chairman of our Board of Directors since 2011. Mr. Maselli is a managing director of Trimaran Fund Management, L.L.C. Before joining Trimaran in February 2003, Mr. Maselli worked in the Corporate and Leverage Finance Groups of CIBC World Markets. Prior to joining CIBC in 1997, Mr. Maselli served as a Managing Director in Bear Stearns’ corporate finance group and, prior to that, as a Vice President at Kidder Peabody & Co. Incorporated. Mr. Maselli has served on the board of directors of Norcraft Companies, Inc. since July 2013, and on board of managers of its predecessor company since 2003. Mr. Maselli currently also serves on the board of Educational Services of America, Inc. He previously served on the board of directors of Standard Steel, LLC, and was director as well as Chairman of the Board of CB Holding Corp. Mr. Maselli received an MBA with distinction

 

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from The A.B. Freeman School at Tulane University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Colorado. With his extensive background in banking, finance, and private equity, his supervisory and investment experience in a variety of industries, and his knowledge of us and our affiliates, Mr. Maselli is well-qualified to serve as our Chairman.

Dean C. Kehler has been a director since 2005. In 2000, he co-founded Trimaran, one of our principal investors, where he is a Managing Partner. From 1995 to 2000, Mr. Kehler held senior positions at CIBC, including Vice Chairman of CIBC World Markets Corp. Mr. Kehler has served on the board of directors of KCAP Financial, Inc., since February 2012. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Because of his strong background in banking and finance, his many years of experience overseeing this and other corporations, and his knowledge of management and strategy, Mr. Kehler is well-qualified to serve on our board.

Wesley W. Barton has been a director since 2011. Since 2007, he has been employed by Trimaran Capital Partners, one of our principal investors, where he is a Vice President. From 2005 to 2007, Mr. Barton was an associate at Banc of America Securities, the broker-dealer arm of Bank of America. From 2002 to 2005, he was an associate at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. He has a JD from Duke University. Based on his skills in banking, private financing, mergers and corporate law, Mr. Barton is well-qualified to serve on our board.

John M. Roth has been a director since 2007. He has been with Freeman Spogli, one of our principal investors, since 1988, and has been a General Partner there since 1993, where he now serves as President and Chief Operating Officer. From 1984 to 1988, Mr. Roth was employed by Kidder, Peabody & Co. Incorporated in the Mergers and Acquisitions Group. Mr. Roth received an MBA and a bachelor’s degree from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Roth has served on the board of directors of Floor & Decor Holdings, Inc. since November 2010 and hhgregg, Inc., since February 2005. With his extensive experience as a board member of numerous retail and consumer businesses and his experience and insights into strategic expansion opportunities, capital markets and capitalization strategies, Mr. Roth is well-qualified to serve on our board.

Douglas K. Ammerman has been a director since 2007. Since retiring as a Partner from KPMG in 2002, Mr. Ammerman has been a director for Fidelity National Financial, Inc., since 2005, William Lyon Homes since 2007, Stantec Inc. since 2011 and Remy International, Inc., since 2013. In the past five years, Mr. Ammerman has also served on the board of Quiksilver, Inc. He holds a master’s degree in business taxation from the University of Southern California, a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Fullerton, and is a CPA, inactive. Based on his fulsome knowledge of accounting, corporate governance, and of the restaurant industry, Mr. Ammerman is well-qualified to serve on our board.

Samuel N. Borgese has been a director since 2011, and served as Chairman of our Board of Directors in 2011, while he also served as our Executive Chairman. Mr. Borgese is currently Chief Executive Officer of Logan’s Roadhouse, a casual dining steakhouse chain. From 2011 to 2014, he was Chief Executive Officer of Max Brenner International, a chocolatier. From 2008 to 2011, he was first Interim President and Chief Executive Officer and then permanent President and Chief Executive Officer of CB Holding Corp., the parent of Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse and other chains, which was owned by Trimaran, one of our principal investors. From 2003 to 2008, he was employed by Catalina Restaurant Group, first as Chief Development Officer and later as President and Chief Executive Officer. Before that, Mr. Borgese was Chief Executive Officer of an enterprise software company that supported 300 restaurant, retail and hospitality businesses in the lifecycle management of their real estate assets. Mr. Borgese holds a Certificate of Director Education from the National Association of Corporate Directors. With more than 30 years of senior executive and other leadership positions with public and private companies in the restaurant, retail and hospitality sectors, Mr. Borgese is well-qualified to serve on our board.

Board Composition and Election of Directors

Our certificate of incorporation provides that the number of directors on our board is to be fixed exclusively pursuant to board resolution. The exact size of our board shall be determined from time to time by the board. In the near future, we intend to appoint an additional director who satisfies the independence requirements of the NASDAQ. Wesley W. Barton has agreed to resign from the board upon that appointment. Our board of directors is divided into three classes, with each director serving a three-year term and with one class to be elected at each year’s annual meeting of stockholders.

