CEO of Failing Cosi Chain Says Staff is to Blame


New CEO Stephen Edwards is attempting radical surgery on the foundering Cosi fast-casual chain, and one of his first moves has been to publicly throw Cosi’s employees under the food truck.

“People love our sandwiches, they love our salads,” Edwards said on a conference call last week to discuss Cosi’s abysmal $2.1 million-loss performance during the second quarter, which came along with an 11 percent decline in revenues. “We hear it time and time again, it’s never a complaint—a complaint is because someone was rude to me, my sandwich or salad was incomplete in the ingredients it was supposed to have … or I got the wrong order or it took me 20 minutes to get my order when there was nobody else in the store.”

And the CEO further explained, “We have a culture that’s lost engagement with the process of serving food to people in a hospitable way, and we get a number of remarks from customers about how much they love our food and our products but they’ve just been disappointed time and time again by the service or they experience they’ve received in the store.”[more]

He also said that the Deerfield, Ill.-based chain of 124 restaurants had been going about attempting to fix the problem in the wrong way. “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.”

Edwards, who has been CEO since June, isn’t the only one to sense this problem, of course. On, Cosi scored lower in employee reviews than McDonald’s, Subway or KFC, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Employees complained about the levels of benefits at Cosi, bad communication and “catty” managers.

Acknowledging that the brand’s problems are existential, Edwards said that he is “focusing the majority of our efforts” on boosting service at Cosi restaurants, including elevating the quality of service, boosting customer engagement, being more friendly and delivering food faster. One result is supposed to be boosting customer counts, which will help sales, the lifeblood of any restaurant chain.

Also, Edwards is trying to figure out how to identify the Cosi brand more closely with a quality and diverse coffee-drinking experience, and how to rationalize store locations.

Presumably, Edwards by definition also is trying to fix another problem that has plagued Cosi for the last few years: transitory leadership. He’s the fourth CEO since 2011.