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CARPINTERIA, CA-Whether gas prices rise or fall it has little impact on the customers of CKE Restaurants, the owner of the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains, their top executive said during the company’s second-quarter conference call. The company attracts higher-income consumers during bad times and those making lower wages during more favorable economic periods, says Andrew Puzder, CKE’s president and chief executive officer.

During times like the current, high-gas-price climate, consumers may forgo more expensive chains like Chili’s, TGI Friday’s and Panera Bread to eat at a Carl’s Jr. or a Hardee’s, he says. “You get table service, you don’t have to leave of tip, you don’t have to wait for a table,” Puzder says. “If you don’t really have a lot of cash, why would you got to one of those places?”

On the other hand, if gas prices are lower, regular customers of chains like Burger King could make a CKE brand a more consistent choice. “We seem to pull from both ends of it,” Puzder says.

Meanwhile, CKE is taking on an extensive renovation program of its two main chains. One store in each has been renovated into a new prototype, and executives say the expect 30 Carl’s Jr. units to be uplifted by the end of the year an, with Hardee’s starting next year. There are 100 remodels in the works for 2007.

The company is also expanding its Red Burrito store-within-a-store concept at Hardee’s. There 22 of the Mexican-concept additions to the chain, bringing it to a total number of 30 in the 1,945 Hardee’s. At the end of the quarter CKE operated 1,072 Carl’s Jr.’s and 98 La Salsa Mexican restaurants.

During the quarter, which ended Aug. 11, same-store sales were up 4.8% year over year at Carl’s Jr. company-owned units, which account for about 60% of the chain. Comparable sales increased 3% at company-owned Hardee’s. Net income rose to $14.2 million, from $8.4 million during the same year-ago period.

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