 

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We are a party to a stockholders agreement with LLC, whose members are investment funds managed by affiliates of Trimaran and Freeman Spogli, certain members of our management and other third party investors. The stockholders agreement provides certain rights to LLC, including registration rights for common stock owned by LLC. The limited liability company operating agreement of LLC also provides rights to Trimaran and Freeman Spogli, including certain registration rights. See “Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions.”

Our certificate of incorporation provides that directors may only be removed for cause by a majority of the voting power of our then outstanding stock voting as a single class at a meeting of stockholders. However, if LLC beneficially owns more than 40% of our common stock, directors may be removed with or without cause, by a majority of the voting power of our outstanding stock voting as a single class. The certificate also provides that, if a director is removed or if a vacancy occurs due to either an increase in the size of the board or due to death, resignation, disqualification or other cause, the vacancy will be filled solely by the affirmative vote of a majority of the remaining directors then in office, even if less than a quorum remains.

Because LLC will continue to control more than 50% of the voting power of our common stock following this offering, we will continue to use the “controlled company” exception under NASDAQ rules. The “controlled company” exception eliminates the requirements that we have (a) a majority of independent directors on our board and (b) compensation and nominating/corporate governance committees composed entirely of independent directors, as independence is defined in Rule 10A–3 of the Exchange Act and under the listing standards. The “controlled company” exception does not modify the independence requirements for the audit committee, and we comply with the requirements of Sarbanes–Oxley and the NASDAQ by having an audit committee with a majority of independent directors. One year from our IPO, we will be required to have an audit committee comprised entirely of independent directors. Douglas K. Ammerman and Samuel N. Borgese currently qualify as independent.

If at any time we cease to be a “controlled company” under NASDAQ rules, our board of directors will take all action necessary to comply with the applicable NASDAQ rules, including appointing a majority of independent directors to our board of directors and establishing certain committees composed entirely of independent directors, subject to a permitted “phase-in” period.

Board Committees

Our board of directors has established standing committees in connection with the discharge of its responsibilities. These committees include an Audit Committee, a Compensation Committee and a Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee. Our board of directors has adopted written charters for each of these committees, available at www.elpolloloco.com. Our board of directors may establish other committees as it deems necessary or appropriate from time to time.

Audit Committee

Our Audit Committee is comprised of Dean C. Kehler, Douglas K. Ammerman, and Samuel N. Borgese. We are relying on the phase-in rules of the Exchange Act and the NASDAQ with respect to the independence of our audit committee. These rules require us to have an audit committee that has a majority of independent members within 90 days of our IPO and all members who are independent within one year thereof. The functions of our Audit Committee, among other things, include:

 

    reviewing our financial statements, including any significant financial items and changes in accounting policies, with our senior management and independent registered public accounting firm;

 

    reviewing our financial risk and control procedures, compliance programs and significant tax, legal and regulatory matters;

 

    appointing and determining the compensation for our independent auditors;

 

    establishing procedures for the receipt, retention and treatment of complaints regarding accounting, internal accounting controls or auditing matters; and

 

    reviewing and overseeing our independent registered public accounting firm.

 

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Our board of directors has determined that Douglas K. Ammerman qualifies as an “audit committee financial expert” as such term is defined in Item 407(d)(5) of Regulation S-K and that Douglas K. Ammerman is independent as independence is defined in Rule 10A–3 of the Exchange Act and under NASDAQ listing standards.

Compensation Committee

Our Compensation Committee is comprised of Michael G. Maselli, John M. Roth, and Douglas K. Ammerman. The functions of our Compensation Committee, among other things, include:

 

    reviewing and approving corporate goals and objectives relevant to the compensation of certain of our key executives, evaluating the performance of these executives in light of those goals and objectives, and determining the compensation of these executives based on that evaluation;

 

    reviewing and approving executive officer and director compensation;

 

    reviewing and approving overall compensation programs; and

 

    administering our incentive compensation and equity-based plans.

In order to comply with certain SEC and tax law requirements, our compensation committee (or a subcommittee of the compensation committee) must consist of at least two directors that qualify as “non employee directors” for the purposes of Rule 16b–3 under the Exchange Act and satisfy the requirements of an “outside director” for purposes of Section 162(m) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended (the “Code”). Our board of directors has determined that Michael G. Maselli, John M. Roth and Douglas K. Ammerman each qualify as “non employee directors” and “outside directors.”

Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee

Our Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee is comprised of Dean C. Kehler, Michael G. Maselli, and John M. Roth. The functions of our Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee, among other things, include:

 

    identifying individuals qualified to become board members and recommending director nominees and board members for committee membership;

 

    developing and recommending to our board corporate governance guidelines; and

 

    overseeing the evaluation of our board of directors and its committees and management.

Risk Oversight

Our board of directors oversees a company-wide approach to risk management that is carried out by management. Our board of directors determines the appropriate risk for us generally, assesses the specific risks faced by us and reviews the steps taken by management to manage those risks.

