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Rave's sales raise questions about fast-casual pizza's health

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Same-store sales for the Pie Five fast-casual pizza chain fell 12% for the fourth quarter ended June 26, deepening the losses of parent company Rave Restaurant Group to $2.3 million for the quarter and $8.9 million for the fiscal year.

The situation raises questions about the health of the fast-casual sector relative to the performance of conventional quick-service restaurants. Pie Five’s older sister, the Pizza Inn QSR chain, posted a 0.3% comparable-store gain for the fourth quarter.

Domino’s Pizza, in its most recently completed quarter, saw domestic comp-store sales jump 9.7%, and Papa John’s reported a 4.7% rise in domestic comps.

"Sales trends in the fourth quarter were very challenging for the Pie Five system, as was the case in much of the fast-casual segment," said Clinton Coleman, who is serving as CEO of Rave until a permanent successor is found for Randy Gier.

Gier exited the position in late July under what Rave characterized as a mutual decision.

Coleman noted that newer Pie Fives have not matched the comparable-sales pace of older units.

The fast-casual chain’s numbers also serve as an indicator of sorts on delivery. Pie Five does not deliver, and much of its business comes at lunch. Domino’s and Papa John’s, in contrast, generate the bulk of their sales from delivery and takeout.

Although the fast-casual market is packed with young pizza entrants, Pie Five is the only one that is publicly owned.

Coleman said that Rave is attempting to reverse a slide in sales and traffic at Pie Five in part by adding “several experienced managers” to the corporate management team.

“Meanwhile,” he said, “I am pleased with the recent stability of the Pizza Inn system and its renewed growth potential."

For Rave’s full fiscal year, Pie Five’s comparable-store sales fell 5.1% and Pizza Inn’s comps slipped 1%.

The fourth quarter ended with 88 Pie Fives in operation within 22 states, the company said. It noted that development commitments have been signed for an additional 347 stores.

Pizza Inn franchises closed 21 domestic Pizza Inns and 11 international locations and opened four worldwide, leaving the chain with a global restaurant count of 222 branches.

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