KEY BISCANE, FL-Texas Roadhouse executives may be planning steady near-term growth for their chain of 221 low-priced steak restaurants, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have big plans. “We think we can go anywhere where Outback is,” said Scott Colosi, the Memphis-based company’s chief financial officer, of its 915-unit competitor. “Our pipeline from a real estate perspective has never been stronger.”

Colosi and, G.J. Hart, chief executive officer, presented here at Wachovia Securities’ Consumer Growth Conference, where they spoke about Texas Roadhouse’s growth plans. While hitting the size of Outback may be a long-term plan, the company only has 26 to 28 new units in the works this year and l6% to 18% real estate expansion annually during the next few years.

About 90% of the company’s growth is in its existing markets, which are in mid-sized trade areas in 41 states. Executives are planning partnerships with local operators to add one-to-two new markets per year.

Hart says the Texas Roadhouse’s largest competitors, based on who their customers alternately visit the most, are Applebee’s, Chili’s and T.G.I. Friday’s. And Colosi points out that tough economic times have brought in a different customer based to the chain’s lower-priced offerings. “As we’ve gone through this period, we see a lot more suits in our restaurants than we’ve ever seen before,” he says.

During Texas Roadhouse’s Q4, which ended Dec. 27 the company’s 127 restaurants posted a 3.6% same-store year-over-year increase, while its 94 franchised units were up 1.6%. Executives are predicting an annual same-store sales growth rate of more than 3% during the next few years.

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