While our board of directors maintains the ultimate oversight responsibility for the risk management process, its committees oversee risk in certain specified areas. Additionally, our Compensation Committee is responsible for overseeing the management of risks relating to our executive compensation plans and arrangements, and the incentives created by the compensation awards it administers. Our Audit Committee oversees management of enterprise risks and financial risks, as well as potential conflicts of interests. Our Nominating and Corporate Governance Committee is responsible for overseeing the management of risks associated with the independence of our board of directors. Pursuant to our board of directors’ instruction, management regularly reports on applicable risks to the relevant committee or the board of directors, as appropriate, with additional review or reporting on risks conducted as needed or as requested by our board of directors and its committees.

Compensation Committee Interlocks and Insider Participation

None of the members of our Compensation Committee has ever been an officer or employee of us. None of our executive officers serves or has served as a member of the board of directors, compensation committee or other board

 

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committee performing equivalent functions of any entity that has one or more executive officers serving as one of our directors or on our Compensation Committee.

Code of Business Conduct and Ethics

Our board of directors has adopted a code of business conduct and ethics that applies to our directors, officers and employees, available at www.elpolloloco.com. We expect that any amendments to the code, or any waivers of its requirements, will be disclosed on our website.

Corporate Governance Guidelines

Our board of directors has adopted corporate governance guidelines to assist our board of directors in the exercise of its fiduciary duties and responsibilities to us and to promote the effective functioning of our board of directors and its committees. Our corporate governance guidelines cover, among other topics:

 

    director independence and qualification requirements;

 

    board leadership and executive sessions;

 

    limitations on other board and committee service;

 

    director responsibilities;

 

    director compensation;

 

    director orientation and continuing education;

 

    board and committee resources, including access to officers and employees;

 

    succession planning; and

 

    board and committee self-evaluations.

The corporate governance guidelines are available on our website, www.elpolloloco.com. We expect that any amendments to the guidelines will be disclosed on our website.

 

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EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION

We are providing compensation disclosure that satisfies the requirements applicable to emerging growth companies, as defined in the JOBS Act. As an emerging growth company, we have opted to comply with the executive compensation rules applicable to “smaller reporting companies,” as such term is defined under the Securities Act, which require compensation disclosure for our principal executive officer and the two most highly compensated executive officers other than our principal executive officer. The table below sets forth the annual compensation earned during fiscal 2013 by our principal executive officer and our next two most highly compensated executive officers (our “named executive officers” or “NEOs”).

2013 Summary Compensation Table

 

Name and

Principal

Position

   Year      Salary      Option
Awards(3)
     Non-Equity
Incentive Plan
Compensation(4)
     All Other
Compensation(5)
     Total  

Stephen J. Sather

President & Chief Executive Officer

     2013       $ 436,567       $ 0       $ 349,083       $ 41,797       $ 827,447   

Laurance Roberts(1)

Chief Financial Officer

     2013       $ 138,795       $ 427,837       $ 112,718       $ 12,717       $ 692,067   

Kay Bogeajis(2)

Chief Operating Officer

     2013       $ 111,099       $ 427,837       $ 94,558       $ 7,197       $ 640,691   

 

(1)      Mr. Roberts commenced employment as our Chief Financial Officer on July 15, 2013.

(2)      Ms. Bogeajis commenced employment as our Chief Operating Officer on July 29, 2013.

(3)      Represents the grant date fair value of options awarded during 2013, computed in accordance with Financial Accounting Standards Board Accounting Standards Codification Topic 718 (FASB ASC Topic 718). For a summary of the assumptions made in the valuation of these awards, please see Note 12 to our consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus.

(4)      Represents performance-based bonuses earned by our NEOs in respect of our performance in 2013. The material terms of the non-equity incentive plan compensation paid to our named executive officers in our last completed fiscal year are described below in the section entitled “—Elements of Compensation—2013 Bonus Arrangements.”

(5)      For Messrs. Sather and Roberts and Ms. Bogeajis, includes the following perquisites and benefits:

 

    Gas Card Benefits: $5,124.08, $543.56 and $1,498.86, respectively;

 

    401(k) Plan Matching Contribution: $10,197.06, $0 and $0, respectively;

 

    Auto Allowance: $7,476.84, $3,267.66 and $2,990.74, respectively; and

 

    Other Benefits (including, health and welfare benefits): $18,998.56, $8,905.90 and $2,707.52, respectively.

Employment Agreements

Each of our NEOs is a party to an employment agreement. The employment agreements are substantially similar. We entered into an employment agreement in 2006 with Mr. Sather (which was amended and restated in 2011), in 2013 with Mr. Roberts and Ms. Bogeajis. The employment agreements provide that Messrs. Sather and Roberts and Ms. Bogeajis will receive salaries equal to $350,000, $300,000, and $275,000, respectively, which may be adjusted in our sole discretion (and, with respect to Mr. Sather have been adjusted up as shown in “—Summary Compensation Table”) and also provides that we will reimburse Mr. Roberts for certain relocation expenses. Each employment agreement also provides that each executive will be eligible to earn annual bonus awards with a target of 75% of the executive’s then current base salary and that each executive is entitled to receive certain other benefits and perquisites as more fully described in the “—Elements of Compensation—Other Benefits” section. The employment agreements provide that the NEOs’ employment with us is “at will” and may be terminated at any time by either party, provided the NEOs are required to provide us with 90-day advance notice in case of resignation. If we terminate an NEO’s employment without “cause,” as defined in the respective employment agreement, or if the agreement is terminated by the NEO for “good reason,” as defined in the respective employment agreement, and provided that the NEO signs a general release of claims, the NEO will be entitled to receive continuation of base salary for 12 months following

