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In order to provide better service, Così is managing labor in its stores differently under Edwards than it did under his predecessor, Carin Stutz, who resigned as chief executive in June. Edwards said the company is working to shift focus from controlling hourly labor as a percentage of sales more toward having a level of staff at each restaurant necessary to deliver upon Così’s service goals.

“What happens is when your average unit volumes drop below a certain level, you manage labor to a percentage and you end up understaffed in the stores,” Edwards explained. “That causes a poor experience for the customer, and sales just don’t come back. … We’ve had to add additional bodies in the store, which seems odd for a company declining in profitability, but it is a necessity to delivering the experience people expect.”

For locations where service upgrades might not turn around falling sales quickly, Così may still have to close units or explore other options, executives also noted during the call. Edwards said Così has about 12 stores on a “watch list” right now that might be candidates for closure if the brand is unable to work out alternative measures with its landlords like early termination, sub-leasing or refranchising.

“Some of the stores on the list are not performing and losing money, but they’re in tremendous real estate locations and are being undermanaged,” Edwards said. “We’re going to try to rejuvenate those stores in a short time horizon.”

Deerfield, Ill.-based Così operates 72 restaurants and franchises another 49 locations in 16 states, the District of Columbia, the United Arab Emirates and Costa Rica.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN