Steak n Shake chief outlines turnaround plan

The Steak n Shake Co. has hired an executive to improve operating efficiency of its restaurants as part of an overall turnaround plan. The appointment of Dennis Roberts, formerly chief operations officer at Massachusetts-based Friendly’s Ice Cream, was announced in a letter issued late yesterday by Steak n Shake Chairman and CEO Sardar Biglari.

Biglari, the Texas investor who began snapping up stock in the struggling Indianapolis company in August 2007 and eventually elbowed aside existing executives to snatch the top positions, said his turnaround plan involves cutting costs and making existing restaurants perform better.

Fourteen of the hamburger and milkshake restaurants have been closed, and hours have been curtailed at an additional 125 locations. The letter didn’t identify the locations.

Steak n Shake also has slapped a moratorium on opening new restaurants.

Biglari called for cutting general and administrative expenses by $20 million for fiscal 2009, squashing the figure to $37 million. Operating costs of existing restaurants will be slashed by at least $8 million.

The company has struggled with declining same-store sales for a dozen quarters in a row. According to its Web site, Steak n Shake operates 502 restaurants, including 66 franchised units, in 21 states; however, it was not immediately clear if the figures took into account the closed locations.

Shares in the company increased 3 cents today, to $5.93. Save for a brief dip below $6 in July, the stock is trading near its lowest level in 13 years.

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