 

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termination of employment. In addition, in case of any termination of employment, except termination by us for “cause” or voluntary resignation by the NEO, each NEO will be entitled to receive a pro-rata bonus for the year of termination based on our actual performance. Finally, in case of any termination of employment the NEO will be entitled to receive certain accrued obligations (including base salary through the date of termination, reimbursement of unreimbursed business expenses, and any earned but unpaid annual bonus for the previously completed year). The employment agreements contain 12-month post-termination covenants relating to non-interference and non-solicitation of employees.

Elements of Compensation

Each of the named executive officers was provided with the following primary elements of compensation in 2013:

Base Salary

Each named executive officer received a fixed base salary in an amount determined in accordance with the executive’s employment agreement and based on a number of factors, including:

 

    The nature, responsibilities and duties of the officer’s position;

 

    The officer’s expertise, demonstrated leadership ability and prior performance;

 

    The officer’s salary history and total compensation, including annual cash bonuses and long-term incentive compensation; and

 

    The competitiveness of the market for the officer’s services.

Each named executive officer’s base salary for 2013 is listed in “—Summary Compensation Table.”

2013 Bonus Arrangements

Each named executive officer was eligible to earn an annual cash incentive in 2013. Our practice with respect to annual incentive compensation has historically been to provide an opportunity to earn bonus awards based on the achievement of company performance measures, specifically EBITDA adjusted for various add-backs permitted by our credit agreements (“Internal EBITDA”). Our El Pollo Loco Support Center Incentive Plan is adopted on an annual basis subject to approval by our board of directors and provides the opportunity for each of our NEOs to earn a bonus equal to 75% of their annual base salary at target for each year, based on our achievement of Internal EBITDA targets. The Internal EBITDA targets are set each year based on achievement of strategic goals and financial results. The cash incentive plan also provides for no bonus to be paid if Internal EBITDA achievement is less than 92.5% of target and for a cap equal to 200% of the target bonus amount to be paid if Internal EBITDA achievement is 125% of target or greater. Based on our performance, bonuses for 2013 were paid out at 110.82% of target.

Equity Grants

All of our outstanding equity awards are governed by our 2014 Omnibus Equity Incentive Plan (the “2014 Plan”). Prior to the adoption of the 2014 Plan we maintained the 2005 Stock Option Plan (the “2005 Plan”) and 2012 Stock Option Plan (the “2012 Plan”), both of which provided for the issuance of stock options. In addition, option awards were outstanding under certain exchange option award agreements relating to the exchange of options of the former EPL Holdings, Inc., at the time of its purchase by us (all awards under the 2005 Plan, 2012 Plan and such exchange options, the “Prior Awards”). Upon the adoption of the 2014 Plan, Prior Awards became governed by the 2014 Plan and their respective award or exchange agreements, to the extent that the terms of such agreements are not inconsistent with the 2014 Plan. No further awards under the 2005 Plan and 2012 Plan will be made.

Exchange Options

At the time we were acquired by Trimaran Pollo Partners, L.L.C., in 2005, certain of our employees held options in our predecessor entity, which were converted into options to purchase our common stock. None of our NEOs hold

 

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any of such options. All such options are currently vested and exercisable. Generally, upon an employee’s termination of employment with us, the employee will have 90 days following the date of such termination to exercise any portion of such options. If the employee’s termination is due to his retirement or total and permanent disability or death, the employee or his estate, as applicable, may exercise any portion of the options for nine months. In no event will an employee be entitled to exercise the option after its original expiration date. All options will be forfeited if an employee’s employment is terminated for cause, as defined in the respective option agreement.

Options Previously Granted Under 2005 Stock Option Plan

In 2005, we adopted the 2005 Plan in order to provide a means to attract, retain and motivate our directors, employees, and other service providers upon whose judgment, initiative and efforts our continued success, growth and development are dependent. All options that were granted under the 2005 Plan are vested (or will vest as of the end of April 2014). None of our NEOs hold any of such options. Such options will expire no later than the 10th anniversary of the grant. Generally, upon an employee’s termination of employment with us, the employee will have 90 days following the date of such termination to exercise any portion of the options. If the employee’s termination is due to his retirement, total and permanent disability or death, the employee or his estate, as applicable, may exercise any portion of the options for nine months. In no event will an employee be entitled to exercise the option after its original expiration date. All options will be forfeited if an employee’s employment is terminated for cause. In order to be eligible to receive these option grants employees were required to agree to be bound by one-year post-termination covenants relating to non-competition, non-interference and non-solicitation of employees.

