Così's new CEO Stutz prepares for future


Carin Stutz said her first step as the new president and chief executive of Così Inc. will be to evaluate the bakery-sandwich chain’s operations and improve top-line sales.

Stutz, who on Jan. 1 will take the reins of the 138-unit company, and Stephen Edwards, who on the same date will become chairman of the Così board, spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News en route to its Deerfield, Ill., headquarters to meet with management and staff after Monday’s announcement.

Così has been under pressure to make leadership changes since earlier this fall from investor Blum Growth Fund, which owns a 6.8-percent stake in the company. Fund founder Brad Blum, a former top executive at Burger King, Olive Garden and Romano’s Macaroni Grill, had volunteered to serve as Così CEO for a $1 annual salary.

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Blum, who spoke by phone from New York on Tuesday, said his first reaction to the appointment was “a missed opportunity” for innovation at the struggling company. But he wished to congratulate Stutz and “wanted to be a strong supporter of her success there.”

“From Blum Growth Fund’s perspective,” he said, “our mission all along has been to protect the current shareholders’ investment and really focus on results or, as we say, results with integrity. I think there’s a lot more that needs to be communicated and to give them an opportunity to express a plan to move the company forward.”

Così’s losses and threat of having its stock delisted by NASDAQ require the company’s full attention, Blum added. “I remain an optimist, but I hope for the best and plan for the worst,” he said. “The brand has a lot of potential but has a lot of things that need to be sorted out quickly.” Among those things, he said, was access to long-term capital and “a bold innovation or two.”