(Ian Ritter is national online editor for GlobeSt.com/RETAIL.)

COLUMBUS, OH-Management of Bob Evans Farms restaurants plans to improve same-store sales before pushing store growth, executives said during their fourth-quarter conference call. The company, which operates the Bob Evans and Mimi’s chains, will likely open less than the 15 Bob Evans units previously planned for its current fiscal year.

Same-store sales during the first quarter, which ended April 28, fell 0.9% year-over-year at the company’s 587-restaurant Bob Evans chain, followed by a 1.2% drop in May. At Mimi’s, which operates 103 units, they inched up 1.1%.

Comparable store sales need to improve before management opens a significant number of additional units at Bob Evans, said Steve Davis, chief executive officer, during the conference call. “We aren’t just going to grow for growth’s sake,” he says. “The returns on investment need to be there.”

The chain has been hurt by rising gas prices, slowing growth in the Midwest and an aging customer base, executives say. Bob Evans is “fine-tuning” its namesake chain and management should be done evaluating the restaurants by August, says Tammy Roberts Myers, who heads investor relations for the company. “We want to better understand how today’s customers can relate to the brand,” she says.

Mimi’s has growth potential, Davis says, and the company will look at building up the markets in 17 states where it operates restaurants. Executives are planning 14 to 16 new Mimi’s this year. There were 10 new Mimi’s opened during the last fiscal year, including single units in new markets like Atlanta; Greenville, SC; and Little Rock, AR.

During the last fiscal year, the company opened 20 new Bob Evans, however, the company closed 24 units. Executives say that less store closings are planned for the coming year.

During the latest quarter, Bob Evans Farms posted a 4% increase in net sales, coming in at $397.3 million. Net income was $20.5 million, up from $5.5 million during the same year-ago period, due to a decrease in food and labor costs, as well as other factors.

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