Options Previously Granted Under 2012 Stock Option Plan

In 2012, we adopted the 2012 Plan in order to advance our interests by providing for grants of stock options to certain individuals. Generally, 50% of these options vest 25% on each of the first four anniversaries of grant. The initial grants in 2012 were a one-time exception, with a portion of the grants vesting at the time of grant. The remaining 50% vest 25% per year, based on achievement of Consolidated EBITDA (as such term is defined in the First Lien Credit Agreement) targets for such year or in some circumstances of cumulative Consolidated EBITDA targets over multiple years. Such options will expire no later than the 10th anniversary after grant. Generally, upon an employee’s termination of employment with us, the employee will have 90 days following the date of such termination to exercise any portion of the options. If the employee’s termination is due to his total and permanent disability or death, the employee or his estate, as applicable, may exercise any portion of the options for six months. In no event will an employee be entitled to exercise the option after its original expiration date. All options will be forfeited if an employee’s employment is terminated for cause. We also granted options with strike prices in excess of the fair market value of our stock on the date of grant. These premium options were intended as a further stretch incentive to encourage growth that meets or exceeds the premium level.

Other Benefits

In 2013, our NEOs were provided with certain limited fringe benefits that we believe are commonly provided to similarly situated executives in the market in which we compete for talent and therefore are important to our ability to attract and retain top-level executive management. These benefits include a monthly automobile allowance, a business transportation allowance and a gas card allowance. The amounts paid to NEOs in 2013 in respect of these benefits is reflected above in the “—Summary Compensation Table” section under the “All Other Compensation” heading.

All employees are eligible to participate in broad-based and comprehensive employee benefit programs, including medical, dental, vision, life and disability insurance and a 401(k) plan. Our named executive officers are eligible to participate in these plans generally on the same basis as our other employees. We do not sponsor or maintain any deferred compensation or supplemental retirement plans in addition to our 401(k) plan. Our 401(k) plan provides substantially all employees with the ability to make pre- or post-tax retirement contributions in accordance with applicable IRS limits. Matching contributions are provided in an amount equal to 100% of the first 3% of elective contributions and 50% of the next 2% of contributions by the employee. The 401(k) plan matching contributions provided to our named executive officers in 2013 are reflected above in the “—Summary Compensation Table” section under the “All Other Compensation” heading.

 

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2013 Outstanding Equity Awards at Fiscal Year End Table

The following table sets forth outstanding equity option awards as of December 25, 2013:

 

Name

   Number of Securities
Underlying Unexercised
Options
     Equity Incentive
Plan Awards: Number
of Securities
Underlying
Unexercised Unearned
Options
     Option Exercise
Price
     Option
Expiration Date
 
   Exerciseable      Unexerciseable           

Stephen J. Sather

              

(1)

     353,257         141,303         70,651       $ 2.62         April 16, 2022   

(1)

     706,514         282,606         141,303       $ 5.84         April 16, 2022   

Laurance Roberts(2)

     12,306         49,242         36,936       $ 4.09         July 15, 2023   
     24,621         98,484         73,863       $ 5.84         July 15, 2023   

Kay Bogeajis(2)

     12,306         49,242         36,936       $ 4.09         July 29, 2023   
     24,621         98,484         73,863       $ 5.84         July 29, 2023   

 

(1)      50% of the option award vests based upon continued employment (“Time-Based Options”) and the remaining 50% shall vest based upon the attainment of certain performance goals (“Performance-Based Options”). 25% of the Time-Based Options vest on the date of grant and an additional 25% vest on each of the first three anniversaries of the date of grant. The Performance-Based Options vest 25% each year based upon the attainment of certain performance goals for the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 or cumulative performance goals over all or a portion of this time period.

(2)      50% of the option award vests based upon continued employment (“Time-Based Options”) and the remaining 50% shall vest based upon the attainment of certain performance goals (“Performance-Based Options”). The Time-Based Options vest in four equal installments on each of the first four anniversaries of the date of grant. The Performance-Based Options vest 25% each year based upon the attainment of certain performance goal for the years 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 or cumulative performance goals over all or a portion of this time period.

Director Compensation

The following table provides compensation information for fiscal 2013 for each of our independent directors. Directors who are not independent do not receive compensation for their services as directors.

 

Name

   Fees Earned or Paid in Cash      Total  

Samuel N. Borgese

   $ 40,000       $ 40,000   

Douglas K. Ammerman

   $ 40,000       $ 40,000   

Each of our two independent directors, Messrs. Borgese and Ammerman, receive an annual cash retainer fee of $50,000, which is paid quarterly. In addition, Messrs. Borgese and Ammerman each received a grant of 3,333 restricted shares under the 2014 Plan in connection with our IPO, equivalent to $50,000 per capita divided by our public offering price. These grants vest based on continued service over three years. Based on our share price when the grants were consummated, we expect to incur approximately $330,000 of stock-based compensation expense as the grants vest.

In accordance with our director compensation program, Messrs. Borgese and Ammerman each will receive an annual grant of restricted shares with grant date value of $50,000.

