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Sardar Biglari Letter to Shareholders of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

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Sardar Biglari, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Biglari Holdings Inc. (NYSE: BH), on Friday, December 9th, issued the following letter to shareholders of Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. (NASDAQ: CBRL). Click here to see the shareholder letter in its original form.

Dear Fellow Stockholders:

In my last letter to you, as of November 14, I expressed my views on Cracker Barrel in a 10 page letter. The letter supplied you with the information I felt was necessary to judge the operating performance of Cracker Barrel. The Board in its further responses has sent shareholders several missives including what I believe to be many logical fallacies -- i.e., argumentum ad hominem -- that predominantly attack me rather than my ideas. The Board, led by Chairman Woodhouse, is diverting your attention from Cracker Barrel's lugubrious operating performance. Their record speaks for itself, and no rhetoric can conceal the facts. Let's review the Board's performance by repeating a few salient truths which over the last seven years have marred its decisions:

The Board has spent $615 million in capital, yet operating profit over the same time period declined! Customer traffic declined 26 out of the last 29 quarters. Customer traffic declined a cumulative 15%. Operating income per store declined by a cumulative 13%. These are not my opinions; they are facts. Reality-based facts are all one needs to know to assess the operating performance of the Board. It is difficult, almost impossible, to argue against bare facts.

To fix a faulty trend is, first, to admit that the results have not been satisfactory. But Ms. Cochran writes in her December 2 letter, "Given our long-term track record of success, including outperforming Knapp-Track on traffic and sales for 18 of the past 21 quarters, we are not a 'broken company.'" The only phrase I agree with in her statement is that Cracker Barrel is not a broken company. But her failing to acknowledge the truth that traffic has been negative in 26 out of the last 29 quarters and instead state that the Company has had a "long-term track record of success" is a clear, overt overstatement. I believe the Board is skirting a valid admission that the brand has not lived up to its potential. Simply put, these facts demonstrate that Cracker Barrel has not had a "long-term track record of success."

Consequently, this proxy contest is a referendum on the Company's poor operating performance. Plainly, Cracker Barrel is an A+ brand but has failed to achieve an A+ performance.

Instead of focusing on a defense on their own performance, Chairman Woodhouse and his Board attempt in a shareholder presentation to discredit my operational performance at Steak n Shake by asserting quite erroneously that I have "slashed operational investment at Steak n Shake -- focused only on [the] short-term." This statement is categorically misleading and mischaracterizes the facts. On the contrary, I have made significant operational investments: I have increased spending in training, product quality, menu innovation, improved ambiance, among other customer-centric enhancements. The real test is how Steak n Shake has performed; on that objective assessment, both top line and bottom line soared. Our record speaks for itself. Here are a few dominant and conspicuous facts from the time I assumed control:

Customer traffic increased a cumulative 28%. Customer traffic has been up 11 consecutive quarters. Pre-tax earnings went from a loss of $33 million in 2008 to a gain of $38 million in 2010. Operating income per store has increased every year. But this contest is not about Steak n Shake. It's about Cracker Barrel's failing to perform up to its potential. Because we are professional investors and have deep operations experience, we are convinced that with the right board direction Cracker Barrel can do much better and deliver far higher shareholder returns.

***

In my prior letter I compared Cracker Barrel's shareholder returns to those of a widely used index, the S&P Restaurant Index, a capitalization-weighted index of the restaurant companies in the S&P 500 Index. The S&P Restaurant Index is the one I have used for our own company. While the Board also compares itself to the S&P 500 Index, it objects to my comparing Cracker Barrel to the restaurant companies within the S&P 500 Index. Instead, the Board prefers the S&P 600 Restaurant Index.

It is important to note that judging a company according to a peer group invites disagreement, for reasonable, knowledgeable parties can readily reach divergent views in determining the appropriate group of peers. Notwithstanding, in our judgment, the S&P 1500 Restaurant Index (which includes Cracker Barrel) with an aggregate market capitalization of approximately $176 billion is a more appropriate benchmark than the S&P 600 Restaurant Index, which has an aggregate market capitalization of approximately $10 billion. Accordingly, we believe that the S&P Restaurant Index and S&P 1500 Restaurant Index are better representations of the performance of the restaurant industry. To make the comparisons even more equitable, we have done the assessment on both market capitalization-weighted and equal-weighted basis. The equal-weighted indices negate the effect of constituents with larger market capitalizations.

 

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