BJ’s brewpubs see sales ‘improve’ to just a 30% drop

Progress in the restaurant business in 2020 is measured by an odd metric: how fast an eatery can cut its sales declines.

Take the BJ’s Restaurants and Brewhouse chain, whose rebound from coronavirus business limitations were tossed another curveball when police brutality protests brought curfews and more closings. The Huntington Beach-based company with 62 locations in California says even as sales are picking up, its most-quick-to-recover locations are still off 30% from a year ago.

BJ’s recent business update details financial challenges due to “stay at home” orders designed to slow the spread of a pandemic, plus 41 closings or business-hour limits tied to cities trying to limit violence amid demonstrations about social injustice.

Like many eateries, BJs has had to cut staff and retool its menus to stay afloat in challenging times. It boosted its takeout and delivery business, both food and its popular brand of beer. Its update noted that sales “steadily improve with dining rooms reopening, and off-premise sales remaining elevated.”

As of June 9, BJ’s said:

• 178 re-opened dining rooms of its restaurants in 24 states. This coming week, 208 restaurants are expected to be operating with dining rooms open “at more than 85%” of the locations.

• At all reopened stores, with or without open dining rooms, weekly comparable restaurant sales are off 42.6% from a year ago to average $64,900 for the week “including the impact of 41 restaurants that were operating on limited hours or closed due to the nationwide demonstrations.”

• The bast-case scenarios — locations with re-opened dining rooms and not suffering curfews or closures — had sales off only roughly 30% vs. 2019 at $75,000 a week.

• All the negative numbers aside, early June’s declines are actually a noteworthy comeback. For the current quarter that started April 1, comparable sales are off 64%. At the year’s low point in March, BJ’s sales were off 84%.

“Early results from our re-opened dining rooms are encouraging, with double-digit weekly sequential sales increases over the last four weeks,” said CEO Greg Trojan in a statement. “Our guests are returning in increasing numbers to dine with us at BJ’s. We are seeing a strong appreciation for the safety measures and precautions we have implemented for them and our team members, including our new touchless digital menus and mobile pay options. As our dining rooms reopen, we continue to bring back furloughed team members and we look forward to bringing back even more as additional dining rooms open in the next several weeks.”

Investors seem encouraged. BJ’s shares, which plunged to $6 from $46 in the early days of the pandemic crisis, traded at $23 on Monday.

In May, BJs announced Act III Holdings — a restaurant investment company headed by Ron Shaich, founder of the Panera Bread chain — and funds managed by T. Rowe Price Associates have bought a $70 million stake in the chain.