 

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CERTAIN RELATIONSHIPS AND RELATED PARTY TRANSACTIONS

Policy Concerning Related Party Transactions

We intend to adopt a written policy relating to the approval of related party transactions. Our Audit Committee is to review certain financial transactions, arrangements, and relationships between us and any of the following related parties to determine whether any such transaction, arrangement, or relationship is a related party transaction:

 

    any of our directors, director nominees or executive officers;

 

    any beneficial owner of more than 5% of our outstanding stock; and

 

    any immediate family member of any of the foregoing.

Our Audit Committee will review any financial transaction, arrangement or relationship that:

 

    involves or will involve, directly or indirectly, any related party identified above and is in an amount greater than $120,000;

 

    would cast doubt on the independence of a director;

 

    would present the appearance of a conflict of interest between us and the related party; or

 

    is otherwise prohibited by law, rule or regulation.

The Audit Committee will review each such transaction, arrangement or relationship to determine whether a related party has, has had or expects to have a direct or indirect material interest. Following its review, the Audit Committee will take such action as it deems necessary and appropriate under the circumstances, including approving, disapproving, ratifying, canceling or recommending to management how to proceed if it determines a related party has a direct or indirect material interest in a transaction, arrangement or relationship with us. Any member of the Audit Committee who is a related party with respect to a transaction under review will not be permitted to participate in the discussions or evaluations of the transaction; however, the Audit Committee member will provide all material information concerning the transaction to the Audit Committee. The Audit Committee will report its action with respect to any related party transaction to the board of directors.

Stockholders Agreement

We are a party to a stockholders agreement with LLC and certain third-party investors. The stockholders agreement permits (i) LLC to make an unlimited number of requests that we use our best efforts to register our shares under the Securities Act and (ii) Freeman Spogli to make two requests that we use our best efforts to register its shares under the Securities Act, for so long as they own 10% or more of the membership interests of LLC, two years after the completion of our IPO. Pursuant to the stockholders agreement, LLC may also preempt any demand request by Freeman Spogli, in which case participation in such demand registration by LLC and Freeman Spogli shall be on a pro rata basis. In demand registrations, subject to certain exceptions, the parties to the stockholders agreement have certain rights to participate on a pro rata basis, subject to certain conditions. In addition, if we decide to sell our common stock, LLC and the other parties to the stockholders agreement, including members of our management, will also have certain rights to participate on a pro rata basis, subject to certain conditions. The LLC Agreement, described below, provides that, to the extent LLC does not exercise these “piggyback” rights, any member of LLC may require us to include in any registered offering the pro rata portion of securities owned by such member through LLC.

Upon the earlier of 180 days after our IPO and the end of the lock-up period entered into as part of our IPO, LLC and its members will, under the stockholders agreement, be entitled, subject to certain exceptions, to exercise demand registration rights to register their shares of the common stock under the Securities Act. By exercising these registration rights, and selling a large number of shares of our common stock, the price of our common stock could decline. Approximately 23,039,978 shares of common stock will be subject to the registration rights agreement upon completion of this offering.

 

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In connection with this offering, the representatives of the underwriters for our IPO have agreed to waive the lock-up restrictions applicable to us and the selling stockholders in order to permit the filing of the registration statement of which this prospectus forms a part and the registration of our common stock thereby.

At least 10 days prior to the anticipated filing date of any registration statement, notice is to be given to all holders of registrable securities party to the stockholders agreement outlining their rights to include their shares in that registration statement, and we must use our best efforts to register any securities which such holders request, within 10 days of receipt of notice, to be registered. A stockholder may, until seven days prior to the effectiveness of a registration statement, withdraw any securities that it has previously elected to include pursuant to piggyback registration rights. Any sales of registrable securities pursuant to demand rights must be on the same terms and conditions as those applying to us or any selling stockholder.

After this offering, the stockholders with these registration rights will hold an aggregate of 23,039,978 shares of our common stock. We will be required to bear substantially all costs incurred in these registrations, other than underwriting discounts and commissions. The registration rights described above could result in substantial future expenses for us and adversely affect any future equity or debt offerings.

LLC Agreement

Affiliates of Trimaran, Freeman Spogli and certain other third-party investors have entered into a limited liability company operating agreement (the “LLC agreement”) for LLC. The LLC agreement generally restricts the transfer of interests in LLC owned by the parties other than affiliates of Trimaran. Exceptions to this restriction include transfers to affiliates. In addition, the third-party investors have “tag-along” rights to sell their interests on a pro rata basis with Trimaran affiliates in significant sales to third parties. Similarly, Trimaran affiliates have “drag-along” rights to cause Freeman Spogli and the third-party investors to sell their interests, on a pro rata basis with Trimaran affiliates, in significant sales to third parties. The members of LLC have preemptive rights in order to maintain their respective percentage ownership interests in LLC in the event of an issuance of additional membership interests.

