Big Spender Gobbles Up Stake in Ruby Tuesday; What's Next on the Menu?

 | Mar 31, 2017 | 10:00 AM EDT
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Is there ever a reason to be unhappy with a stock in which you have a long position that has risen 61% in the past two weeks? My answer is yes, when you, as a Real Money contributor, named that stock your "best" idea for the coming year, yet it is still down 12% even with that recent run.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad there have been some positive developments for Ruby Tuesday (RT) , the struggling casual dining name that officially has morphed into more of a real estate play. Earlier this week, a 13D filed by real estate investment and development company Leon Capital (Chimera Capital Investments LLC) revealed that it has taken a 9.5% position in RT.

Interestingly, that stake of 5.75 million shares has been accumulated rather quickly, over the past eight weeks, at an average cost of $2.19 per share. The 13D also revealed that Leon Capital and Ruby Tuesday entered into a confidentiality agreement on March 23 "in connection with a possible negotiated transaction." This news comes on the heels of Ruby Tuesday's March 13 announcement that it is seeking "strategic alternatives" and had retained UBS to assist in that process. By that time, as we learned via the 13D, Leon Capital already quietly had amassed 2.1 million RT shares, or about 3.5% of the company.

Where we go from here remains to be seen. However, it may be now or never for Ruby Tuesday to finally "maximize" shareholder value after years of wandering aimlessly, trying to reinvigorate a restaurant concept that has not worked.

Leon Capital no doubt has its eye on the Ruby Tuesday's biggest potential prize, the owned real estate, which included 269 locations at the end of the latest quarter. One potential transaction could involve a sale and leaseback of the owned real estate, which could liquefy RT, allow it to pay down debt and try to keep the restaurant ship afloat.

I'm hoping there's more to it than that; they need to go bigger.

For years, Ruby Tuesday has been unable to find its place with consumers in the already-crowded casual dining space. Menu changes, remodeling stores and other efforts have been unsuccessful. Perhaps there's a bigger fish out there looking to expand its presence somewhat cheaply, or some bold private equity money that is willing to try its hand at reinvigorating the brand. But either way, this is more about the assets, the real estate, at this point.

It's nice to see a little life back in RT shares, but now a deal needs to get done.

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