Cava IPO may set tone for different eating places going public

A person departs a Cava restaurant chain location in Pasadena, California, Feb. 6, 2023.

Mario Tama | Getty Images News | Getty Images

As Cava makes its public debut Thursday, other restaurant companies will be watching closely while they decide whether to follow in the Mediterranean restaurant chain’s footsteps.

The last 18 months have marked the slowest initial public offering market since the financial crisis. Few US companies have pursued IPOs, wary of a volatile market rocked by the war in Ukraine, inflation, rising interest rates and recession fears.

Of the 44 IPOs that have priced shares this year, just 20 were for companies based in the US, according to data from Renaissance Capital, which tracks IPOs and the performance of newly public company stocks.

Cava’s IPO could help break that drought, as a handful of restaurants watch to see how the chain fares as they mull whether to jump into the public market themselves. The more than 100% spike for Cava’s shares at their highest point Thursday could bode well for other restaurants.

“A successful IPO from Cava should open the door to more restaurant IPOs,” said Matt Kennedy, senior strategist at Renaissance Capital. “It’ll show that investors are interested in the space, and companies can get a certain valuation in the public markets.”

On Wednesday evening, Cava priced its IPO at $22 per share, valuing the company at $2.5 billion. The company initially sought to price its common stock offering at $17 to $19 per share, which would have given it a valuation of $2.12 billion, before it raised the range to $19 to $20 per share.

The company will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker CAVA.

The company’s decision to raise its price range, and the subsequent spike in the stock in early trading, could be positive signs for other eateries considering IPOs.

That soils well for the restaurant companies waiting in the wings to go public. Brazilian steakhouse Fogo de Chão and Korean barbecue chain Gen Restaurant Group have both filed regulatory paperwork confidentially, while both Panera Bread and Fat Brands’ Twin Peaks have shared intent to issue an IPO in the near future.

“Nobody wants to be the first one to go public, which is why I think we tend to see companies in the same sector go public in batches,” Kennedy said.

But the window to go public can close much faster than it opens, according to Kennedy. Sudden volatility in the market can spook investors and the private companies hoping to attract them.

Even if the window remains open for future restaurant IPOs, those companies might not see the same level of investor interest as Cava, which reported same-store sales growth of 28% in the first quarter. While the Mediterranean chain is still unprofitable, it’s narrowing its losses and appears closer to reporting more net income than rival Sweetgreen, which went public in November 2021.

“[Cava] rightly came earlier than most because it’s a high-quality name,” said Kevin McCarthy, managing director at Neuberger Berman.

Comments are closed.