The LLC agreement permits a member of LLC who holds more than 15% of LLC’s outstanding membership units, following the later of 270 days after completion of our IPO and the time we become eligible to register securities on Form S-3, to cause LLC to exercise its registration rights (as described under “—Stockholders Agreement”) with respect to the pro rata portion of securities owned by such member through LLC, subject to certain exceptions. To the extent that LLC does not exercise the “piggyback” rights described under “—Stockholders Agreement,” any member of LLC may require us to include in any registered offering the pro rata portion of securities owned by such member through LLC.

Under the terms of the LLC agreement, LLC is solely managed by a Trimaran affiliate. Through the LLC agreement, Trimaran affiliates also have the right to designate at least a majority of the directors on our board of directors, and other investors (including Freeman Spogli) holding at least 15% of the outstanding interests have the right to designate one director to our board of directors, provided that Freeman Spogli has the right to designate one director to our board of directors for so long as it owns 5% or more of LLC. The LLC agreement terminates and LLC will be dissolved and its affairs wound up at the earlier of (1) the election of the managing member or (2) six years following the completion of our IPO.

Monitoring and Management Services Agreement

Under the terms of a monitoring and management services agreement (the “management agreement”), entered into between us and affiliates of Trimaran and Freeman Spogi (together, the “Sponsor Advisors”), we paid an annual advisory and monitoring fee of $357,000, which was paid in advance in quarterly installments of $89,250 to an affiliate of Trimaran and $143,000, which was paid in advance in quarterly installments of $35,750 to an affiliate of Freeman Spogli for services provided by the Sponsor Advisors to us. The management agreement provided that we indemnify the Sponsor Advisors and their affiliates and their respective partners, members, directors, officers, employees and agents in connection with the services rendered to us under the agreement. It also provided that we reimburse the Sponsor Advisors for certain services to be provided to us on a going-forward basis. The management agreement also provided for the payment of certain transaction fees payable by us to the Sponsor Advisors in connection with future investment banking and related services and for the reimbursement by us of expenses incurred by the Sponsor Advisors in connection with such services, if the Sponsor Advisors determined to provide such services. The management agreement was terminated as of our IPO.

 

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Income Tax Receivable Agreement

We expect to be able to utilize net operating losses and other tax attributes that arose prior to our IPO, assuming generation of future income. These net operating loss carryforwards and other tax attributes will reduce the amount of tax that we and our subsidiaries would otherwise be required to pay in the future.

We have entered into an income tax receivable agreement with our existing stockholders that provides for the payment by us to our existing stockholders of 85% of the amount of cash savings, if any, in United States federal, state, local, and foreign income tax that we and our subsidiaries actually realize (or are deemed to realize in the case of an early termination by us or a change of control, as discussed below) as a result of the utilization of our net operating losses and other tax attributes attributable to periods prior to our IPO together with interested accrued at a rate of LIBOR plus 200 basis points from the date the applicable tax return is due (without extension) until paid.

For purposes of the income tax receivable agreement, cash savings in income tax is computed by comparing our actual income tax liability to the amount of such taxes that we would have been required to pay had we not been able to utilize the tax benefits subject to the income tax receivable agreement. The term of the income tax receivable agreement will continue until all relevant tax benefits have been utilized or have expired.

Our counterparties under the income tax receivable agreement will not reimburse us for any benefits that are subsequently disallowed (although any future payments would be adjusted to the extent possible to reflect the result of such disallowance). As a result, in such circumstances we could make payments under the income tax receivable agreement that are greater than our actual cash tax savings.

While the actual amount and timing of any payments under the income tax receivable agreement will vary depending upon a number of factors, including the amount, character and timing of our and our subsidiaries’ taxable income in the future, we expect that during the term of the income tax receivable agreement, the payments that we may make could be material. Assuming no material changes in relevant tax law, and that we earn sufficient taxable income to realize the full tax benefits subject to the income tax receivable agreement, we expect that future payments under the income tax receivable agreement will total approximately $40 million relating to the present value, and this amount has been accrued as of September 24, 2014.

If we undergo a change of control, the income tax receivable agreement will terminate, and we will be required to make a payment equal to the present value of future payments under the income tax receivable agreement, which payment would be based on certain assumptions (the “valuation assumptions”), including those relating to our future taxable income. Additionally, if we or a direct or indirect subsidiary transfers any asset to a corporation with which we do not file a consolidated tax return, we will be treated as having sold that asset in a taxable transaction for purposes of determining the cash savings in income tax under the income tax receivable agreement. Any such payment resulting from a change of control or asset transfer could be substantial and could exceed our actual cash tax savings.

The income tax receivable agreement provides that in the event that we breach any of our material obligations under it, whether as a result of our failure to make any payment when due (subject to a specified cure period), failure to honor any other material obligation under it or by operation of law as a result of the rejection of it in a case commenced under the United States Bankruptcy Code or otherwise, then all our payment and other obligations under the income tax receivable agreement will be accelerated and will become due and payable, applying the same valuation assumptions discussed above, including those relating to our future taxable income. Such payments could be substantial and could exceed our actual cash tax savings. Additionally, we generally have the right to terminate the income tax receivable agreement. If we terminate the income tax receivable agreement, our payment and other obligations under the income tax receivable agreement will be accelerated and will become due and payable, also applying the valuation assumptions discussed above. Such payments could be substantial and could exceed our actual cash tax savings.

