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    Così's Store Count is Shrinking

  • The fast casual has just two restaurants remaining in its home state, per reports.

    Così
    According to the Boston Business Journal’s report, there are now fewer than 30 restaurants nationwide.

    Così continues to shrink its footprint around the country and has shuttered more than two dozen of its U.S. locations in recent weeks, according to a report from the Boston Business Journal. Citing “current and former employees,” those closures include eight restaurants in the chain’s home state of Massachusetts.

    The Boston Business Journal reported, around Christmas, Così shut down at least three Boston units. It then closed five additional restaurants, in Boston’s Seaport District, Cambridge, Burlington, Mansfield, and Wareham. It leaves the 30-year-old fast casual with only two stores in operation in Massachusetts—at High Street and Hood Park, where Così’s corporate office is housed.

    In August, Così announced the Burlington location as the company’s 10th area location. At the time, there were 48 company-run and 17 franchises operating in 11 states, the District of Columbia, and Costa Rica.

    Per the Boston Business Journal’s report, there are now fewer than 30 restaurants nationwide. Fifty-one are listed on Così’s website, but it does not includes the recent closures. The brand also lists nine Costa Rica units.

    Additionally, the Boston Business Journal said it obtained a “sell sheet,” related to a fast-casual restaurant “with a description and company details that match those of Così.” The brand is not named on the undated document, but it includes an estimate for 2019 sales, the Boston Business Journal reported.

    What the document states is that the company has a “carve-out package” ready to go that includes profitable locations and business segments it wants to divest. In other terms, a sale that would only feature profitable assets and leave ownership to restructure the rest. According to the Boston Business Journal, the offer lists 15 profitable locations and boasts of a fast-growing catering business. Two of the stores are in Massachusetts.

    Headed Into the fall, Così, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September 2016, listing $31.2 million in assets and $19.8 million in debts, opened four new units to date in 2019—Burlington and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Hartford, Connecticut, and most recently, Mountainside, New Jersey—bringing its unit count to 49. When Così declared three years ago, it had closed 29 of its then-74 company stores and cut 450 jobs. The company’s remaining 31 franchised stores stayed open. Così peaked at 151 locations in 2008.

    At the beginning of the decade, there were 145 restaurants in 18 states, the UAE, and the District of Columbia.

    Così posted a net loss of $3.1 million on revenue of $22.3 million in the quarter (Q2) that preceded its bankruptcy filing. Così lost $157 million in 2015 on sales of $89.9 million.

    When it filed, Così said it didn’t respond to “macro” trends or its own debt crisis. CEO Robert Dourney was let go the previous August and Così’s board said he didn’t recognize the severity of Così’s financial troubles, according to filings. It continued a revolving door at the top as well, with five leaders helming Così since 2011.

    By October, the company’s shares were delisted. Così emerged from bankruptcy as a private company in May 2017, now a restructured entity owned by MILFAM II L.P., AB Value Partners, LP, AB Value Management LLC, and AB Opportunity Fund LLC. 

    In October, the company told QSR it signed a lease in Piscataway, New Jersey, for a unit arriving in the first quarter of 2020, and it also opened two commissaries for food production, one in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the other in New York City, mostly for fulfillment of catering. Additionally, Così said it was looking for a third commissary in Washington, D.C, and future locations focusing on off-premises execution would emerge in New York City and Boston.

    “That's really the future,” Vinnie DiNatale, Così’s director of marketing, said at the time. “With the different costs and where our sales are growing, that's where we see a lot of traction. We're examining a couple of locations in different geography.”

    Così’s said its catering business totaled more than 25 percent of its sales, and the largest catering order it handled in 2019 was 1,000 people in the D.C. region.

    DiNatale said the company hired classically trained chefs to run some of the catering, “to really focus on the Così customer and who that customer is,” he said. “Getting them that Così experience wherever they're at and wherever they want Così to be. The commissaries have classically trained culinary chefs, so the food quality and execution is all overseen by them in the same area. Some of these markets are doing $15,000–$20,000 catering days. They're seeing and touching the product which really helps.”

    The Così brand began as a bistro in Paris founded by Drew Harre. A restaurant there bearing the name—which still exists but is no longer financially associated with the American side—was visited by the company's North American founders Shep and Jay Wainwright, who loved it and wanted to bring it back to the U.S.

    The Boston Business Journal listed the locations that have recently closed:

    Massachusetts:

    • Boston, Seaport District
    • Boston, Financial District (2 South Station, Suite 182)
    • Boston, Financial District (14 Milk St.)
    • Boston, Financial District (133 Federal St.)
    • Burlington
    • Cambridge
    • Mansfield
    • Wareham

    Connecticut:

    • Avon
    • West Hartford

    New York:

    • The Bronx, Fordham University
    • Larchmont
    • New Jersey:
    • Morristown
    • Secaucus

    Pennsylvania:

    • Elkins Park
    • Exton
    • Glen Mills

    District of Columbia:

    • Washington, D.C. (601 Penn Ave. NW)
    • Washington, D.C. (1333 H St., NW)
    • Washington, D.C. (5252 Wisconsin Ave., NW)

    Virginia:

    • Arlington (2011 Crystal Drive)
    • Arlington, FDIC/Virginia Square (3503 Fairfax Drive)

    Illinois:

    • Chicago, Illinois Center
    • Chicago, West Monroe
    • Chicago (116 South Michigan)