What is in this article?:
- Così pop-up unit aims to launch growth
- Getting smaller, thinking bigger
Così's new pop-up restaurant in Chicago will be used to test new menu ideas and decor, says chief executive Carin Stutz.
Nearly a year to the day since her hiring as chief executive of Così Inc., Carin Stutz oversaw the Dec. 12 debut of the 129-unit fast-casual chain’s “pop-up” restaurant in downtown Chicago, where the brand will try out new menus and décor as an intended precursor to innovation-driven growth.
Stutz and her executive team at Così’s Deerfield, Ill., headquarters held their first meeting about the new food and design elements on display at the South Michigan Avenue store on Nov. 23, and about three weeks later arrived at the first iteration of a possible new Così prototype. The store was converted from a standard Così to the pop-up variant over the previous weekend.
A look at Cosi’s pop-up restaurant
The quick execution of the pop-up restaurant does not represent a hasty decision, but rather Così’s ability to be nimble and inventive, Stutz said. She acknowledged a sense of urgency within Così to reignite sales growth, as the brand struggled in recent years with negative earnings and a threat from NASDAQ to delist the company’s stock. Her appointment as CEO came after months of industry veteran Brad Blum, a Così investor, calling for a leadership change.
But “it’s more important to get it right than to just go fast,” Stutz said.
The goal for turning around Così’s sales is to get new traffic and to entice lapsed users to come back, Stutz said, and the chain would attempt that primarily through menu innovation.
“There’s a group of core guests that are looking for something that’s healthier, more adventuresome, and that would test the limits of their flavor palate,” Stutz said. “So we’re going to try things that you can’t get anywhere else.”
Remaking the menu
Stutz said she began trying to shore up operations at Così’s existing restaurants when she started as chief executive Jan. 1, 2012, but she and her team also examined all aspects of the business, especially the menu.
“It’s about food and food quality, first and foremost,” she said. “Second, it’s about convenience — we still play in the fast-casual arena, and we do a lot of our business at lunch, so we have to be fast. The third part is what we’re calling ‘culinary hospitality,’ where we want our people to be as passionate about the food as they are about service.”
Ideas for new menu items came from all over the company and were refined and tested by Così’s new vice president of innovation and brand strategy, Michael Foley, who had been an industry consultant following the closure of his venerated fine-dining restaurant in Chicago, Printer’s Row.
“We started at the beginning again and, in a short amount of time, came back to the key things that make Così competitive in the market and a leader in the community, and figured out why it had lost its compelling story,” Foley said. “It’s the bread and the hearth, done in a fast, fresh way.”
Così kept some signatures like its T.B.M. sandwich and the Così Signature Mixed salad, but nearly all of the items on the pop-up’s menu were new, including the Avocado & Cucumber and Vietnamese Pork sandwiches, the Sloppy Jane and Market Ham & Pear melts, and the Grains & Greens salad.