Because we are a holding company with no operations of our own, our ability to make payments under the income tax receivable agreement is dependent on the ability of our subsidiaries to make distributions to us. Our credit agreement restricts the ability of our subsidiaries to make distributions to us, which could affect our ability to make payments under the income tax receivable agreement. On July 9, 2014, we agreed with our lenders to amend the terms of our First Lien Credit Agreement to remove restrictions on capital expenditures and permit special dividend

 

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payments of up to $11 million per fiscal year (not to exceed $33 million in the aggregate) for purposes of our income tax receivable agreement, while the first Lien Credit Agreement is outstanding. These Amendment provisions became operative upon the repayment in full of our Second Lien Term Loan. To the extent that we are unable to make payments under the income tax receivable agreement for any reason, such payments will be deferred and will accrue interest at a rate of LIBOR plus 200 basis points per annum until paid.

Franchise Development Option Agreement

On July 11, 2014, EPL and LLC entered into a Franchise Development Option Agreement (the “Franchise Option Agreement”) in connection with the development of El Pollo Loco restaurants in the New York–Newark, NY–NJ–CT–PA Combined Statistical Area (the “Territory”). Pursuant to the terms of the Franchise Option Agreement, EPL has granted LLC the exclusive option to develop and open 15 restaurants within the New York Territory over 5 years (the “Initial Option”), and, provided the Initial Option is exercised, the exclusive option to develop and open up to an additional 100 restaurants within the Territory over 10 years (the “Additional Option”). The Franchise Option Agreement will terminate (i) ten years from the date of its execution or (ii) if the Initial Option is exercised, five years from the date of the exercise of the Initial Option. LLC may only exercise the Initial Option after EPL has made the determination to begin development of Company-operated restaurants within the Territory or support the development of the Territory. We have no current intention to begin such development within the Territory.

 

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PRINCIPAL AND SELLING STOCKHOLDERS

The following table sets forth information about the beneficial ownership of our common stock at November 14, 2014, as adjusted to reflect the sale of the shares of common stock in this offering, for:

 

    each selling stockholder or group of selling stockholders;

 

    each person known to us to be the beneficial owner of more than 5% of our common stock;

 

    each named executive officer;

 

    each of our directors; and

 

    all of our executive officers and directors as a group.

Unless otherwise noted below, the address for each beneficial owner listed on the table is 3535 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, California 92626. We have determined beneficial ownership in accordance with the rules of the SEC. Except as indicated by the footnotes below, we believe, based on the information furnished to us, that the persons and entities named in the tables below have sole voting and investment power with respect to all shares of common stock that they beneficially own, subject to applicable community property laws. We have based our calculation of the percentage of beneficial ownership on 36,948,887 shares of our common stock outstanding as of November 14, 2014.

In computing the number of shares of common stock beneficially owned by a person and the percentage ownership of that person, we deemed outstanding shares of common stock subject to options or restricted stock units held by that person that are currently exercisable or exercisable within 60 days of November 14, 2014. We did not deem these shares outstanding, however, for the purpose of computing the percentage ownership of any other person.

 

    Shares Beneficially
Owned Prior to this
Offering
    Number
of Shares
Being
Offered
    Shares Beneficially
Owned After this
Offering Assuming No
Exercise of the
Underwriters’ Option
    Number of
Additional
Shares
Offered if
Underwriter’s
Option is
Exercised in
Full
    Shares Beneficially Owned
After this Offering
Assuming Full Exercise of
the Underwriters’ Option
 

Name and Address of

Beneficial Owner

  Number     Percentage of
Class
      Number     Percentage of
Class
      Number     Percentage of
Class
 

Named Executive Officers and Directors:

               

Stephen J. Sather

    1,488,632        3.9     170,059        1,318,573        3.4     85,029        1,233,544        3.2

Laurance Roberts

    110,794        *        15,000        95,794        *        7,500        88,294        *   

Kay Bogeajis

    110,794        *        29,545        81,249        *        14,773        66,476        *   

Michael G. Maselli

                                                       

Dean C. Kehler

                                                       

Wesley W. Barton

                                                       

John M. Roth

                                                       

Douglas K. Ammerman

    88,815        *        10,820        77,995        *        5,411        72,584        *   

Samuel N. Borgese

    48,171        *        6,756        41,415        *        3,378        38,037        *   

All directors and executive officers as a group (10 persons)

    2,240,605        5.7     277,140        1,963,465        5.0     138,571        1,824,894        4.7

5% Stockholders:

               

Trimaran Pollo Partners, L.L.C.

    28,557,989        77.3     5,672,264        22,885,725        61.9     736,681        22,149,044        59.9

Investment funds affiliated with Trimaran Capital Partners(1)

    16,480,516        44.6     3,273,404        13,207,112        35.7     425,131        12,781,981        34.6